Patients say unlicensed dental office worker performs care

Patients say unlicensed Morristown dental office worker performs care

Teresa Underwood calls conditions in the Affordable Dentures office "unprofessional." Teresa Underwood calls conditions in the Affordable Dentures office "unprofessional."
Cosby resident June McClary says she was "fired" as a patient after complaining about her care. Cosby resident June McClary says she was "fired" as a patient after complaining about her care.
"No assistants in Tennessee are allowed to place, fit or adjust dentures," Tennessee Dental Association President Dr. John Osborn said. "No assistants in Tennessee are allowed to place, fit or adjust dentures," Tennessee Dental Association President Dr. John Osborn said.
Dr. David Harrison Dr. David Harrison
Jennifer Harrison Jennifer Harrison

6 On Your Side Reporter

MORRISTOWN (WATE) - Patients have raised questions about procedures going on inside the office of an East Tennessee dentist. They say an unlicensed employee worked inside their mouths while the dentist was absent.

The two women, June McClary and Teresa Underwood, have new dentures. Their dentures are only temporary. Their permanent sets are not yet in place.

The women went to the Affordable Dentures office in Morristown, but they say now they do not intend to return.

Both have complained to the Tennessee Department of Health Board of Dentistry about irregularities inside the clinic.   

"She's been in the dental field for 20 years, she told us," Underwood said about the dental employee. "But she's not licensed to do anything."

Underwood used to work at Affordable Dentures and worked along side the employee, Jennifer Harrison, the clinic's office manager.

Patients says she refers to herself as a dental assistant, but she is not.  

6 On Your Side checked the state license verification records with the Board of Dentistry. No records were found for anyone under the name Jennifer Harrison. 

Mrs. Harrison is the wife of Dr. David Harrison, who operates the Affordable Dentures office in Morristown.   

A Fired Employee

Underwood says she had her teeth pulled at Affordable Dentures last fall. A few months after surgery, she began experiencing trouble and says Mrs. Harrison attended to her care at her next visit.

"My gums busted open on my bottom left," said Underwood. "I went there and his wife -- he was not at the office, he had left. So she come in and closed me up and sent me on my way."

"She closed me up, packed me in, placed the denture in, and sent me out the door," Underwood added.

That wasn't the only time Mrs. Harrison worked on Underwood's mouth.

Underwood says she recalls a visit in late February when "she cuts me open from here to here to rinse all the bone splinters out because there was such a mess, then removed a tooth here."

In early spring, Underwood was fired by Affordable Dentures. She says she missed a lot of work because of her son's health. He has a rare disease.  

Underwood claims she is not a disgruntled employee as she complains about the dentist's wife.

Underwood says she wanted to raise other concerns about the clinic. For example, she noted a sign in the office that threatens patients with dismissal for negative comments.

She calls conditions in the office "unprofessional."

"A lot of verbal abuse of patients, to employees, and a lot of times he does not even come in," said Underwood. "He is allowing his wife to do the work."

A "Fired" Customer

Cosby resident June McClary has never met Teresa Underwood, but she raises similar concerns about operations at the Morristown clinic.  

McClary says her dentures were relined on June 11, nearly two months after her initial surgery. The total bill was $3,000.  

Something went wrong with the re-line, however, and the upper denture burnt the roof of her mouth.

"I want them to be particularly aware of Jennifer [Harrison] because she is the one who did the reline on my teeth," McClary said. 

McClary says pictures show blisters inside her mouth, which formed a few hours after her dentures were relined.  

The day after the procedure she returned to the clinic.

"Then Jennifer, the office manager who won't give me her last name, came in," said McClary. "She looked at them. [The dentist] did come in, looked at my mouth and said, 'Maybe next time use a different lining material.'"

McClary says no medication was used in the procedure.

"He walked out and that was the last I saw of him," she said.

McClary eventually went to a hospital emergency room in Greeneville where she was given prescription medication for her injury.

When McClary's husband, Harry, returned to the office to get some information for his wife, he said "words" were exchanged between himself and Jennifer Harrison.

A few hours later Mrs. McClary got a call from Mrs. Harrison.

"'I guess you know by now you are no longer a patient of ours,'" she says Mrs. Harrison told her.

In a letter from Dr. Harrison, however, he agreed to compensate Mrs. McClary with a $985 refund, claiming her injury was the result of ingesting hot food.

What a Dental Assistant is Allowed by Law to Do

6 On Your Side wondered what a certified dental assistant can do, so we talked to Tennessee Dental Association President Dr. John Osborn.

"The top level is the expanded level dental assistant," Dr. Osborn explained. 

There are several certifications. Dental assistants can polish teeth, expose x-rays, apply sealants, and monitor nitrous oxide -- all under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist.

"No assistants in Tennessee are allowed to place, fit or adjust dentures," Dr. Osborn said. "Period."

6 On Your Side went to Morristown where we tried to get the other side of the story. We asked to speak with Dr. Harrison either on or off camera,  but our request was denied.

We hung then around until closing time when the staff left, except for Dr. Harrison.  

Jennifer Harrison, though, made a speedy and would not answer any of our questions. She then drove around to the front door where she picked up her husband and the sped off.

"I don't want to go with any of my girlfriends right now. I don't want to be the roofless, toothless one" said Mrs. McClary with a laugh.

She is now looking for a new dentist. Teresa Underwood is too.

Under Investigation

Since our interviews, both women have talked with investigators from the state Dental Board. So has the entire staff at the dental office.   

In checking Dr. Harrison's background, we discovered in 2004 he "voluntarily surrendered" his dental license in Louisiana for alleged abandonment of a patient, alleged fraud, and alleged improper prescribing.

While an investigation is on-going, the state cannot make any comments.

6 News contacted the corporate office for Affordable Dentures, and they had no comment either.

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