Former Fall River dentist accused of using paper clips in root canals

March 19th, 2010 by

FALL RIVER — A former Fall River dentist has been indicted on charges that he made $130,000 in false Medicaid claims, illegally prescribed drugs he used for himself and placed paper clips in patients’ mouths instead of stainless steel posts during root canals to save money.

Michael Clair, who practiced at Harbour Dental Care in the New Harbour Mall, is scheduled to be formally charged on April 8 in Superior Court. A grand jury indicted him last Friday.

Clair was suspended from the Medicaid program in 2002 and did not have authority to submit claims, the state attorney general’s office said. The attorney general’s Medicaid fraud division, which began investigating Clair in 2005, alleges that Clair hired several dentists at Harbour Dental who were eligible to make Medicaid claims so they could file claims for dental services he performed.

Clair is accused of fraudulently billing about $130,000 in dental work between August 2003 and June 2005. Harbour Dental has since closed.

Clair, 51, also allegedly prescribed three painkillers — Combunox, Hydrocondone and Percocet — for his staff members, who then gave some or all of the drugs back to Clair.

When performing root canal surgery, Clair allegedly used paper clips instead of standard stainless steel posts to save money. Paper clips can be used temporarily during root canals but can also cause infection and are painful, the attorney general’s office said.

Clair, who now lives in Maryland, was indicted on 13 charges: five counts of false Medicaid claims, three counts of larceny of more than $250, two counts of illegally prescribing a Class B substance, two counts of assault and battery, and illegally prescribing a Class C substance.

Following an investigation lasting more than four years, the attorney general’s office presented its case to a jury in Fall River Superior Court, which then indicted him. The investigation was complicated by difficulty obtaining and verifying patient records, said Jill Butterworth, a spokeswoman for the attorney general.

Massachusetts Dental Society Assistant Executive Director Karen Rafeld said she recommends dental patients seek a second opinion before surgery. Before going to a new dentist, someone should ask family or friends about their experiences and what dentists they might recommend, she said. Unfortunately, Rafeld added, Clair’s patients on Medicaid were less likely to understand the options available to them.

Clair was never a member of the Massachusetts Dental Society, she said. “I think these cases are rare. I hope they are.”

Clair, whose Massachusetts dental license expired in March 2008, has faced similar complaints in other states, though it isn’t clear if he was ever criminally charged.

His dentistry license was revoked in Maryland in 1999 after the state’s dental board said that between 1992 and 1998, he performed unnecessary dental procedures and encouraged dentists who worked for him to do the same. The state of Florida revoked his license to practice there in 2001 in response to his Maryland revocation, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

The DEA then took away his federal license in 2003 because Clair’s Florida license was revoked, though Clair was authorized to practice in Massachusetts at the time.

Most recently, the West Virginia Board of Dental Examiners took away Clair’s license in December 2006. The board cited Clair’s revocation in Maryland and Florida and pending action by the Massachusetts Board of Dentistry.

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