Monkton resident Christian Placey paid more than $13,000 up front to a South Burlington dental practice for a set of dentures he never received, after all of his teeth had been pulled and the practice abruptly closed, according to a lawsuit filed in Vermont Superior Court this month. Today, he is battling infections in his gums and can only eat food softened for hours in a crock pot.
Unable to contact his dentist, Dr. Stephen Bench at Affordable Dentures & Implants, or an affiliated company, Affordable Care LLC, based in North Carolina, Placey, 44, drove to the South Burlington practice about six months ago to find an empty office and a sign on the door saying the company was no longer in business. Placey filed a class-action complaint on Sept. 14, seeking both compensatory and punitive damages, plus attorney's fees and costs. His attorney, Andrew Delaney, said hundreds of Vermonters are in the same predicament after the practice closed in February.
"We just want (Placey) to get the care he needs," Delaney said. "Usually that translates into dollars, but also we want to show that you don't get to do this, come into Vermont, lure people in and abandon them."
After this story was published online, a spokesperson for Affordable Care emailed a statement to the Burlington Free Press, saying Bench "suddenly shuttered his dental practice in breach of his agreement with us, and we are dismayed that he has violated his professional obligation to ensure his patients receive continued care."
The spokesperson said Affordable Care does not own or operate any dental practices, including Dr. Bench's, but is hired to provide back-office support services to dentists in private practice, like Bench. The spokesperson said Affordable Care is helping Bench's patients who were abandoned mid-treatment.
"We have worked with Dr. Bench's patients who have contacted us to ensure they receive support and continued care," the spokesperson said. "If other patients who have been treated by Dr. Bench have current needs, we encourage them to call (252) 624-0948."
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Affordable Care is taking legal action against Bench, and is reviewing its screening procedures for the professionals who hire the company to provide their back-office services, according to the spokesperson.
Calls and emails to Bench and his practice, Affordable Dentures & Implants, from the Burlington Free Press went unanswered.
Lauren Jandl, chief of staff for Vermont Attorney General Charity Clark, said in an email the AG's office is aware of the complaints against Affordable Dentures & Implants, and is "looking into this matter." Jandl could not confirm whether a formal investigation is underway, but said anyone with a complaint regarding the company should contact the Attorney General's Consumer Assistance Program by calling 1-800-649-2424 or visiting ago.vermont.gov/cap.
What to know about Affordable Dentures & Implants
Affordable Care calls itself "America's leading consumer retail healthcare company exclusively focused on tooth replacement services." The company says it serves "affiliated dentists" at 425 practices in 42 states, and has helped to care for more than 8 million patients since 1975. The affiliated dentist in South Burlington was Dr. Stephen Bench. Placey has sued Bench individually, in addition to suing Affordable Care and Affordable Dentures & Implants.
The Better Business Bureau logged 15 complaints against Affordable Dentures & Implants in South Burlington in the last three years.
Placey said he decided to get dentures because he was missing a front tooth, which was embarrassing, and was having problems with a few of his back teeth. Affordable Dentures & Implants seemed like a good option, based on the advertising and marketing Placey had seen.
"They were a nationwide provider," he said. "I figured they had a reputable reputation. I drove by it every day on my way to work."
Christian Placey pays more than $13,000 up front: 'I thought that was the way it worked'
Placey was first seen by Bench in September 2020, when Placey paid $1,480 for an examination, consultation and temporary dentures. He was told the treatment could take up to three years to complete. The next month, Placey paid an additional $11,690 for his continuing treatment and his permanent dentures. Placey said the money came from an inheritance from a relative.
"They said they needed all the money up front," Placey said. "I thought that was the way it worked. They promised me this smile. I wanted to have a smile that would work for me."
At the October 2020 appointment, Bench removed all of Placey's teeth and put in five posts in preparation for the dentures, which would attach to the posts, eliminating the need for adhesives. Placey was told it would take up to a year for the swelling to go down and his gums to heal so he could be fitted with temporary dentures.
In September 2021, Bench fitted Placey with a temporary set of dentures, secured with adhesive, explaining they were "show teeth" and would serve as his teeth until the permanent dentures were ready.
The lawsuit states, "The temporary dentures Dr. Bench provided to Mr. Placey did not and do not work; they did not and do not fit in his mouth and/or his gums; they did not and do not stick; and they caused and continue to cause him physical pain and discomfort whenever he is wearing them. He is largely unable to eat with the dentures as they will fall out and/or cause him to gag or vomit."
"If I go to take a bite out of an apple, they're out of my mouth," Placey said.
Left without teeth or a way forward
Placey tried throughout 2022 to get a follow-up appointment to address the problems he was having with his temporary dentures, according to the lawsuit. He was given various reasons for not being able to get an appointment, including that his gums needed to heal from surgery, that his body would "adjust" to the temporary dentures, and that COVID required lengthy delays between appointments.
Only one of the five posts eventually emerged from Placey's swollen gums, and all of the posts in his mouth are surrounded by infection, according to the lawsuit. Placey has gone through several rounds of antibiotics this year to treat the infections, but once he completes a round of antibiotic treatment the infection comes back in about a week.
"Mr. Placey requires further surgical intervention and bone grafts," the lawsuit states.
Placey said he has a tentative appointment for oral surgery to remove the infected posts scheduled for the beginning of the new year, but he doesn't have the roughly $5,000 he needs to have the work done. And even if the posts are removed, and the infections are eliminated, that only puts him back to square one.
"I have no idea how much more it will take," Placey said.
Contact Dan D’Ambrosio at 660-1841 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DanDambrosioVT. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers.
This article originally appeared on Burlington Free Press: Patient sues Affordable Dentures & Implants in South Burlington, VT