WJLA-TV, Washington, D.C., & Roberta Baskin: ‘Drilling for Dollars: Children’s Dentistry investigation’

Jan 18, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Opening with video of a 4-year-old boy restrained in a dental office and screaming in pain, “Drilling for Dollars” is difficult to watch, even for the experienced investigative news team that produced it.
Investigative reporter Roberta Baskin of Washington, D.C.’s Allbritton Communications-owned ABC affiliate WJLA-TV broke the story of children on Medicaid being subjected to abusive dental practices. She started working on the story after receiving a tip from one of the clinic’s fired dental assistants who objected to the treatment.
“It is so disturbing,” said Ms. Baskin, who also won a 2008 News & Documentary Emmy for regional news story. “How much do you show in getting attention? Kids are being tortured. [T]he makeup artist … could barely talk, she was so upset, and a producer in editing burst into tears.”
The piece focused on Small Smiles dental clinics in Langley, Md., and Washington, D.C., and uncovered how staff members are rewarded with bonuses for “upgrading” young patients from checkups to major dental work such as root canals and fillings, which are reimbursed by Medicaid. The clinics are part of a Colorado-based national chain with more than 60 locations.
The investigative team found that assistants who were not licensed were performing X-rays on the children, and that children were not being properly protected from the radiation. Meanwhile, parents were not allowed in examination rooms and were told that federal patient-privacy practices prohibited them from being there; there is no law preventing a parent from being with a child during a medical procedure.
“The most money Medicaid pays is for a procedure, and baby root canals are the profit center, worth about $214,” Ms. Baskin said. “The piece had a three-word focus: profit over compassion. That’s really the whole story. An Arab bank in Bahrain invested in Small Smiles. They were drilling for oil and drilling for baby teeth.”
One challenge in reporting the story came because it took place in a medical setting and releases were needed from the parents in order to show the children in the report. Some refused because they were self-conscious about being on Medicaid.
Through a former Small Smiles employee, Ms. Baskin was able to obtain a policy manual that contradicted some of the things clinical directors told her in interviews.
“Four out of five dentists refuse to take Medicaid children, because the government reimburses a lot less than private insurance. That’s why I wondered why Small Smiles could be so profitable,” Ms. Baskin said. “They tried to get in fast, and keep a child calm, not terrorize them. Their defense is these families won’t come back. That’s why they do such aggressive treatment.”
Over a five-month period, the station did 12 stories on the dental clinics. The Langley Park facility was shut down and some managed-care companies stopped doing business with Small Smiles outlets in Maryland. In North Carolina, there was a large court settlement after patients sued over the allegation that unnecessary dental work was performed in order to make a profit.


  1. Hi! I’m not having any trouble. I’m using a smartphone and Im using Google Chrome as my browser. Good luck to you.

  2. This entry reminds me of when I was a child growing up in Ohio. My old man used to say “When life give you lemons, make lemonade”. But he was a hopeless drunk who never made much sense so I never paid much attention to him. Have a great day!

  3. We’ve been awaiting Google’s web browser’s widgets for forever – At this point I have worked with 7 of them and am awed with the plug ins. The latest Firefox has begun to been buggy and changes are a time saver.

  4. Vielen Dank fÜr diesen super Artikel – hat mir sehr geholfen!

  5. , great article, I truly enjoyed reading it. This post gave me the kick to try my own post, please see my article by clicking my name at the top of this post, thanks

  6. Bizarre… I just came across your site by searching for ‘financial spreadbetting’ on Bing. But I can’t find any articles about that on here?

  7. Excellent job.

  8. Washington Redskins jerseys is very beautiful.

  9. Washington Redskins jerseys is very beautiful.

  10. And simply because I do not bog you down with a great deal of technical terms, you may acquire the awareness additional speedily and effortlessly.

  11. The photography is amazeballs. Many thanks this writeup, I’m a images professional in Alabama and I found this to be really useful.

  12. I love the way you write and also the theme on your blog. Did you code this yourself or was it done by a professional? I’m very very impressed.

  13. Amazing freakin blog here. I almost cried while reading it!

  14. Dreamin. I love blogging. You all express your feelings the right way, because they are your feeling, focus on your blog it is great.

  15. This is great! How did you learn this stuff when you were getting started?

  16. Whats up I really considered the post , great information, having trouble with RSS. . .? It’s not showing up in the browser . Well, keep up the good work.
    http://www.facebooknuke.info – Make Money With Your Facebook Account – Hey, it Works!

  17. I had a blog like this once, but it attracted so many spam comments I had to close it. You appear to be doing a better job keeping out the spammers! Congratulations!

  18. This is the best blog I’ve ever seen in my life! I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy day to share your this with everyone.

  19. Keep focusing on your blog. I love how we can all express our feelings. This is an extremely nice blog here 🙂

  20. Neat blog layout! Very easy on the eyes.. i like the colors you picked out

  21. I love the way you write and also the theme on your blog. Did you code this yourself or was it done by a professional? I’m very very impressed.

  22. This is good info! Where else can if ind out more?? Who runs this joint too? Keep up the good work 🙂

  23. Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy.

  24. As a Newbie, I am always searching online for articles that can help me. Thank you

  25. I love the way you write and also the theme on your blog. Did you code this yourself or was it done by a professional? I’m very very impressed.

  26. This article definitely worth looking through. I discovered them well crafted not to mention without difficulty comprehensible. I wish to individually appreciate made the effort you devote to publish that. We are extremely pleased and additionally anticipate great write-up.

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)