Patients testified Tuesday to having teeth removed without their permission and shared stories of other dental procedures gone wrong at the hands of an Anchorage dentist on trial for a slew of charges alleging he unnecessarily sedated patients to maximize Medicaid payments and extracted a patient’s tooth while riding on a hoverboard.
A former employee told investigators in 2016 that Seth Lookhart was increasing profits by performing more intravenous sedation than necessary. According to charges, he and his former office manager, Shauna Cranford, billed nearly $2 million in intravenous sedation without proper justification during 2016.
Charges were filed in April of 2017 and in June of that year the Alaska Board of Dental Examiners suspended Lookhart’s licenses to practice dentistry and sedation.
Lookhart’s bench trial before Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton began Nov. 12 and is scheduled to finish Friday.
Lookhart and Cranford started performing IV sedations while he worked for Alaska Dental Arts in 2015, according to the charges. He bought the business and changed the name to Clear Creek Dental the next year.
Rachel Miner, a former employee, testified Tuesday that Lookhart and office manager Shauna Cranford directed her to offer IV sedation to every Medicaid patient. The sedation was covered at no cost for Medicaid patients, she said, while private-pay customers would generally spend about $500 out of pocket for the treatment.
Patients would stay sedated after their procedures were finished and Cranford would tell employees a “stop time” to cut off the medications, Miner said. Medicaid patients, she said, were sedated for longer than private-pay patients.
Lookhart’s reimbursement totals for IV sedation accounted for nearly 31% of the total statewide payments for IV sedation in 2016, according to Medicaid fraud investigators. Medicaid pays $170.16 for 15 minutes of IV sedation, while local anesthesia, like nitrus oxide gas, costs a flat rate of $57, according to charges.
Former patient Joseph Smith testified Tuesday that four of his teeth were removed without his permission. He’d visited Clear Creek Dental numerous times for appointments leading up to the extraction and said the plan was to pull his remaining top teeth to fit him for dentures and leave the bottom four, fitting him for partial dentures.
Smith said he went in for the procedure Friday and was groggy from the sedatives until Sunday. When his head cleared, Smith said, he realized his bottom teeth had been removed. He nor his family were ever informed why the teeth were removed.
“I was violated, I was mad,” he said. “If there was a problem and they had to take them, just say it! But he never, ever did.”
On top of the shock from his missing teeth, Smith said his dentures were fitted so poorly that it made it impossible for him to speak, eat or even breathe normally while wearing them. He went back to Lookhart’s office repeatedly over the next few months, with assurances that staff would fix the dentures that were so big that Smith described them as “horse teeth.”
Smith said he started going to another dental office. He said it took months before a new employee at Lookhart’s practice fitted him for new dentures that fit properly.
“It wasn’t a six-week process — it was like months of dealing with this!”
Another patient, Nickolas Seifert, testified that Lookhart “created more problems instead of fixing them.” Charges said Lookhart “scheduled procedures that could have been completed in a single day over the course of multiple visits so they could bill for additional IV sedation procedures.”
Seifert said he went back for numerous visits and was sedated often because of his extreme anxiety around dental procedures. He awoke from sedation on separate occasions to discover a crown had been placed on the wrong tooth and a loose filling had not been repaired, but instead a new filling was placed on a nearby tooth.
Seifert said the crowns and fillings completed by Lookhart have all fallen out in the several years since he was treated. He requested his medical records after Lookhart’s office told him his Medicaid had been used up and offered him a referral. Seifert said pages of his records had been “whited out" to hide the costs of his procedures.
Seifert filed a civil lawsuit accusing Lookhart of malpractice.
Lookhart’s attorney, Paul Stockler, pointed to positive reviews left by both patients. He also said Lookhart’s office made the second set of dentures for Smith at no cost “because he felt bad” and said the office tried to fix the problem each time Smith returned.
Smith said he completed the reviews before he had fully recovered from the sedatives and was not aware his teeth had been removed.
Charges say Cranford, who is not a dentist, pulled teeth from a sedated patient. She originally faced 40 charges, many of which were consolidated into a single count of medical assistance fraud. In October, she pleaded guilty to the felony charge and a misdemeanor for practicing dentistry without a license. She’s scheduled for sentencing in February.
A video shown in court during preceding days of Lookhart’s bench trial shows him pulling a sedated patient’s tooth while riding a hoverboard and then riding away and spinning around with his hands raised in the air.
That patient is expected to testify Wednesday.