NORRISTOWN – A former dental assistant and a receptionist at a Main Line dental office were not smiling when they learned they’ll be taking their toothbrushes to jail for performing illegal, after-hours dental procedures.
Cheryl A. Laing, 46, and Jessica Gullickson, 25, once roommates who resided in the 2100 block of South Sproul Road, Broomall, Delaware County, each was sentenced in Montgomery County Court on Monday to two to 23 months in the county jail, to be followed by four years’ probation, in connection with incidents that occurred when they secretly worked after-hours, setting up their own fake practice at the Smilz 4 Life dental office in the 700 block of Old Lancaster Road in the Bryn Mawr section of Lower Merion between 2010 and 2012.
“You’re not qualified to render professional care. What I see here is an attempt to beat the system for pecuniary gain. Well, the system caught up with you,” President Judge William J. Furber Jr. scolded the women. “Honestly, I don’t know why you did this. Extra money? It’s greed.
“Did you ever consider the health risks you’re creating for people? What if an emergency occurred? You’re not capable of helping them,” added Furber, who also ordered each of the women to perform 200 hours of community service.
Laing and Gullickson, each of whom pleaded guilty to charges of unauthorized practice of dentistry, theft by deception and recklessly endangering other persons, must report to the jail Jan. 6 to begin serving the sentences. They are eligible for the jail’s work release program.
With the charges, prosecutors alleged Laing and Gullickson performed dental procedures, while not being properly licensed, that included taking X-rays, injecting numbing agents, performing root canals, tooth extractions, installing crowns and braces and dispensing medications. The illegally conducted X-rays were filed under the name of Laing’s pet dog, Scottie, testimony revealed.
“You can’t have people holding themselves out to be professionals when they don’t have the credentials. There’s too much at stake,” said Assistant District Attorney John N. Gradel. “These two people are not altruistic in any way, shape or form. They’re just in it for the money, pure and simple.”
Authorities alleged Laing and Gullickson did not acquire patient histories and did not investigate if patients had drug allergies before providing treatment at their phony practice.
During regular office hours, Laing was employed as a licensed dental assistant at Smilz 4 Life, which was operated by a licensed dentist. Under the law, Laing was not permitted to perform any of the procedures and had to perform her duties while the licensed dentist of the office was present, court papers indicate.
But after business hours and after the licensed dentist left, Laing, authorities alleged, set up her own dental practice at Smilz 4 Life while holding herself out to patients as a licensed dentist.
Gullickson, a receptionist at Smilz 4 Life during regular business hours, acted as Laing’s dental assistant, authorities alleged.
Laing, investigators alleged, advertised through word of mouth in the Bryn Mawr area that she could perform virtually all dental procedures for uninsured patients at a drastically reduced price. Laing and Gullickson accepted cash payments and kept no patient records of their activities.
The owner and licensed dentist of the practice told investigators he was unaware that his business was open after hours and that Laing and Gullickson provided dental services without his knowledge, according to the criminal complaint filed by Lower Merion Detective John Mick.
“I never grew up to be a criminal, mean or malicious to anyone,” Laing, who was represented by defense lawyer Jason Donoghue, told the judge before learning her fate. “I’m sorry for any inconvenience that I caused or any harm.”
“I never meant for any of this to happen. My intentions were never to be criminal,” added Gullickson, who was presented by lawyer David Mischak.
Mischak and Donoghue argued for leniency on behalf of the women, characterizing the women as “caring and giving,” women interested in helping the less fortunate and who perform community service through local churches to help the elderly and homeless.
The judge ordered the women to share in the payment of more than $5,100 in restitution to the victims of their scheme.
One patient told authorities that during her root canal, Laing left the room to see another patient and told Gullickson, who had no medical or dental training whatsoever, to assist and “look for the roots,” according to the criminal complaint. Another patient reported to police he was in “excruciating pain” for the 45 minutes it took Laing to extract his tooth.
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