A San Diego dentist accused of performing substandard and unneeded dental work on children has apparently closed his practice.
NBC 7 Investigates first reported about the state accusation filed against Dr. Khuong Nguyen in February. Several patients complained to the state, saying he performed root canals and installed stainless steel crowns on baby teeth. At the time of our first report, he was still practicing at Clairemont Pediatric Dental.
It’s been eight years since Santee mother Christine Chavez brought her 5-year-old daughter, Paige, to see Nguyen, but Christine still gets teary when she remembers what happened.
“As a parent, you trust the dentist or the doctor, because that's their job,” Chavez told us. “We went for a cleaning, you know, because she was 5 and just a routine checkup.”
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But Nguyen told her Paige needed much more work than a simple cleaning. Chavez showed NBC 7 Investigates billing statements that show Nguyen performed four root canals and installed six stainless steel crowns and two fillings. It wasn’t easy on Paige, who still had her baby teeth.
“As soon as we got home, she was miserable,” Chavez said. “I mean, she laid right here on the floor, you know, throwing her head back and crying because it hurt.”
New problems arose in the weeks that followed.
“Like the gums were bleeding every time she brushed — like they were swollen again, like halfway up the metal crown,” Chavez said. “Fast-forward: She ended up losing both those teeth. They had to be pulled.”
With her mother’s permission, NBC 7 Investigates shared Paige's dental records and X-rays with a dental expert, who called the work gross overtreatment and said he saw zero evidence of tooth decay.
It’s a story that’s all too familiar to another local mom, who asked us to hide her identity.
“I should have asked more questions,” that mother said. ‘I should have demanded more answers from this doctor.”
That mother is one of two parents who filed complaints against Nguyen with the Dental Board of California. Those complaints ultimately resulted in a lengthy accusation filed by the state attorney general, accusing Nguyen of “incompetence,” “repeated acts of negligence” and filing “false or fraudulent claims,” among a list of charges.
Nguyen had a public hearing scheduled at the end of this month, but NBC 7 Investigates noticed the case was closed on Aug. 15 and that hearing was removed. We checked the most recent case documents and found a settlement and disciplinary order, but it was redacted. So we checked his license online, and it still shows as active. We reached out to the dental board and they told us quote, “The board has not taken action to conclude this disciplinary action.”
NBC 7 also contacted Nguyen’s attorney to ask what happened with the case, but we never heard back. When our initial story aired in February, Nguyen’s attorney denied the state’s claims, listed Nguyen’s credentials and emphasized that he had never been disciplined by the state dental board before.
We visited Nguyen’s office building and noticed the signage is now for a different pediatric dental group, not Clairemont Pediatric Dental. Its website states, “Nguyen closed his practice in July 2022.” A receptionist at the new practice told us they’re now taking his patients, but Nguyen no longer works there. She added she didn’t know what Nguyen is up to now.
The state first opened its investigation into Nguyen in 2018, two years after they received a complaint. NBC 7's analysis of the dental board data uncovered that it’s not unusual for these cases to drag on for years. We found it takes, on average, nearly 1,200 days for the board to close an investigation. That’s more than three years and more than twice the board’s target time of 540 days. It’s something that concerns experts we spoke with, including Dr. Michael Davis, a dentist, and Marian Hollingsworth, a patient advocate.
“We’re looking at three years out?” Davis said. “And we’ve got a protocol where we’re not monitoring for sedation? This is potentially life-threatening. This is absurd. It doesn’t cut it. It’s not in the interest of the people of the state of California.”
“It's scary because you have, you know x amount of patients going into that office every day trusting the boards to do their job,” Hollingsworth said. “You know, trusting that this person is safe because look, the license is right on the board, right on the wall.”
One of the mothers who helped launch the state investigation into Nguyen agreed that changes need to be made.
“I wish the state would pick up the speed in cases like this, especially cases that involve the suffering of children,” that mother said. "I don’t know why it took so long. I don’t know why, honestly.”
Count on NBC 7 Investigates to keep checking with the dental board to report the disciplinary outcome of the case.