Legal problems continue to mount for local dentist

By Joe Tash

A Rancho Santa Fe man who surrendered his dental license last summer following an investigation by the state dental board faces more legal problems, as a dozen malpractice lawsuits filed by former patients remain pending in San Diego Superior Court.

Shervin Erfani, who lives in the Bridges with his wife, Dana Al-Kasmi, also a dentist, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in federal court on March 18. According to the bankruptcy petition, the couple has $1.249 million in assets, including their $1.2 million home, and $2.663 million in liabilities.

Erfani and Al-Kasmi have three children, ranging in age from 18 months to 6 years, and their only income is a monthly disability insurance check received by Erfani, according to the court filing. “Debtor (Erfani) has been diagnosed with a rare heart condition and may never be able to work again,” said the document.

The dental board Web site shows that Al-Kasmi’s dental license is current and lists no disciplinary actions.

Until October 2008, Erfani ran a dental practice on Garden View Road in Encinitas, which has since been taken over by another dentist, Al Fallah.

Former patients of Erfani have alleged that he performed expensive, unnecessary dental work that caused more problems than it solved, and that his work was done improperly, requiring follow-up care and corrective action by other dentists.

Delina Robair, a teacher at Nativity Catholic School in Rancho Santa Fe, said she went to Erfani after receiving a brochure in the mail touting the benefits of a brilliant smile. She ended up paying $65,000 for a complete reconstruction that included the installation of porcelain caps on all of her teeth.

Recently, she said, she went to see Fallah, who took X-rays of her teeth and told her that because much of the work had been improperly done, she faces at least $10,000 in restorative work.

“I almost fainted,” when learning of the problems, said Robair, who had sold a property she owned to pay Erfani for the work. “Now I’m going to have to be in debt. I’m going to have to take a loan out to do this. I don’t have any more apartments to sell.

Erfani could not be reached for comment, and Fallah, citing advice from attorneys, declined to be interviewed for this story.

“I thought he was very charming, honest, smart, well-educated, intelligent. He told all of our patients as well as all of us team members who worked there that we were family, and to treat our patients like family,” said Katherine Murphy, who worked for Erfani as office manager and also received dental treatment from her boss.

John Michael Taylor, an Encinitas attorney, represents 11 clients with pending cases in Superior Court, all alleging dental malpractice by Erfani. Another attorney is handling a 12th case, and Taylor said he has already settled three malpractice lawsuits against Erfani. (Neither Robair nor Murphy has sued Erfani.)

Former patients reported paying Erfani from $20,000 to $100,000 for his services, Taylor said.

A legal document filed by the Dental Board of California alleged improprieties in Erfani’s treatment of several former patients. One woman went to Erfani in 2005 complaining about a dislodged veneer, which is a porcelain shell bonded to the front of a tooth to approve its appearance.

Erfani, according to the document, told the woman her “bite was off,” and recommended neuromuscular treatment. “This was despite the fact that she had no complaints of joint pain or any other complaints regarding her bite,” said the legal document.

Murphy said Erfani recommended neuromuscular treatments to virtually all of his patients — including her.

Erfani used such treatments as electrical stimulation for a condition called temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ, an inflammation of the joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull. In a videotaped interview on the Wellness Hour Web site, Erfani said 50 percent to 60 percent of the U.S. population suffers from TMJ, or “maybe more.”

The dental board’s filing notes that Erfani charged one patient $6,050 for a permanent splint that moved his jaw forward and open 5 millimeters and “eventually caused him more pain and temporomandibular joint dysfunction than he had before treatment … the patient’s pain was dramatically reduced after another dentist removed the splint placed by (Erfani).”

Erfani also used a measuring device called a myomonitor, which, according to the dental board, is a “marketing tool used to ‘sell’ crowns or porcelain laminate veneers on the teeth and has been discredited in the dental literature for decades.”

The dental board’s legal filing accused Erfani of unprofessional conduct, gross negligence, altering a medical chart with intent to deceive and incompetence.

Last June, the dental board ordered Erfani to surrender his dental license. He cannot apply for reinstatement for three years.

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