The case of a “fake dentist” who continued running his Etobicoke basement practice three years after a court order banned him from doing so is raising concerns about the number of illegal dentists operating in Ontario.
In November, a Superior Court judge handed Bogdan Pavlyshyn a conditional sentence of house arrest for 90 days, after finding him in contempt of court for violating a 2011 court order. That order prohibited Pavlyshyn from practising dentistry without a licence in Ontario and from purporting to be a dentist.
Items seized from his home in March included scalpel blades, high-speed dental drills, dental implants, needles, local anesthetic and an x-ray sensor, according to court documents.
“I knew what I was doing was wrong. But I did it anyway,” Pavlyshyn said in a statement of apology, which he read to the court in Ukrainian , according to his lawyer. “In 2011, the court ordered me to stop being a dentist. I did not.”
Reached in person at his home last week, Pavlyshyn said he did not speak English. He refused to answer a Star reporter’s questions but, when asked if he was still practising in his basement, said, “No.”
According to court documents obtained by the Star, Pavlyshyn claimed he trained as a dentist in the Ukraine before moving to Canada in 2005. He said he tried to become a certified dentist in Canada but failed the English exams, the documents show.
In the documents, Pavlyshyn, 34, said he gave dentistry services to “people who were from the same area of the world I was from,” and practised out of his home.
“Mr. Pavlyshyn is very careful about who he sees and only accepts friends and referrals through his friends,” stated an investigator hired by the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario in an investigation report.
The married father of a 1-year-old also worked as a roofer and a plumber, the documents state.
“Let’s call it what it is. These are guys that are preying on vulnerable people, unsuspecting public,” said Irwin Fefergrad, registrar of the College, the governing body for Ontario dentists. “They’re fraud artists; they’re masquerading as somebody that they are not and they’re doing harm.”
In Ontario, only dentists with valid licences from the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario are permitted to practise dentistry.
“One of the biggest obstacles for foreign-trained professionals … is that English as a second language can be a huge barrier,” Brian Moher, Pavlyshyn’s lawyer, told the Star.
In his affidavit, Pavlyshyn said he failed English exams numerous times while trying to pass exams with the Association of Canadian Faculties of Dentistry.
Moher added that poor English is not an excuse for contempt of court.
Fefergrad said the College welcomes internationally trained dentists, for whom fast-track equivalency processes are available, but dentists must meet Canadian qualification criteria.
In Ontario, 47 per cent of all 9,000 dentists were not trained domestically, Fefergrad said.
“I’ll register anyone who’s competent,” said Fefergrad. “(Internationally trained dentists) don’t have to go back to school. If they meet what we call the equivalency process, they’ll get a licence … Mr. Pavlyshyn did none of that.”
Fefergrad said the College first became aware of Pavlyshyn’s unlicensed practice in 2010 after receiving a complaint from a patient who was “badly treated.”
A Superior Court judge ordered Pavlyshyn to stop practising the following year.
In February 2014, however, a woman tipped off the College that a friend had visited Pavlyshyn for “cheap dental work,” according to court documents.
The subsequent investigation into Pavlyshyn’s basement practice uncovered an “unclean” operation, said Fefergrad, noting a rag was found floating in a filled sink. Fefergrad called Pavlyshyn’s waiting room “filthy.”
In an email to the Star, the Ontario Ministry of Health also confirmed that charges have been laid in connection with Pavlyshyn’s use of an x-ray machine.
“The Crown is proceeding with a prosecution on a charge laid regarding the offence of installing an x-ray machine without first obtaining the written approval for the installation from the Director of X-Ray Safety contrary to subsection 3(1) of the Healing Arts Radiation Protection Act,” a ministry spokesperson wrote to the Star.
Moher, Pavlyshyn’s lawyer, told the Star his client was aware of what was required of him in the original court order and has now “fully embraced” the court’s November decision. Moher said his client was glad to deliver a “heartfelt apology” in court.
“I do not know how to explain why I thought this was somehow OK,” said Pavlyshyn in his statement of apology. “I can only say that I did it with my ‘eyes closed,’ like a drunk man who drives and pretends he is not drunk.”
Pavlyshyn is one of 15 people listed as “illegal practitioners” on the College’s website. The individuals “have been, or are in the process of being, prosecuted under the Dentistry Act (1991), the Regulated Health Professions Act, the Criminal Code, and/or the Provincial Offences Act” and cannot practise dentistry or purport to be a dentist, according to the website.
Fefergrad said he’s confident more illegal practitioners are currently operating in Ontario.
“This is not just a blip. I believe there’s an underground economy out there,” Fefergrad said. “The public’s at risk.”
A 2010 Star investigation uncovered a thriving industry of illegal dentistry in Ontario.
The Star found people practicing illegally often preyed on new immigrants, offering patients cut-rate services in unclean environments.
Fefergrad said he was aware of at least two of Pavlyshyn’s patients who experienced pain when he treated them. The patients had to pay additional costs to repair inappropriate dental work, he said.
In an affidavit, Pavlyshyn said he was not aware that he harmed anyone “in the most literal sense.”
Fefergrad also said there is a “huge risk” Pavlyshyn’s patients could have been exposed to radiation from the x-ray machine, and he worries patients could have been exposed to infection and disease.
He advised patients treated by Pavlyshyn to see a licensed dentist and a physician for examination.
Fefergrad was unsure how many patients visited Pavlyshyn, whose records he called “shabby.”
In addition to 90 days of house arrest, Pavlyshyn must pay the College $5,000 and surrender his passport for 90 days, according to the court order.
Pavlyshyn is also facing 12 charges under the Dentistry Act and the Regulated Health Professions Act, including performing a controlled act — which can include administering injections, giving diagnoses and cutting into tissues — and purporting to be a dentist. The RCDSO plans to withdraw the charges, the College’s lawyer confirmed.
The College investigates every complaint about possible illegal dentistry from patients and dentists, Fefergrad said. It allocates a budget of $150,000 annually to investigating and cracking down on unlicensed dentists.
However, there are limitations on the extent of what the College can uncover.
“With non-dentists … we only know if people come to us,” Fefergrad said. “I agree that there are more. I really am concerned that I don’t know about all of them.”
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