Shaun King: Can The Dentist Be Harming Your Kids?


I had so many things I wanted to talk about this morning.

I wanted to talk about Black Panther. The world premier was in Hollywood last night and the first reviews are out. People are literally saying it’s the best Marvel movie they’ve ever seen.

I wanted to talk about how I’m going to continue boycotting the Super Bowl this coming weekend and I hope you do too.

I wanted to talk about how little I care about Trump’s State of the Union address tonight. He’s a bigot who sexually assaulted women. I don’t care about his ability to read a canned speech that his staff wrote for him.

I wanted to lean into all of those things, but I have a story to share with you this morning that I just can’t shake. It should already be a national scandal. It is, in my opinion, our own modern day Tuskegee Experiment.

Two weeks ago, a national chain of dental offices called Kool Smiles was forced to pay the United States Justice Department nearly $24 million dollars in fines.

First off, I have to admit that I was shocked to learn that any dental business could actually afford $24 million dollars in fines and still stay open to operate the next day.

But that gets to the very heart of this scandal. Kool Smiles dentistry, which is a white owned and managed company, mainly operates its offices in America’s inner cities. And an investigation that started deep into the Obama administration, and included at least two whistleblowers from inside the company, said that Kool Smiles dentistry was doing three horrible things – not once or twice, but thousands and thousands of times.

First, preying on low income families who often had state sponsored healthcare plans, Kool Smiles Dentistry performed dental procedures on tens of thousands of children, almost all of them Black and Latino, who did not need them. They gave kids permanent caps who didn’t have cavities. They extracted teeth, no let me rephrase that, they pulled teeth out of the mouths of young children, sometimes not properly using the medicine to prevent pain, when kids didn’t even need those teeth pulled.

In fact, multiple investigations into Kool Smiles dentistry found that they performed tens of thousands of painful, permanent procedures on children who did not need them. And here’s the thing, when families, including my own, take our kids to the dentists, we assume that we are being told the truth about whatever problems the dentists say our kids have.

But Kool Smiles did even more than that. I’d like to compare them to Pennywise the Clown. Their offices, which I once took my own kids to when I lived in Atlanta, are full of colorful murals on the walls, slides for kids to go down, video game centers, and toy tables everywhere.

They make their offices look like Chuck E. Cheese, but in reality they are committing horrible, painful crimes against children.

That’s the first scandal. Kids are being harmed for profit.

The second scandal is that it appears nobody is going to jail and not a single Kool Smiles office is going to shut down over this. This is the definition of white privilege.

Long before most of you ever heard of me, I was a high school history and civics teacher in Atlanta. After that, for years, I worked in Atlanta’s juvenile justice system as a teacher and counselor. In both positions, I worked not with hundreds, but thousands of young black boys and girls who were sent not to camps or youth jails, but to adult prisons for 7-10 years, alongside hardened criminals for robberies where these kids sometimes stole a car or a television.

Yet the dentists at Kool Smiles, in a Medicaid fraud scheme, stole tens of millions of dollars from state and federal governments, all while causing physical pain and harm to children, and they aren’t spending a single night in jail.

They haven’t even been stripped of their licenses to practice. Painfully, it reminds me of what the NYPD after Officer Daniel Pantaleo choked Eric Garner to death.

Pantaleo, who had been in trouble time after time after time as an officer, costing the city millions, should’ve gone to prison for murdering a man. He damn sure should’ve lost his job. But instead, he’s still an officer in the department. He never really skipped a beat.

In essence, Daniel Pantaleo and the dentists and executives at Kool Smiles each found that their white privilege protected them from any type of real punishment for their horrible crimes.

I’m not finished with this story. I’m just getting started. I’m going to keep digging and I’ll make sure to report back to you all what I find. I just know that what’s happened so far isn’t good enough!




Shaun King: Can The Dentist Be Harming Your Kids?  was originally published on