Pittsburgh dentist Samuel Pollina, was recently featured in an unflattering investigative report by WTAE’s Paul Van Osdol titled, “Pittsburgh dentist admits using paper clips for root canals.” This investigation revealed that Dr. Pollina in the course of his dental practice has frequently used paper clips (yes, paper clips) as posts in his patients’ root canals.
Root canal therapy is a dental treatment used to repair and save a patient’s tooth that has become decayed or infected. Dentists and endodontists perform root canal procedures by removing the nerve and pulp from inside a patient’s tooth. The dentist then cleans out the inside of the tooth and seals it. In many instances following a root canal, the dentist recommends the patient have a post and core performed. Core placement refers to the dental procedure where a dentist replaces missing tooth structure in order to place a dental crown. Replacing the missing portions of the tooth allows for the best foundation for tooth restoration. A core can be made out of any type of permanent dental material and in most cases is either dental amalgam (metal filling material) or else dental composite (tooth bonding). By building up the tooth with a core (bringing it closer to its original dimensions), the dentist can greatly increase the stability of the crown and therefore give the patient the best long term chance for success with the tooth.
A dental post is used to help anchor the core to the remaining tooth. As a rule of thumb, more than half of a tooth’s original crown portion has been lost, a post is needed to assist in anchoring the core to the tooth.
When placing a post and core, the dentist will first use their drill to create a “post space.” Afterward, a post, specifically sized (or fabricated) to match the post space, is cemented or bonded into place. Traditionally, dental posts have been made out of metal (stainless steel, titanium, cast metal). And in today’s practice, dentists typically choose between metal and carbon fiber posts that have been specifically designed, manufactured and approved for use in root canal therapy.
Many of Dr. Pollina’s patients, however, received paper clips instead of approved posts.
In a recent deposition, Dr. Pollina has admitted to a number of alarming dental practices. First, Dr. Pollina testified under oath that in addition to using paper clips as temporary posts, he has also permitted patients to be treated with paper clips as permanent posts. Second, Dr. Pollina admitted that he had his employees buy the paper clips at Staples and then sterilize them in his office. Finally, and most concerning, Dr. Pollina admitted that he did not tell his patients that he was using paper clips in their root canal therapy instead of approved dental posts.
Almost as disturbing as Dr. Pollina’s revelations is the fact that state regulators were made aware of Dr. Pollina using paper clips during root canals and seemingly do not care. In fact, no action or discipline has been taken to date in response. At this time, it is unknown why state regulators seemingly do not have a problem with what Dr. Pollina has done to his patients.
Another area of inquiry which this investigation did not drill into was how Dr. Pollina billed his patients and/or their insurance companies for these procedures. One can only hope that he did not bill his patients for posts when he use paper clips.