Nothing seemed amiss on Jan. 17, when Amanda Leal took her two daughters to the Signature Smiles dental office in Garden Oaks. The Candlelight Estates resident said she joked with some of the employees there after her girls had their checkups, and then Leal made appointments for the following month.
Three days later, however, she got an email saying the office was non-operational.
“I’m just flabbergasted,” Leal said.
Several other Northwest Houston residents have had similar reactions since the local Signature Smiles office, located at 3800 N. Shepherd Dr., Suite 3A, abruptly closed Jan. 20. The business provided no warning, according to multiple patients, and some said they aren’t sure whether they can continue to receive treatment from the doctors who worked there or recoup payments they made for services that have yet to be provided.
According to information provided by the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners, state law requires dental practices to notify patients when they are in the process of closing. Dentists must provide patients at least 30 days written notice of their intent to discontinue undertaken treatment. Once dentists have begun treatment, they are not allowed to abandon patients without reasonable cause and giving patients the opportunity to obtain the services of another dentist.
According to the Signature Smiles office’s website, its founder and majority owner is Dr. Terry Lee. Harris County court records show that Lee, the Signature Smiles office and the affiliated Alliance Surgical Center were sued in November by U.S. Bank Equipment Finance, which claims that Lee and the business defaulted on payments for more than $95,000 in medical equipment. Court documents also show that Lee filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in December.
Neither Lee’s attorney, Margaret McClure, nor the trustee in the bankruptcy case, Randy Williams, responded to Jan. 24 voicemails seeking comment.
As of Tuesday, the dental office’s voicemail greeting referred patients to the Signature Smiles location in The Woodlands, but an employee who answered the phone there Tuesday said the offices are independently owned franchises and do not share patients or medical records.
“They didn’t even offer to have me come in,” Leal said of her interaction with the office in The Woodlands.
Leal and Garden Oaks resident Angie Lane, a patient at the local office along with her two children, both said they were patients of Dr. Kevin Yeh and already paid for services that have not been completed. Leal said one of her daughters has a full set of braces that are set to come off this spring, and Lane said she had a temporary crown installed Jan. 14 and was waiting for the permanent crown to come in.
Lane and Leal both said they received emails from Signature Smiles, first saying that patients who wished to continue being seen by Yeh could contact him by email. They received subsequent emails from Signature Smiles saying Yeh and Dr. Mandy Wilkinson, who worked as an orthodontist there part of the time, are now accepting patients at BLVD Dentistry Oak Forest at 1343 W. 43rd St., Suite F.
“Unfortunately, they (BLVD Dentistry) do not have any insight into what you may have already paid to Signature Smiles and have no way to recoup that money for you, but they are committed to keeping your fees as low as possible,” said the latter email, which Leal provided to The Leader.
An employee who answered the phone Tuesday at BLVD Dentistry confirmed that Wilkinson and Yeh are practicing there. Messages left for them at that office were not returned, and Yeh did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Lane said she received an email from Yeh on Jan. 23 saying he had received her permanent crown and would cement it for her at a time and location to be determined. In the email, which Lane provided to The Leader, Yeh also told her it had been a “crazy week” and thanked her for being understanding.
“I was appreciative of that,” Lane said. “I take it he’s doing the best he can in a bad situation.”
The website for the now-defunct Signature Smiles office in Garden Oaks lists five doctors, including Wilkinson and Yeh, as being part of the office’s dental team. But it is unclear how many of them were practicing there at the time of the closure.
Leal said she and her daughters usually saw the same hygienist but “never the same dentist,” aside from Yeh. Lane and Leal both said they had good experiences at Signature Smiles, but Lane said appointments had become increasingly difficult to secure in recent months.
Lane also said she noticed a “pattern of breakdowns” in terms of organization and communication leading up to the office’s closure. In two cases, she said, she received bills that were inaccurate or difficult to understand.
“It was just some weird things that happened,” Lane said. “So I wasn’t surprised.”