Finding affordable dentist like pulling teeth?

It must be for some. And one man, 63-year-old Jose Santiago Delao of Texas, was willing to provide dental services on the cheap, despite not having a license. Eventually he landed on the authorities’ radar and was arrested following a complaint from a woman about a botched molar repair:

Delao admits he skirted the law, but isn’t remorseful.

“Jesus Christ didn’t need or didn’t have a license,” Jose Delao told Yahoo News during a jailhouse interview. “People hurt and they needed it. People didn’t have enough money to visit the regular dentist.”

Delao, a former dental lab technician, claims he couldn’t turn his back.

“It broke my heart,” he said, tapping his chest, “because I have the experience.”

But authorities say Delao, a native of Costa Rica, has never been a licensed dentist in Texas. If convicted, he could get two to 10 years in prison….

A survey of published news reports shows that as many as eight such underground dental clinics have been shutdown in the U.S. since last summer.

“I would clearly classify it as a problem,” said Dr. Frank Catalanotto, chair of the Department of Community Dentistry at the University of Florida. “It is potentially a big problem.”

I disagree that the problem is unlicensed dentistry. The problem is that there is obviously a market demand for low-cost dentistry that isn’t being met, probably because the barrier to entry in the field as a state-licensed dentist is so high, a barrier which licensed dentists have a vested interest in maintaining, as it protects their market share from would-be competitors like Delao. But people are far more likely to be uninsured for dental care than for medical care, or simply can’t afford to pay the high prices of mainstream dental work. Delao understood this and tried to meet the need, to his credit. He may have committed some crime (if, as the story reports, he did not let a patient leave when she wanted to), but trying to help people isn’t one of them.

(Cross-posted from A Thousand Cuts.)

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  • Brian, very interesting post. I love these kinds of anecdotal stories. They are a big help in understanding economic controversies, case by case, in the real world.

    I totally agree; there is a market demand for low-cost dentistry that isn’t being met. I’m sure you will agree that there are market demands that are not being met all over the place. Our economy is full of them.

    That’s what it always gets down to in a country in which markets are sabotaged by government.

    Why do governments do this?

    They do it to reward their biggest supporters, and they do this via monopoly privileges. As you pointed out, these privileges effectively eliminate competitors, especially small newcomers to the business, from entering the field. The established giants are naturally obsessed with the status quo. They do not want any challenges to their market dominance because, as Mises put it, “It hurts vested interests and threatens traditional ways of production and consumption.” (The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality, p. 106).

    These privileges are a huge drag on our economy that we are forced to put up with because our government reps do this under the color of law, and are, therefore, very hard to influence or stop.