Trial of French dentists accused of ‘deliberate violence’ begins today

The millionaire father-and-son team were once the richest dentists in France, but they now stand accused of inflicting ‘deliberate violence leading to permanent disfigurement or disability’

A women opens her mouth during a dentist check-up, with dentist instruments being used
The dentist duo promised “Hollywood smiles” to their patients, but stand accused of inflicting deliberate injury and lasting damage
Published Last updated

A father-and-son dentist surgeon duo is in court in Marseille for causing alleged permanent injury or disfigurement to more than 300 patients. The pair also stand accused of fraud.

Dentists Carnot Guedj, 70, and Lionel Guedj, 41, father and son respectively, appeared in court to begin their six-week trial in Marseille (Bouches-du-Rhône, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) today, February 28.

They stand accused of inflicting “deliberate violence leading to permanent disfigurement or disability” on 322 patients who they treated for dental work.

Patients that were promised a “Hollywood smile” instead allegedly suffered results including damaged, pulled or decayed teeth, causing long-term problems.

More than 500 patients have come forward to claim that they were “victims” of the two dentists between 2006 and 2012.

The trial has been brought by the 322 patients, as well as the Caisse primaire d'assurance-maladie (CPAM 13), five health insurance companies, and the national and departmental councils of dental surgeon authority l’Ordre des chirurgiens-dentistes.

But Lionel Guedj’s lawyer, Frédérique Monneret said: “During this trial, my client will try to show that, although there was undoubtedly some negligence or carelessness, he never had the will or intention to harm.”

The two now risk 10 years of prison and a fine of €375,000, which could rise to €2million in fines for their business, without counting any compensation for their alleged victims.

‘Desperate’ patients

One of the duo’s patients, Marielle Orsi, claimed that their work more than 10 years ago has left her unable to eat normally. She is now in permanent pain and can only eat liquids. She told France 3: “I can no longer manage the pain, I am full of pills.”

Ms Orsi said that she had originally visited the dentists for a “simple teeth whitening consultation”, but that, on the Guedjs’ advice, she had healthy teeth pulled out, replaced by a prosthetic tooth “bridge”.

When this caused pain, she consulted other dentists, but no long-term replacement held satisfactorily.

Another patient, Aklim Belaïd, claimed that he went to the Guedjs’ practice because he “had a loose tooth”, and was told that he needed to have more teeth removed as they would “later become loose” too.

However, after months of repeated abscesses, he consulted another dentist, who found that a metal drill bit had been accidentally left inside his mouth. Because of the consequences of the work, he was unable to eat solid foods; for example, he could not bite into an apple.

He has now been quoted €20,000 by other dentists to fix the damage.

Mr Belaïd said: “I am desperate because I don’t have the means to redo my teeth. I am no longer the same person. I am anxious, my mouth looks lopsided. I have holes everywhere.”

The lawyer for several of the plaintiffs, Marc-André Ceccaldi, said: “Abscesses, pain, repeated infections, black mouths, bad breath, prostheses that don't fit: 10 years after the events in question (from 2009 to 2012), many former patients are still suffering from problems.”

He added: "85% of the victims are people of modest means, who are often in receipt of universal health cover (couverture maladie universelle complémentaire, CMU-C).”

Mr Belaïd’s lawyer, Lionel Febbraro, called the incident a “health disaster” and denounced the authorities for having, he claims, underestimated the extent of the issue.

Dentist reports dating back to 2009

Reports of dubious work by the accused dentists date back to 2009, when an insurance company flagged up possible “abuse of care” and a number of suspect invoices. This led the CPAM in Bouches-du-Rhône to file a complaint in 2011.

It was found that the duo oversaw “a massive programme of work involving the stripping and replacing of a maximum number of teeth”. Lionel Guedj was the richest dentist in France in 2010, with a turnover of €2.6million, compared to the departmental average of €180,000.

Dr Guedj junior had 28 times more bills for dentistry crown work than the average of his colleagues, and amassed a property portfolio of €9.5million, plus a 15-metre yacht and luxury cars.

In 2012, a judicial investigation was opened, and the pair were banned from practising.

Most requests by the alleged victims for any compensation have so far been rejected.

Compensation authority la Commission d'indemnisation des victimes d'infractions (CIV) has said it will await the court’s decision before requesting funds from its usual source, le Fonds de garantie des actes de terrorisme et autres infractions.

The trial is set to last until April 8, and is being held in a 400-seat room specially fitted out in a former barracks to accommodate everyone involved.

Related articles

Tooth filling had to be redone - should I pay?

What happens for routine dentist visits in France?

Make sense of... Visiting the dentist