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SUNDAY MORNING

City scope: Reality bites for fake dentist

Petti Fong in Vancouver

 

It's hard to fathom quite why rogue dentist David Wu (right) turned himself in recently after being on the lam for so long.

For six months, Wu, who also goes by the name Tung Sheng Wu, had ignored all entreaties to appear in court to face the rap over his illegal dentistry practice. Last month he was sentenced in absentia to three months in jail and ordered to pay more than C$100,000 (HK$742,000) in fines. A week ago, however, he turned himself in to the Toronto Police Service.

Believed to have been trained in dentistry during military service in Taiwan, Wu ran his practice out of various private residences in the Vancouver area over the past decade or so, until earlier this year.

And even after a nationwide warrant was put out for his arrest in August, many of his patients kept in contact with him. While eluding the law, he somehow managed to keep making house calls, in one case adjusting a patient's braces.

For all the loyalty he clearly commands, though, he has had the might of the College of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia on his case. In British Columbia, anyone calling themselves a dentist must be qualified, registered and trained at a college-approved institution. After Wu, 62, took flight, the body offered a C$2,000 reward for information about his whereabouts and hired a private investigator to track him down. To their chagrin, he remained one step ahead.

Indeed, their doggedness may have been motivated in part by embarrassment. Wu promised the college that he would stop practising as far back as 2003. In a raid on his home in May, however, police found evidence of an extensive practice, including equipment left in what the college claims were unsanitary conditions. His patients have since been encouraged to get tested for HIV and hepatitis C, although of the nearly 500 to have done so to date, none have tested positive for anything they might have picked up from seeing him.

Dental work is not covered by public health care in Canada and Wu's patients, by and large, were immigrants who would be unlikely to have access to workplace health benefits.

The college has insisted throughout that Wu should not be viewed as some kind of dental Robin Hood. However, one of his patients, Peruvian Carlos Battistini - who says Wu typically charged C$20 to perform a check on a filling - tells Post Magazine that he had no problems with the quality of work performed nor with the sanitary conditions at Wu's home practice. "In Peru, that's what happens. You need dental work done and you go to visit in someone's home office," he says. "I liked the fact this guy was working so late. It was 9pm when I went to see him. Not many real dentists stay open that late. They don't have to."

Knowing the consequences that now await Wu, Battistini says he would have understood if he had stayed on the run, adding, "I think, to him, like many of us, he just did what he had to do to make a living. "

 

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