It was only after her natural teeth had been pulled in preparation for full implants that Louise Schostek learned of trouble at Woodbury Dental Arts, her dentist's office. The extractions had been in January, and when she returned in February to see if her mouth was ready for procedures that would restore her smile, Schostek, 74, realized that several members of the staff were gone.

A staff member assured Schostek — who paid $25,000 up front — that the office wasn't closing. But a month later, with no warning other than a paper sign taped to the front door, and before Schostek's dental work was complete, Woodbury Dental Arts closed for good.

"It's been a nightmare," said Schostek, who retired in 2018 after 47 years selling sewing machines, vacuums and appliances at the St. Paul Sears store. She figures she'll never see her money returned.

Unknown to Schostek and many other patients, the primary dentist behind Woodbury Dental Arts, Marko Kamel, spent much of 2023 and early 2024 under a cloud of regulatory discipline. After receiving reports from patients and a University of Minnesota oral surgeon about substandard care, painful results and questionable practices, the State Board of Dentistry twice temporarily suspended Kamel's license in May and November 2023.

On Jan. 19 — days before a dentist working for Kamel extracted Schostek's teeth — an administrative law judge recommended the Board of Dentistry take "disciplinary action" against Kamel's license. The board ordered Kamel's license suspended indefinitely on March 5.

Kamel did not respond to requests for comment.

The case has prompted questions about the oversight of dentists, notifications when a dentist is disciplined — and about whether Kamel's patients will ever recoup the large deposits they put down for dental implants, which are typically not covered by insurance. Some 55 patients who had paid $1 million in deposits were left with uncompleted work when Kamel's office shut down, according to court documents. Kamel's business has filed for bankruptcy.

Woodbury police say they are investigating Kamel and Woodbury Dental Arts, and the Minnesota Attorney General's office is also monitoring the case, a spokesman said.

"I knew something was wrong"

Jane McEllistrem of Prescott, Wis., was impressed the first time she saw Kamel's "state-of-the-art" office. Her opinion changed after Kamel installed an implant in May of 2022; one week later, the implant became infected and she had to go to the emergency room.

"I was in so much pain," McEllistrem said. She eventually saw Kamel for three follow-up appointments and asked to have the implant removed, but Kamel instead prescribed oxycodone at each visit, she said.

Another patient, Cathy Kilmer of Ellsworth, Wis., paid $17,500 for a procedure in 2022. She had six implants placed in her upper jaw, which never healed properly. Her face kept swelling up, and after nine months of antibiotics she got a call from Kamel telling her one of the implants had to come out. Kilmer said the removal was awful, with Kamel telling her to "shut up and quit crying" as the procedure took place.

"I knew something was wrong but I didn't know what was going on," said Kilmer. "They kept telling me I didn't have an infection and that everything was fine."

Few of the patients knew the full extent of problems within the office as Kamel was investigated by the Board of Dentistry. A two-page document laying out Kamel's May 2023 temporary suspension doesn't provide specifics about what happened, and about two weeks later, Kamel's license was reinstated with conditions, including a $5,000 penalty, monitoring and coursework.

Three months later the board suspended Kamel's license again. This time, an administrative law judge followed the suspension with a 47-page document cataloging a track record of substandard dental care on two unnamed patients. "Patient 1″ allegedly had seven out of 12 implants fail over a two-year period, repeatedly returning to Kamel's office for treatment of persistent pain, loose implants and a cracked bridge, among other issues.

The patient broke down crying during one of the last appointments, according to the report, saying, "I've been doing this for two years. When will we stop trying? When is enough, enough?"

A second patient went to the Maple Grove Hospital emergency room in 2023 for severe pain three days after Kamel removed the patient's teeth and installed 12 implants. When Kamel learned the patient might next go to M Health Fairview at the University of Minnesota for more treatment, he called the patient and left a 59-second voicemail saying he didn't approve and wanted to see the patient himself.

The patient instead went to the M Health Fairview emergency room, where doctors found a rapidly progressing infection. After surgery, the patient stayed at the hospital for five days before going home. The dental board's report notes that post-operative infections are uncommon after dental implant surgery.

Suspension and bankruptcy

On March 5, the board determined that Kamel, who earned his dentistry degree at a university in Cairo, Egypt, and began practicing in Minnesota in 2006, would have his license suspended indefinitely. Kamel appealed, arguing he had placed some 10,000 implants in his career in Minnesota, and that most were successful. Indeed, many of Kamel's patients who spoke to the Star Tribune said that when they did their own background checks, mostly by searching Google, they didn't see a lot of red flags.

The board, citing the "gross incompetence" of treatments on both patients, denied the appeal.

Board of Dentistry Executive Director Bridgett Anderson said the board's decision to reinstate Kamel's license was done through a private process, and declined to release additional information. Some patients were upset they were not made aware of Kamel's license suspension, but Anderson said it was made public when the board posted its decision on the board's website. No additional notification was sent to Kamel's patients.

The California Board of Dentistry was made aware of the suspension of Kamel's Minnesota dental license, Anderson said, after reports surfaced he had moved there to continue practicing dentistry. Kamel has been licensed to practice dentistry in California since 2016, state records show.

When he closed his Woodbury office, Kamel told KSTP he was broke, but when he filed for bankruptcy in March it wasn't for himself, but for his business, the Minnesota Implant Center. According to the Chapter 7 filing, the business has $2.15 million in debts and $800,000 in assets, mostly the dental equipment in his shuttered office.

As his regulatory problems began to mount, Kamel was involved in personal financial and legal disputes. In early 2023, he filed for divorce from his wife of 21 years, then withdrew the filing. Soon after, Kamel filed another lawsuit against a woman described in court documents as his mistress, seeking to recover cash, have control of a $915,000 Edina townhouse he'd bought to live in with the woman and regain a $57,000 engagement ring he'd given her.

The affair ended quickly — Kamel said he never was given access to the townhouse after the closing — but the woman refused to move out of the property, arguing in court she considered it a gift for her and her 4-year-old son. A judge eventually ruled in Kamel's favor and the property was sold earlier this year, records show.

It's been two months since Kamel's office closed, and patients like Schostek and McEllistrem say they're worried nothing will be done despite their complaints to the Board of Dentistry, the Attorney General's Office and the Woodbury police.

"It's so sad," said Kilmer, the former patient. She said she had to get trauma counseling after her experience. She said she's left with a lot of questions: Why weren't people notified when Kamel was disciplined the first time? And why not have an escrow system when so much money is being handed over?

"What happened to all of the money?" she asked.