When Scott Wolfe saw the photo of his dentist from 30 years ago circulating on social media, he was overwhelmed by a flood of emotions.
“It put chills down my spine,” he said.
The photo is of Errol Gaum, a long-time practising pediatric dentist in HRM, whose clinic is now in Bedford. It was shared on a Facebook group alongside numerous accounts from patients and parents who came forward to accuse Gaum of using excessive force and doing procedures without consent.
Wolfe, who is 39 years old now, hadn’t been to Gaum’s practice once or twice. Gaum was his dentist for three years and every visit was filled with pain. Wolfe remembers being pinned down by the dentist and his assistant as he sat in the chair. He recalls having allergies as a little boy and being threatened for breathing through his mouth, instead of his stuffed-up nose.
“They’d become incredibly rude and very disrespectful,” he said. “(They) told me that I’d be in a lot of trouble if I if I didn’t start breathing through my nose because I was steaming up their dental mirror.”
Wolfe would beg his mom every time not to go to the dentist.
Wolfe’s mom, Florence Wolfe, was never allowed in the room with him. Sitting in the waiting room, she would hear him crying.
“You just want to automatically run to them,” she said.
One memory Florence has is of Gaum giving her son a denture. When she asked what the denture was for, she was told it was to “correct her son’s speech.”
Two weeks later, Scott lost his denture, and his mother called the dentist to have it replaced but was told it wasn’t necessary. Florence still wonders why it was suddenly OK for her son to go without the denture when it was essential only a couple of weeks ago.
Despite all the strange occurrences and her son’s reluctance to go to the dentist, Florence didn’t think there was something wrong at the time.
“(I) chalked it up to just being a nervous child at the dentist. Because I never dreamt of what was going on in there. I had no idea what was going on in there.”
Wolfe, who has a two-year old daughter, said he thinks the reason Gaum’s alleged misconduct wasn’t exposed till now is the idea that children don’t like to go to the dentist. But he said parents shouldn’t blame themselves or feel guilty for sending their children to Gaum because they couldn’t have known.
“Those feelings are for sure natural … and I wouldn’t expect you not to feel that way,” he said.
“But you’re trusting a professional, just like you would trust a doctor. … And you’re trusting your child in their hands to get … good medical help. And you think even though it’s a bad experience, or they’re having a tough time with it, it’s for the greater good.”
It’s not the parents’ fault that Gaum failed their trust, he said. He also made sure to have that conversation with his mother, so she doesn’t feel guilty.
Years later, Wolfe lives with the memories of his visits to Gaum. He said the experience made him more cautious and reluctant to visit dentists.
“The dentist that I visit today is very respectful and very professional,” he said. “However, I always, every time I pull in the driveway, every time I sit in the dentist’s chair, I think of … the days in Dr. Gaum’s office.”
The Dental Board of Nova Scotia suspended Gaum’s licence after reviewing recent complaints filed against the dentist.
Wolfe said he was thrilled to hear the news and he hopes more people will come forward with their stories and that when they do, those around them would listen.
“Please understand, it wasn’t just like a regular bad experience at the dentist this one time that you can remember, or this one day that it really hurt,” he said. “I know that … if I could tell myself 10 years ago to speak up and share the story, I would have shared it just to stop this sooner.”