To date, there are more than 15 lawsuits pending against Hughes and his dental associates, alleging either negligence or malpractice. He has denied the allegations.
"It is my opinion," he said, "that the overall quality of care took second place to the profit motive. . . . I've never seen anything approaching this volume of complaints against one dentist in such a short period of time."
In mid-1985, Hughes closed his office without warning to devote full time to Sterling. He left behind a reputation so tarnished that he was unable to sell his million-dollar-a-year practice, according to dentists in the area.
"He actually had to walk away," said Roger Abrew, co-chairman of the peer review committee of local dental society.
He also left behind patients with worse problems than they had before they were treated by Hughes' office, according to Abrew and other dentists, who have since been treating them. The dentists said that, based on their examinations, Hughes' office performed both substandard and unnecessary work.
"I think its kind of ironic to see a guy who did such a botched job of dentistry teaching others," said dentist David C. Aronson, summing up the sentiments of most of his colleagues in the small Northern California community.
Hughes, who continues to conduct his "Winning With Dentistry" seminars, refused to be interviewed for this story. But Frederick Bradley, an attorney defending him in the lawsuits, suggested that the Vacaville dentists may simply resent his client's success because their patients had deserted them for Hughes.
Another firm once licensed by Scientology's WISE organization to sell Hubbard's management techniques was Singer Consultants. Before it merged with another management company, Singer was ranked as one of the nation's fastest growing private businesses.
The company focused its training on America's chiropractors. It brought hundreds of new members into the church and triggered a nationwide controversy among chiropractors over its links to Scientology. In fact, a chiropractic newspaper devoted almost an entire issue to letters praising and condemning Singer Consultants, which was located in Clearwater, Fla., where Scientology is a major presence.
"We felt that there were young doctors who didn't know they were being solicited to do something above and beyond the practice of their profession," said Dynamic Chiropractic editor Donald M. Peterson, explaining why his Huntington Beach-based newspaper entered the controversy.
Singer Consultants was headed by Scientologist David Singer, an accomplished speaker and chiropractor who held nationwide seminars to pitch Hubbard's business methods.
Two years ago, the company was absorbed into another management firm owned by Scientologists.
Although Singer refused to be interviewed by The Times, he told Dynamic Chiropractic: "Hubbard was a prolific writer and wrote on a multitude of subjects. We do not, have not and will not make part of our program the teaching of any religion."
Scientology and Science
Hubbard was so proud of a detoxification treatment he developed--and so hungry for plaudits--that he openly talked with his closest aides about winning a Nobel Prize.
Although the man is gone, Scientologists are keeping the dream alive. They have embarked upon a controversial plan to win recognition for Hubbard and his treatment program in scientific and medical circles.
The treatment purports to purge drugs and toxins from a person's system through a rigorous regimen of exercise, saunas and vitamins--a combination intended to dislodge the poisons from fatty tissues and sweat them out.
Physicians affiliated with the regimen have touted it as a major breakthrough, and a number of patients who have undergone the treatment say their health improved. But some health authorities dismiss Hubbard's program as a medical fraud that preys upon public fear of toxins.