Lindenhurst dentist accused of practicing while drunk

Lindenhurst dentist Robert Garelick was arrested Monday afternoon after he was allegedly practicing drunk. He faces charges of second-degree reckless endangerment. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (Jan. 22, 2013)

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A Lindenhurst dentist who allegedly drilled a patient's chipped tooth while intoxicated was caught minutes before, sipping vodka from a squeeze bottle in his office, according to court papers.

Robert B. Garelick, 57, was arrested in his office Monday afternoon after his staff called police. Responding officers determined he was drunk, authorities said.

His assistant of 11 years, Kimberly Curtis, told police she sent a hygienist in the office a text, warning that she had seen Garelick drinking from the bottle and "we needed to do something."

Garelick told Suffolk police after his arrest: "I went out for lunch between 3 and 4 for pizza, and I had a couple of beers with my pizza," according to court documents.

Later, he corrected himself. "I never had any beers with my pizza; I've been sipping at that bottle all along today," he told police.

Garelick pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of second-degree reckless endangerment Tuesday afternoon in First District Court in Central Islip and was released on his own recognizance.

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State officials said Garelick, a dentist for more than 30 years, has no record of professional discipline.

Curtis told investigators she detected "a strong odor of alcohol" on Garelick's breath Monday afternoon after noticing him drinking from a "white and purple squeeze bottle" in his office. At the time, the dentist was treating patients.

She said she found the bottle hidden in Garelick's desk and said it appeared to be filled with vodka, according to court documents.

Earlier that day, Garelick had to give another patient Novocain a second time after Curtis told him he had injected it in the wrong spot in the patient's mouth, she told police.

Curtis said she also saw Garelick looking for cavities in the right side of the patient's mouth when they were actually on the left, court documents said.

Since August, Garelick, a Melville resident, had become "short-tempered and verbally abusive to his employees," Curtis said in court documents.

In September, she said she had to call the dentist's wife, Marilyn, "because Dr. Garelick smelled like alcohol and could barely stand up and treat a patient."

A woman answering Marilyn Garelick's phone Tuesday declined to comment.

The dentist's attorney, Randy Zelin of Garden City, said after the arraignment that he wasn't aware of any injuries suffered by Garelick's patients.

"He has never been in trouble before," Zelin said of Garelick.

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Reached by telephone, Garelick's mother, Bernice Garelick, 85, of Boca Raton, Fla., said she was unaware of his arrest. "The only thing I can say as his mother is that he's not a drinker," she said.

Bernice Garelick said the practice, at 152 N. Wellwood Ave., was passed down from her husband to her son, a 1980 graduate of the New York University College of Dentistry.

One of Garelick's patients, Jennifer Wilbur of Lindenhurst, said she couldn't believe the allegations. "He's actually quite a perfectionist," she said. "He's funny, he's witty, he's got a charm and character about him, but he's definitely not a party guy."

Dentists found to have been drinking on the job face potential penalties ranging from a reprimand to fines and a suspension, according to Jonathan Burman, spokesman for the state Department of Education, which licenses dentists. In severe cases, the state can revoke a dentist's license.

Burman said dentists have the right to continue practicing while a case is under review -- unless the state determines "imminent harm" could result.

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No dentist in New York State was disciplined for alcohol-related abuse between January and September 2012, records show.

With Ellen Yan, John Valenti and William Murphy

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