It comes as a shock when a loved one dies during a routine hospital visit. It is assumed that hospital employees do everything they can to make your visit as safe as possible, however, hospital-related deaths in the United States number from around 98,000 to 440,000 each year according to a study conducted in 2013. Hospitals take patient safety seriously and are implementing measures and training employees in an attempt to reduce the number of these fatalities.
The Dallas Morning News’ investigation of deadly dentist uncovered that since 2010 approximately 1000 dental patients have died due to the negligence of dentists, their assistants and paid anesthetic subcontractors. It is impossible to estimate how many more have been seriously harmed. The Dallas Morning News claims that it is not their intention to scare people away from taking their children to the dentist, or going themselves, and have created a list of questions that you should ask before visiting a dentist.
A California dentist, Dr. Claire, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of his son, after performing a routine dental procedure. Patrick Claire, a developmentally disabled 36-year-old whose condition resembled autism, died shortly after having a painful wisdom tooth extracted by his father. Patrick died from respiratory failure and cardiac arrest as a result of an overdose of the sedatives morphine and valium. The dentist had been practicing for forty years and had a history of complaints filed against him for sedation-related issues. Morphine is not an approved sedative and Dr. Claire did not have a license to practice aesthetics.
The Dallas Morning News conducted a comprehensive test of all states and found that each state has an agency set up for the express purpose of monitoring and recording negligent dentist’s negligent behavior. All agencies get failing grades, however, in terms of uncovering, tracking or making public the records of dentists who have caused patient deaths. A summary of the findings leads the reader to conclude that dentists that injure, maim, and kill their patients are being shielded from full transparency to the public.
Even if a dentist commits malpractice and has his license to practice taken away, it’s easy for them to simply set up shop in another state as if nothing ever happened. In Texas, all a dentist is required to do is fill out an online form when applying for a license. One of the only probative questions an online form asks is if any disciplinary action has ever been taken by another state against them. Doctors simply check “no”, and then feign ignorance of the meaning of the question if challenged. A doctor’s credibility will be questioned only after a doctor kills another patient and a zealous wrongful death attorney uncovers the dentist’s disciplinary history in an investigation. Even then it is difficult to ascertain the truth since only anonymous records are made public.
Administering anesthetics in a dental office this every bit as dangerous as getting anesthetics before surgery in a hospital. If you are admitted to a hospital for surgery you can rest assured that a trained physician, one with experience and a degree in anesthesiology will be in charge of your sedation. When you go to the dentist, however, even for something even as simple is a tooth extraction or to fill a cavity, you’ll receive potent anesthetics from a dental assistant sometimes with only a two-year Associate’s degree. While a professional anesthetist can rely on the training of 8 or more years of college in the specialty of anesthesia, the dental assistant training is limited to following state mandated guidelines and reading the back of prescription medication bottles. Sometimes the dental anesthetist is an independent contractor hired by the dentist to administer the anesthetics.
No one would assume that going to the dentist is as risky to one’s health as having a heart bypass operation or other invasive surgery. Surprisingly, national statistics indicates that one person dies from dental Malpractice every other day and that number could be low since few states with the exception of Texas keep meaningful records of deaths from dental negligence. While the percentage of people who die from a dental visit when compared with all people who go to the dentist is low, any death from a dental visit is shocking.
When a young child is in the hospital for a surgical procedure, the principals in attendance are usually a surgeon, nurses, and very importantly, an anesthesiologist whose primary responsibility is to properly administer an anesthetic to the patient so that the patient can comfortably endure the pain of the surgery. Surgeons in hospitals don’t administer anesthesia, and it’s for good reason. Administering anesthesia entails giving the patient potent, potentially deadly drugs and requires the expertise of a separate, trained physician to attend to this and this only. Monitoring patient’s vital signs i.e., heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen levels are a critical part of the procedure and need constant attention. But suppose instead surgery in a hospital your young child requires a surgical dental procedure. Will your children be given the same anesthetic care in the dentist’s office that they get at a hospital? The answer is an unqualified no and as a result, children are dying.
Because of the routine simplicity of administering medical procedures, like setting a broken bone or having minor surgery, doctors are seemingly confounded when things go wrong and a patient dies. Their reaction can be to blame a rare syndrome or condition as the cause of the death, one that they have never seen before, and that they were caught by surprise. They may claim that there was nothing that could have been done to prevent the patient’s death. More often than not, however, the rare syndrome diagnosis is just a cover for medical malpractice and doctor and hospital negligence.