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Malpractice in Dentistry - Oklahoma Case & Role of Training

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Editorial April 8, 2013

Recently in Oklahoma, USA, an Oral Surgeon was accused of a number of State practice act infractions associated with patient care including possible infection of patients with HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C; with this arising out of problems with infection control procedures at two of his practices.  What is specifically identified in reports is the use of ‘rusty instruments’ and ‘lax sterilization procedures’.  Apparently over 7000 patients may have been exposed to these viruses.

One question that has arisen related to this clinician’s apparent unprofessional conduct is the role, if any, of dental assistant training as a potential contributor to the problem.  The question is: should dental assistants have been certified to work in this practice involving surgical intervention as is the case within the medical profession where surgery is involved; and would this have made a difference in how infection control procedures were managed.

According to one report, a dental assistant working in the office stated that over her six year history of working no one kept track “of anything”.  And apparently the instruments used for patients with known HIV and other viral problems (e.g. HBV) were soaked in bleach, which is known to cause rust on instruments and is no longer recommended in the management of instrument sterilization.   Proper assistant training and certification would likely have reduced the use of such outdated infection control procedures and improved patient safety.

Given what happened in this Oklahoma City Oral Surgeon’s office it is time that formal State and or national certification of dental assistants be more seriously considered.

Warm Regards,
Jeff Burgess
DDS MSD, Editor in Chief

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