Like other medical professionals, patients expect their dentists to provide them with proper dental care and follow proper sterilization practices. To not do so puts patients at risk, and leaves dentists at risk of being held liable for malpractice. No one expects that that when they go to the dentist that they will be exposed to HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
This is what happened to patients of a dentist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Dr. Wayne Harrington, an oral surgeon, is now being investigated by Oklahoma’s dental board and bureau of narcotics, and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. This investigation was prompted when one of Harrington’s patients tested positive for hepatitis C and HIV. This patient did not have any other risk factors for these diseases other than receiving dental treatment. The Health Department in Tulsa is now warning 7,000 of Harrington’s patients that they could have contracted HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C while receiving dental services because of Harrington’s poor sterilization practices. These poor sterilization practices may have impacted many patients since Harrington treated a high proportion of patients with HIV or hepatitis.
Harrington’s practice had a surprise inspection conducted by the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry after they heard about the infected patient. The inspection, conducted on March 18th, found several problems. These problems included rusty instruments that were regularly used on patients who were known to have infections and the practice of pouring bleach on wounds. Even though the instruments used for infected patients were given additional cleaning than the normal cleaning methods, the rust spots indicated that they were porous and could not be sterilized properly.
Additionally, Harrington allowed dental assistants to administer medication even though they were unlicensed. They were also allowed to decide which medication to administer and determine the dosage. Drug cabinets were left unlocked and unsupervised during the day and there was not an inventory log of the drugs. Also, some of the drugs were far past their expiration date. Additionally, even though records showed that Harrington’s practice was using morphine in 2012, there had not been any morphine order since 2009. It was also alleged that needles were re-used, which would contaminate drugs with bacteria which could be potentially harmful and other drugs.
Even though 7,000 patients could have been exposed it is very rare, though not impossible, for HIV and hepatitis B or C to be transmitted through dental care. Nevertheless, Harrington’s patients will be notified by mail of the chance that they were infected and how they can obtain testing free-of-charge.
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