Dentist Suspected Of Spreading HIV & Hepatitis To Patients

Dr. Wayne Harrington, an oral surgeon with a practice in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is being investigated by the state dental board, the state bureau of narcotics and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency for potentially spreading HIV and hepatitis B and C to his patients.

The situation began when one of his patients recently tested positive for hepatitis C and HIV – without having other known risk factors.

Due to the infected patient, the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry conducted a surprise inspection of Harrington’s practice, and allegedly found numerous problems, including regular use of a rusty set of instruments on patients with known infections, and the practice of pouring bleach on wounds until they “turned white.”

Now, the Tulsa Health Department is warning 7,000 patients of a local dentist’s office that they could have contracted HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C from poor sterilization practices.

Susan Rogers, executive director of Oklahoma’s Board of Dentistry, called the incident a “perfect storm.” On top of his many violations in sanitary practice, the dentist was a Medicaid provider, which means he had a high proportion of patients with HIV or hepatitis, she said.

Harrington and his staff told investigators that he treated a “high population of known infectious disease carrier patients,” according to a complaint filed by the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry.

He allegedly allowed unlicensed dental assistants to administer medication, according to the complaint. These assistants were left to decide which medications to administer, and how much was appropriate.

Drug cabinets were unlocked and unsupervised during the day, and Harrington did not keep an inventory log of drugs, some of which were controlled substances. One drug vial expired in 1993.

“During the inspections, Dr. Harrington referred to his staff regarding all sterilization and drug procedures in his office,” the complaint read. “He advised, ‘They take care of that. I don’t.'”

Harrington allegedly re-used needles, contaminating drugs with potentially harmful bacteria and trace amounts of other drugs, according to the complaint. Although patient-specific drug records indicated that they were using morphine in 2012, no morphine had been ordered since 2009.

The instruments for infected patients was given an extra dip in bleach in addition to normal cleaning methods, but they had red-brown rust spots, indicating that they were “porous and cannot be properly sterilized,” according to the complaint.

The Tulsa Health Department said Harrington’s patients will receive letters by mail notifying them of the risk and steps to obtain free-of-charge testing.

While 7,000 patients may have been exposed, Joseph Perz, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said it’s “extremely rare” to see dental transmission of HIV and hepatitis B or C. In July 2012, 8,000 Coloradans were notified that their dentist had reused needles, potentially exposing them to the blood-borne viruses. But not a single case was identified, according to the CDC.

Dental transmission is not impossible, however. Perz cited a dental fair three years ago in which hepatitis B was transmitted between patients.

The Tulsa Health Department has set up a hotline at (918) 595-4500 for people with questions.

How Often Should You REALLY Go To The Dentist?

A dentist examining dental x-rays while wearing a face protection maskIn the pursuit to maintain good oral hygiene, there’s no underestimating how crucial regular visits to the dentist’s office can be. Visiting a dental hygienist periodically may not only prove essential to preserving an attractive smile, but for an array of health reasons as well. There are many risks associated with poor oral hygiene such as gum disease, cavities, infections and worse, but these risks can most often be entirely averted with just two yearly teeth cleanings.

But according to a new study, for many people, once-a-year dental cleaning may be enough to prevent gum disease that leads to tooth loss.

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“Twice-yearly cleanings have been recommended for over 50 years without supporting evidence,” study author William Giannobile, a professor of dentistry and biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan, said in a university news release.

But the results of this study “showed that one yearly cleaning is likely to be enough for patients with no risk factors,” he said. “Patients with one or more risk factors, which represent over half of the population, should visit at least twice a year and likely more in some cases.”

For the study, which was published online June 10 in the Journal of Dental Research, Giannobile and colleagues looked at data from more than 5,100 adults who visited the dentist regularly for 16 straight years, had no history of gum disease and received one or two cleanings each year.

The researchers examined the link between the frequency of teeth cleanings and long-term tooth loss in the participants, as well as three key gum disease risk factors: smoking, diabetes and genetics.

Two dental cleanings a year provided significant benefits to people with one or more of the three risk factors, while people with two or three of the risk factors may require more than two cleanings a year. But one cleaning per year appears sufficient for people with none of the risk factors, according to the study.

“The future of health care is personalized medicine,” Giannobile said. “This study represents an important step toward making it a reality, and in a disease that is widespread, costly and preventable.”

“We have long known that some individuals are at greater risk of [gum] disease, but tools haven’t been available to adequately identify those at increased risk and prevent disease progression,” he said.