“Deadly Dentistry”

Brooks Egerton
The Dallas Morning News 
December 09, 2015

Why did a Dallas child die after visiting the dentist? Reporter Brooks Egerton wanted to know. What he found may surprise you: Government failures allow dentists across America to endanger and even kill their patients.

After Brooks found a Texas regulatory filing that briefly described a dental sedation death, he pressed for more information, eventually leading the state to reveal that it knew of 85 dental patient deaths and several hundred hospitalizations since 2010. But most of those cases had not triggered public disciplinary action by the agency charged with protecting Texans from dangerous dentists. Similar evidence was found in other jurisdictions around the nation.

Brooks found that many states don’t keep accurate records about the harm dentists cause, or won’t release them if they have them. But because Texas has relatively strict rules about reporting these cases, he was able to extrapolate and produce a first-of-its-kind estimate: A dental patient dies somewhere in America roughly every other day. The records he collected detail many risks, including over sedation, the inhalation of objects, bleeding, accidental stabbing, deliberate violence, intoxicated dentists and facial fires. States rarely discipline dentists for deaths, even in the face of big malpractice payouts. And when dentists are disciplined, they sometimes keep working with little or no oversight. The criminal justice system offers victims little hope.

Brooks interviewed more than one hundred people for this series. Sources include mothers of children who died after a visit to the dentist, other victims of bad dentistry, and dentists accused or found to have injured patients. The project also drew from records from state and federal regulators, police, coroners, academic researchers, courts, litigators, insurers and academics at dental schools.

“Deadly Dentistry” exposes dangerous flaws in the oversight and regulation of a seemingly benign part of the health care system. Before this series, few could have imagined that so many people go to have ordinary dental work done and end up injured or dead. Brooks Egerton’s series is investigative work at its best, compassionately telling the stories of the victims and holding those responsible to account.

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Submitted by Keith Campbell.

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