Oklahoma: Dental clinic inspections not necessary

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 29, 2013 at 8:59 pm •  Published: March 29, 2013
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Dr. Douglas Dieterich, a professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, called the Oklahoma case "an anomaly."

"There's all sorts of codes. The employees are watching. The patients are watching. With all the news reports of mini-epidemics caused by unsafe practices, I think everybody is" more careful, Dieterich said.

Harrington had been a dentist for 36 years before giving up his license March 20. He faces an April 19 hearing at which he could have his certification revoked.

Lydia Miller, director of communications for the Oklahoma Dental Association, said Harrington was a member of the organization until Thursday, when health officials branded him a "menace to the public health." Oklahoma has between 2,000 and 2,200 dentists; 1,600 belong to the ODA.

Until Thursday, the state Dentistry Board had had no problem with Harrington. Rogers said the agency, which is funded from license fees that range from $25 for a dental assistant's annual certificate renewal to $500 for an initial license testing fee, has only a $1 million budget and five employees to monitor dentists serving 3.8 million residents. She said the board concentrates primarily on complaints involving missing drugs and possible sexual misconduct.

Harrington could not be reached for comment Friday. His malpractice lawyer, Jim Secrest II, did not respond to phone messages left Thursday or Friday. A message at Harrington's Tulsa office said it was closed and an answering service referred callers to the Tulsa Health Department.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, there have been only three documents cases of a dental patient contracting either HIV or hepatitis B from a dental procedure: HIV in Florida in 1991 and hepatitis B in New Mexico in 2001 and West Virginia in 2009.

The CDC in 2003 established infection control guidelines for dental offices, including rules about hand hygiene and sterilization of dental instruments, but inspections are left to the states.

According to the Oklahoma Dentistry Board's complaint, Harrington's practice had varying cleaning procedures for its equipment, needles were re-inserted in drug vials after their initial use, drug vials were used on multiple patients and the office had no written infection-protection procedure. Also, dental assistants performed some tasks reserved to a licensed dentist, such as administering IV sedation. A device used to sterilize equipment hadn't undergone required monthly tests in at least six years.

Hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV are typically spread through intravenous drug use or unprotected sex.

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Associated Press writers Tim Talley in Oklahoma City and Mike Stobbe in New York contributed to this report.

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Watch the AP video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnzi4401Y-w

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