The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

April 14, 2013

Public health of citizens was not a priority in case of oral surgeon from Tulsa

ENID, Okla. — When you go to see your dentist, you have a certain level of expectations.

You expect our dentist to be professional and take all the precautions necessary to protect you, as well as himself and his staff.

The vast majority of the time, that is the case.

Unfortunately, one high-profile case in Tulsa has shown what can happen when the public’s health is not a priority.

Tulsa oral surgeon Dr. W. Scott Harrington, according to officials, ran such an unsafe practice, he put some 7,000 people at risk for contracting hepatitis or the virus that causes AIDS.

A 17-count complaint alleges 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.

Dental assistants also 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.

As bad as the accusations against Harrington are, the Oklahoma Dental Act, designed to protect patients, frankly doesn’t have the teeth to do the job.

Regulators have limited funds and a small staff. Worse yet, state law prevents regulators from making surprise inspections.

The vast majority of the time, this system of self-regulation — what amounts to an honor system — works just fine.

However, the one time it didn’t work, thousands of people were put at serious risk.

We don’t want to overreact to the situation, but the state Dentistry Board has three inspectors to watch 2,200 dentists.

When people’s health is at risk, something more should be done.

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