A Dental Visit Was Deadly for 85 People in Texas

A new Dallas Morning News investigation looks at dental patients who died from complications and negligence.

By Rhonda FanningDecember 11, 2015 12:05 pm,

It’s something that we do regularly, or should, to help keep up our health. Most would never imagine it to be a matter of life and death, but then again a visit to the dentist almost never is. As unreal as it sounds, deadly dentistry is more common that one might think.

A new investigation by the Dallas Morning News finds that at least 85 Texas dental patients have died since 2010, and the paper estimates nationwide that number could be up to a thousand.

Journalist Brooks Egerton spent 18 months interviewing and digging to get to the root of the story, trying to find numbers where none had been gathered before.

“It really started with the chance discovery of a single case here in Dallas, in which a four-year-old boy suffered a fatal drug overdose in a dental chair,” Egerton says.

The boy, Salomon Barahona Jr., died under sedation. His case intrigued Egerton to dig further.

“There’s so much that we don’t know because of secrecy and record-keeping failures at the state level,” Egerton says.

When we go to the dentist, or take our children for a visit, many of us don’t think about the potential risks, or the possibility of death. Egerton says he found fatalities that showed poor monitoring of people under sedation, those who received an acceptable dosage but were not cared for properly after that. Often times there was an emergency in the dental chair that wasn’t treated properly, he says. People choked to death. People bled to death. In other cases, patients were administered heavy doses of sedation drugs by intoxicated dentists.

“We found the subset of cases we were able to describe in any detail at all are those where the death led to professional discipline,” he says. “In the majority of those cases the victims are adults. Even in those cases we don’t know what all the risk factors are because of the lack openness of the state governments.”

In his more than a year of investigation, Egerton says he hadn’t found many safeguards against more deaths happening. What’s more, many of these dentists are still in practice.

“The dentist that we started by focusing on here in Dallas, where the fatal drug overdose was administered, the state has the right before giving him a sedation license to inspect his office and what his drug protocol is,” Egerton says. “They didn’t do that. Then they put him on probation – unsupervised probation – for the death and they still haven’t been back to inspect what he’s doing.”

In some cases, the state where the victim died does nothing at all.

“We’ve even found cases where very large private civil settlements were reached and litigated extensively,” Egerton says. “[There was a] large amount of evidence testimony taken and then the professional licensing for the state would do nothing.”

See the full story package online at the Dallas Morning News.