OK dentist investigation sparks sanitation concerns

By: Morgan Downing Email
By: Morgan Downing Email

SHERMAN, TX -- Last week, the Oklahoma State Dentistry Board launched an investigation into Tulsa dentist W. Scott Harrington. The news has left people and doctors across the country shocked, and brought to light a surprising fact that could affect your safety.

You might be surprised to learn dentist and doctors offices in Texas and Oklahoma are not inspected regularly. It's up to the doctor to make sure he or she is protecting patients.

"I'm kind of shocked that it would even happen" Dr. Nechamkin said.

That's Sherman dentist Dr. Sam Nechamkin's reaction to the thousands of Oklahomans who might have been exposed to dangerous diseases while at the dentist.

"It's strange because I mean, once you make it to this level of being a doctor, I mean, you want to care for people. I mean, you want to help people. So, it's pretty strange that this happens and it's sad that it does," Dr. Nechamkin said.

The investigation into Dr. W. Scott Harrington has many wondering how his unsanitary practices went unnoticed for so long. One possible explanation -- dental and doctors offices in Oklahoma, Texas and several other states are not inspected.

"We manage food, but for some reason we don't manage blood specimens or that, beyond that with the dental offices. That's kind of concerning," Gary Hensler said.

The Oklahoma Board of Dentistry says Inspections aren't done unless a patient files a complaint with them. So, it's up to dentists to keep their businesses clean.

"If you look at the tape, you see the black lines on the tape. That means it's been processed through the sterilizer," Dr. Nechamkin said.

He says each set of utensils he uses is sealed in a package marked to show it's been sanitized. The sanitizer is tested and the results are logged weekly -- to ensure it's getting hot enough to kill bacteria and spores. Unused equipment is covered, and each room is disinfected between patients.

"We're supposed to follow OSHA recommendations and we actually have to review this every year, to just ensure the safety of not only our patients, but ourselves," he said.

He urges patients to ask dentists about their sterilization process. And while The Oklahoma Board of Dentistry says the incident in Tulsa is rare, it's forced them to reevaluate safety.

"I do believe there's gonna be some changes. Oklahoma is, I believe, the greatest place and I know that a lot of the representatives and people that I've spoke to do intend for us to be a leader and change some things," Oklahoma Board of Dentistr director Susan Rogers said.

Those changes haven't been laid out just yet, but Rogers says Oklahoma lawmakers will look at implementing regular inspections.


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