The Norman Transcript

State/Region

March 30, 2013

Dentist scandal unfolds

TULSA — The Oklahoma agency that accused a Tulsa oral surgeon of unsanitary practices, putting thousands of people at risk for hepatitis and HIV, says it’s never needed to inspect medical offices regularly.

“This doesn’t happen,” Susan Rogers, the executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry, said Friday. “There’s not been a need for these inspections because we’ve never had a complaint like this.”

That’s not unusual. Some other states don’t routinely inspect clinics, either, noting they don’t have the money and such incidents are so rare that the need just isn’t there.

In Oklahoma, the Board of Dentistry’s small staff does inspections only if the agency receives a complaint. That’s what happened in the case of Dr. W. Scott Harrington, whose practice was inspected after officials determined a patient may have contracted hepatitis C while having dental surgery.

State epidemiologist Kristy Bradley and Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart sent letters Friday to all 7,000 patients they found in Harrington’s 6-year-old records, urging them to be screened for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and the virus that causes AIDS because of unsafe practices at his two clinics. More patients may be at risk, but Harrington’s files go back only to 2007.

“Although we do not know whether you were personally exposed to blood-borne viruses, there is a possibility that you may have been exposed to infectious material,” they wrote, acknowledging their discovery could be “alarming and frightening” for the patients.

Rogers’ office filed a 17-count complaint against Harrington, saying officials found rusty instruments, potentially contaminated drug vials and improper use of a machine designed to sterilize tools.

According to guidelines from the American Dental Association, of which Harrington was listed as a member Friday, to keep their licenses dentists must stay up to date on the latest scientific and clinical developments.

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