In what is proving itself to be a cautionary tale for dentists and patients across the country, federal authorities with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are stepping in to help investigate a dental office that is gaining notoriety in the national press.
While the exterior of the Tulsa, Oklahoma dental office appeared well-kept, it was only concealing what is turning out to be a nightmare for 7,000 former patients of Dr. W. Scott Harrington: dirty and unsanitary equipment and practices, leading to risk of HIV and Hepatitis B and C.
The office catered to a high population of known infectious disease carrier patients, and nonetheless practiced incredibly unsafe dentistry. Already, former patients have tested positive for at least Hepatitis, and others are currently in the process of being tested.
But state and federal authorities emphasize caution over worry. “I want to stress that this is not an outbreak,” said Oklahoma epidemiologist Kristy Bailey. “The investigation is still very much in its early stages.”
Such incidents at dental clinics are rare. But last year, a Colorado oral surgeon was accused of reusing needles and syringes, leading to warning letters to 8,000 of his patients. However, it remains unclear whether anyone was infected from that doctor.
Here, a 17-count complaint by the Oklahoma Dentistry board lists a number of cringe-worthy and dangerous practices undertaken by Dr. Harrington—including use of rusty instruments in patients known to have infectious diseases, reusing needles in drug vials, letting unlicensed assistants perform license-required tasks, and not possessing proper permits. One pharmaceutical vial found at the office had a 1993 expiration date. And one assistant’s records showed the use of morphine as recent as last year, though the clinic hadn’t received any morphine shipments since 2009.
Dr. Harrington—who has already given up his license and closed his two offices—is cooperating with investigators. He faces a hearing in a few weeks, when his license could be permanently revoked.