A Parent's Nightmare at the Dentist

Jan 21 2014

A Parent’s Nightmare at the Dentist

A Parent’s Nightmare at the Dentist

What a nightmare. A beautiful 3 year old girl dies at the dentist and her family and the community is left devastated.  She was being seen for a dental procedure under sedation and its reported that she went into cardiac arrest and massive brain damage. I’ve had so many parents ask me for explanations and clarification since last week. This incident is still under investigation and its quite early to make definitive conclusions but hopefully this post will address the main question by the concerned parent and alleviate some concerns.

The pediatric dental community is shaken when these sort of incidents happen. Complication and accidents can and do happen, even with the highest trained and most cautious of medical/dental providers. That said, there are so many questions to ask and to me, none is more critical that this:

Was the dentist the best qualified provider?

The practice where this child was seen was clearly designed to appeal to young children. Their name “Island Dentistry For Children”, their set up with toys all around and cartoons playing on the TV’s, and the colorful paint on the walls all would suggest that the office was designed for children. But there is more to a children’s dental specialist than “comfort with children” or “toys in the office”. A rudimentary review of the doctor’s qualifications makes it apparent that she was not a trained pediatric specialist. In other words, though she has the license to see kids, she received no formal training or certification required to practice as a pediatric dentist.

So a general dentist who sees children should not be confused with a specialist in pediatric dentistry. A pediatric specialist gets at least 2 years of supervised instruction and countless hours of didactics in caring for children. Their experience with sedative drugs and regimens, their instruction for proper selection of candidates for sedation, their comfort with mixing and administering the drugs, their training in dealing with complications are just a few benefits of getting formal education in pediatric dentistry.

Beyond the specialty certification, there are some dentist who will further their education and commitment to high standard of care and become certified by the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry to earn Diplomate status. Your investigation of your child’s dentist and their background is a critical yet often overlooked first step in the selection process. Consider the use of pediatric dentist directories as a good starting point and look for the detailed background for your candidate dentist on their website or printed brochure.

As they say, hindsight is 20/20 but there is little argument against the benefits of training and experience when it comes to the healthcare provider for your child. Browsing a random list of contracted dentists on your insurance website is probably a very insufficient and backward way of selecting a provider for your child. The search should include a check on their qualification, reputation in the professional community, and an in person interview or 1st visit with the doctor to test “mommy’s gut feeling”.

We pray for this young girl’s family and the lives of many (including the dentist) who has forever been turned upside down.

Dr. J ShahangianDr J is a board certified pediatric dentist, serving his hometown in San Diego at one the most respected specialty practices, Scripps Pediatric Dentistry. He is an honors graduate of UC Berkeley, and UCLA School of Dentistry. His specialty training was completed as Chief Resident at UNC, one of only 2 three year pediatric programs in the US. He is an associate professor at UCLA in pediatric dentistry and on staff at Rady Children’s Hospital. He is also a proud father to two girls.


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