A New Jersey dentist faced at least 15 lawsuits for improper hygiene and storage at his practice. Some of his patients suffered severe infections, undergoing major surgery to save their lives. One patient died. He has temporarily lost his license and faces other disciplinary orders.

Infections at medical practices and hospitals are a major hazard to patients, and experts continue to grapple with sustainable solutions.

Negligent oral surgery can lead to fatal heart infections

The lawsuits claimed professional misconduct and gross negligence on the part of the oral surgeon who practiced in Bud Lake. The community is part of Mount Olive Township in Morris County, about an hour and a half north of Trenton.

As early as 2012, multiple patients developed bacterial infections which traveled their bloodstreams and infected their hearts, damaging or destroying heart valves. After the doctor pulled one patient’s tooth, the patient had to have a heart valve replaced and died due to complications at the age of 54.

Unsterilized instruments and expired medicine

Inspections of the surgeon’s practice revealed that he did not use sterile water or saline during surgery, used unsterilized instruments and expired medication, improperly handled and stored vials of medicine, and improperly disposed of needles and syringes.

So far, the surgeon must pay $293,000 in penalties and costs. His medical license is suspended for five years.

If he complies with the court order, he can begin a probationary period of practicing under the supervision of another dentist before and taking specified courses before resuming the practice of dentistry.

Institute names infection risks as a top danger of 2020

The ECRI Institute, a nonprofit authority on medical practices and products, releases an annual list of healthcare device concerns that it thinks the medical community should give its closest attention.

Its 2020 report placed “Infection Risks from Sterile Processing Errors in Medical and Dental Offices” third on its list of ten danger areas most in need of prioritizing now.

Practices that most worry ECRI include specialty offices such as OB/GYN, dermatology and dental offices and other facilities that do have “a central sterile processing department.” The institute writes “while the prevalence of such failures is unknown, the potential exists for this to be an insidious, widespread patient safety risk.”