A four-year-old child in Texas died three days after he was given conscious sedation medications by a pediatric dentist on December 30, 2013 at the dentist’s office located in a strip mall before having extensive dental work.
The child’s general dentist had recommended four crowns to treat the child’s discolored teeth but the pediatric dental specialist told the child’s parents that he required twelve stainless steel crowns that would be installed over the course of two separate dental procedures and which would cost them $4,800 out-of-pocket, despite the parents having dental insurance covering their family.
On the day of the scheduled dental procedure, the child was given Demerol, Valium, and hydroxyzine that was supposed to induce conscious sedation (the doses given were twice the dosages recommended by three Texas dental schools for inducing moderate sedation for preschoolers). Because the child was still showing some anxiety when the procedure was about to begin about an hour and a half after receiving the medications, he was also provided nitrous oxide and was tied down (restrained) during the dental procedure.
According to reports, about ten minutes into the procedure, the child was crying and his heart rate increased to twice as fast as when the procedure first began. He also needed to be suctioned during the procedure.
Instead of stopping the procedure when the worrisome symptoms first began, the dentist continued with the procedure. About thirty five minutes after he first began drilling the child’s teeth, the dentist determined that six teeth were ready for crowns. At that time, the dentist first became aware that the oxygen sensor placed on the child’s index finger had become loose and when the sensor was reattached, the sensor indicated no pulse and did not register any oxygen saturation. By then the child was limp and his lower lip was turning blue.
Resuscitation efforts were begun and 911 was called but it was not until the dentist administered medication to reverse the effect of the narcotics that the child’s pulse returned but he remained unconscious. He was transported by ambulance to the hospital, where he was admitted to the ICU and was intubated. His condition did not improve (he had suffered severe brain damage due to lack of oxygen) and on New Year’s Day 2014, the child suffered seizures. The next day, the child died.
An autopsy determined that the child had received a fatal overdose of medications, with the nitrous oxide administered to the child contributing to his death, and that the amount of each medication given to the child before the dental procedure exceeded the recommended maximum dosage for unmonitored use.
The pathologists involved with the autopsy also noted that the child may have been especially susceptible to breathing issues during the dental procedure because he had a dry cough the morning of the procedure that would indicate that he was developing a respiratory infection at that time (however, the child did not have a fever or congestion on the day of the dental procedure). Nonetheless, the chief medical examiner stated that he would expect preschoolers to survive the medication doses provided to the child and a review of official records showed that there was no evidence of prior 911 medical emergency calls made from the dentist’s office.
If you or a family member may be the victim of dental malpractice in the United States, you should promptly consult with a local dental malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your dental malpractice claim for you and represent you in a dental malpractice lawsuit, if appropriate.
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