BBGA attorneys Drew Hill, Jim Matthews, Lee Atkinson, and Alex Hughes recently negotiated and secured a confidential settlement for children who were injured by contaminated water at a Georgia pediatric dental clinic that was part of a national chain.
Contaminated Water Leads to Severe Injuries
BBGA represented six families who brought their children to the same pediatric dental clinic over a two-year period. All six children developed infections in their jaw bones, lymph nodes, and sinuses from a bacteria called Mycobacterium abscessus after having a dental procedure known as a pulpotomy.
As a result of their infections, the children needed additional medical treatment that included the removal of portions of their jaw bones and lymph nodes, and prolonged use of strong I.V. antibiotics that have the potential to cause permanent kidney injury and hearing loss.
What is a Pulpotomy?
A pulpotomy is an invasive procedure involving the partial removal of decayed pulp within the crown of a baby tooth. Dentists use water to remove blood and debris from the tooth chamber during the procedure. A pulpotomy is often called a baby root canal.
If a permanent tooth is close to coming in, or the pulp decay is so extensive that the baby tooth cannot be salvaged, extracting the tooth is the best and least expensive option. An X-ray can determine whether a child needs a pulpotomy.
When a dentist performs an unnecessary pulpotomy the procedure is likely to fail, and the tooth is extracted anyway. This is what happened to the six children we represented.
What is Mycobacterium Abscessus?
Mycobacterium abscessus is a type of bacteria that typically grows in water and soil. It can also grow in water lines. Mycobacterium abscessus rarely causes infections in humans because it must be introduced into the bloodstream by cuts or incisions like those made during dental procedures like pulpotomies.
Mycobacterium abscessus is related to the types of bacteria that cause tuberculosis and leprosy. While human infections are rare, they can be life-threatening when they occur. Mycobacterium abscessus infections can be easily avoided by routinely monitoring bacteria levels and cleaning water lines. The CDC and American Dental Association recommend that dental clinics regularly perform such preventative measures.
CDC Investigation Shows Contaminated Water Lines
The CDC investigated the outbreak of infections at the pediatric dental clinic where our six clients were treated. Testing showed that water in the lines used to perform the pulpotomies had bacteria levels 182 times the recommended safe level. The CDC also found that the clinic’s owners did not routinely test the water before the outbreak occurred.
BBGA Argues That a Culture of Profits Over Patient Safety Led to the Children’s Infections
We investigated the dental clinic’s ownership structure and determined that various private equity firms funded it during and after the outbreak of infections. We also hired a pediatric dentist to review the children’s dental records and X-rays to determine if the pulpotomies were necessary. Our dental expert concluded that the pulpotomies were unnecessary for all six children and that their teeth should have been extracted instead.
After we filed the lawsuit, we obtained documents showing that the dentists who performed the pulpotomies were primarily paid based on the number of procedures they performed. The dentists who performed the pulpotomies on the six children billed the parents for the pulpotomies and then again for the subsequent teeth extractions.
We also obtained documents showing that executives of private equity firms were members of the board that controlled operations at the pediatric dental clinic. These executives monitored the clinic’s profits, the number of procedures performed at the clinic, and compared its profitability and procedure volume to other clinics that were part of the national chain.
Obtaining the internal documents that showed the extent of private equity control over the operations at the clinic took time, hard work, and patience. We persisted and gathered evidence showing that the clinic’s owners and operators prioritized profits over patient safety.
The Settlement & Changes in Dental Practices
Our hard work and persistence allowed us to secure fair settlements for all six clients. While no amount of money could compensate the children and their parents for everything they went through, the money we obtained for them will change their lives for the better.
The outbreak of infections at the clinic has been a topic of discussion at dental seminars and written about in dental journals. The case has helped emphasize the importance of water line monitoring and cleaning at dental clinics across the U.S.