Deadly Dentistry: Death in the Dental Chair

If you are thinking about having any dental work done for yourself or your loved ones you should know that in many cases it is not without risk and can even be deadly. There are many cases of death occurring in dental offices over the years for both children and adults having dental procedures. The Dallas Morning News made an in depth piece exploring various issues surrounding death in the dental chair and the story indicated cover-up and not holding offenders accountable. The seven part piece was published in 2015 and is available at It is a lengthy investigative piece, so you will need a fair amount of time to get through the entire story. For convience the links for each of the seven parts are also provided separately below.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4 (which has three parts in itself) 1:  2: 3:

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

If you don’t have much time to get into all seven parts currently, I think part 2 is worth the read. Part 2 discusses how based on their work, they estimate that a dental patient dies about every other day in the United States of America. This is an estimate based on some data from Texas which had received at least 85 death reports since 2010. The team tried to receive data from every state in the U.S. but the majority told them they did not know the numbers and did not have a good way to count.

In Part 2 of the story, there is some discussion about how a sedation expert in Los Angeles tried to find out from California information about dental deaths but the Dental Board of California’s story changed about dental deaths as they got closer to releasing information. The expert is quoted as saying

“Hiding this imporant information is contrary to this very purpose. If we cannot identify where the problems or system breakdowns are occurring, how can we as both a profession and consumer agency prevent them?…It sure looks like they are trying to cover up something…If Dentist A has an issue and Dentist B says everything was done within the standard of care despite a poor outcome, then there is no discipline and the record is destroyed.”

The Dallas Morning News tried to find more information from the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners for its death and hospitalization statistics. However, the story also changed about dental deaths as they got closer to releasing information. They even went so far as to sue the Texas board but a judge ruled against them. In both cases it seems like records are destroyed fairly readily and any stringent laws to keep records on file for years and years are not present.

The story also goes into how some patients died for reasons unrelated to the dentists skills but from dental devices. In these cases the deaths are not often reported to state authorities.

In other parts of the story their are different cases of young children who died from a dentist profiled. There is also discussion about how in many of these cases the dentists are still allowed to practice and patients may not be aware of any restrictions their dentist faces. There is also an investigation into how well state agencies do informing the public. You can look up your state to see answers to questions such as if dentists are required to report any patient deaths and if they are any death statistics. There are also nine questions that are suggested that you ask before your next dental visit. These questions include “Are you brushing, flossing, getting regular checkups and generally doing your best to not need major dental work?,” “Have you checked out your dentist online,” and “Before treating or pulling a tooth, does your dentist verify that it’s the correct one?”

The story also covers some of the history of deadly dentistry since 1960. There is discussion of in the early 1990s how University of Texas at San Antonio dental researchers attempted a national study of states’ sedation-related death and injury reports but found most were not preserving records. They wrote,

“there are many states in which this information is deemed confidential and is restricted from public and professional scrutiny.”

There is also discussion of the 2000 Pediatrics study, which found that dentistry accounts for nearly half of the death and brain damage cases for sedation events in pediatric settings, which is highlighted over on the dental deaths page at There is also discussion about how in dental school students generally do not study pain and anxiety management drugs or numbing injections and nitrous oxide gas. Dentists will often take a few extra days of training after graduating to learn how to administer more powerful drugs. These training programs of course are often criticized for not being enough to really train the dentist.

All in all, I am impressed with the piece by The Dallas Morning News and their attempt to help protect the public from future dental deaths. If you have the time and are considering dental work or have a child who is, it is worth the time and effort to better learn and understand so you can be better prepared about how to select your dentist and what to do if something goes wrong. Additionally, take a look at and for additional information on the statistics of dental deaths and cases of dental deaths from wisdom teeth removal.

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