Human teeth are incredibly sensitive. Without the use of numbing agents like Novocain, even minor dental work would be excruciating. But for major procedures, like having wisdom teeth pulled, local anesthetic isn’t always sufficient. In these cases, the dentist might have to use a general anesthetic to render the patient completely unconscious. General anesthesia has helped doctors and dentists perform millions of otherwise impossible procedures, but it also comes at a cost – and for children and teens, the danger can be especially great. In this article, dental malpractice lawyer Brent Wieand will examine whether general sedation is safe for children.
Wrongful Deaths of Children Caused by Dentists Using General Anesthesia
Before we begin our discussion of using general anesthetic on children, it’s important to emphasize that this article is not intended to substitute qualified medical advice. You should always consult with your doctor before making any decisions about you or your child’s healthcare, even if that involves getting a second or third opinion. The use of general anesthesia carries both risks and benefits, which must be weighed by a qualified physician.
With that caveat in mind, let’s look at some of the potential risks general anesthetic carries for children and teenagers.
General anesthesia can be used for a variety of reasons. The procedure might be too painful, too lengthy, or simply too upsetting for the patient. But whatever the reason may be, general anesthesia always carries the risk of serious complications, which include:
- Heart Attack
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), these risks are especially prevalent among smokers, people with allergies, people with lung/kidney/heart conditions, and people with histories of alcoholism or substance abuse. While children and teenagers are not included on the NIH’s high-risk list, sadly, there are dozens of real-life examples of general anesthesia causing the wrongful death of a child at the dentist. Consider the following cases:
- In 1998, 10-year-old Darren Denholm died during a routine tooth extraction after being given a general anesthetic called Halothane by dentist John Evans-Appiah. England’s General Medical Council later found Evans-Appiah guilty of 17 counts of professional misconduct.
- In 2007, 8-year-old Raven Blanco went into cardiac arrest and died after receiving a mixture of chloral hydrate, nitrous oxide, and hydroxyzine from dentist Michael Hechtkopf.
- In 2011, 16-year-old Miciah Bonzani died after going into cardiac arrest during a wisdom tooth extraction by dentist Raymond Seitz. Bonzani spent two days on life support before passing away in the hospital.
- In 2011, 13-year-old Marissa Kingery died after receiving intravenous (IV) sedation prior to undergoing a tooth extraction surgery. The IV mixture contained ketamine, midazolam, remifentanil, and propofol (which was one of the drugs involved in the death of Michael Jackson). The Kingery family sued 81-year-old dentist Henry Mazorow, and the case was later settled for $984,080.
- In 2014, 3-year-old Finley Boyle suffered brain damage, fell into a coma, and died one month later. Boyle was given a blend of sedatives, including Demerol, for four root canals. The Boyle family, who says Finley did not receive CPR, filed a lawsuit against dentist Lilly Geyer.
Medical Studies Link Anesthetization to Anxiety, Depression, ADHD, Lowered IQ
While death is obviously the greatest concern, other serious consequences have also been associated with the use of general anesthesia on children – including reduced intelligence and mental disorders.
A 2015 study published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Pediatrics, which examined effects on brain structure and cognition (thinking) in child patients, found that “general anesthesia for a surgical procedure in early childhood may be associated with long-term diminution of language abilities and cognition, as well as regional volumetric alterations in brain structure.” The study also noted that “compared with control subjects, previously exposed [to anesthesia] children scored significantly lower in listening comprehension and performance IQ.”
It isn’t just thinking and learning which can be negatively affected. Emotions and behavior can also be impacted – at least among children who are repeatedly anesthetized. These children are at increased risk for developing depression, anxiety, and/or ADD/ADHD.
This is based on the findings from another recent medical study, published in 2015 in the Saudi Journal of Anesthesia. The study reported that “children with repeated anesthesia were at risk to become anxious or depressed [as compared to a control group]… On DSM scale, children with repeated anesthesia were at risk to develop anxiety problems… and attention deficit/hyperactivity problems.” (The “DSM” to which the study refers is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which has been considered the gold standard for psychologists for decades.)
Beyond the misuse of local or general anesthesia, other examples of dental malpractice include:
- Pulling the wrong tooth.
- Causing permanent nerve damage.
- Failure to diagnose oral cancer or gum disease.
- Sexual abuse of unconscious patients.
- Removing too many teeth.
- Causing disfigurement.
- Practicing without a license.
If you or your child was injured by a dentist in Philadelphia, you may be able to get compensated for your injuries, medical bills, and financial losses. To set up a free, completely private case evaluation, call anesthesia malpractice attorney Brent Wieand at (800) 481-5206. Brent handles cases throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.