Image: Fresh Meat (Channel 4).
Sydneysiders awoke to some shudder-worthy news this morning: up to 11,000 patients may have been exposed to HIV and hepatitis, due to hygiene breaches discovered in four of the city’s dental practices.
The businesses involved are the Campsie and CBD branches of The Gentle Dentist, run by Dr Samson Chan; and Surry Hills and Bondi Junction practices operated by Dr Robert Starkenburg.
NSW Health is contacting anyone who has undergone invasive procedures at these surgeries over the past decade, recommending they be tested for bloodborne diseases including hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. There has been no evidence of transmission, however, and NSW Health’s director of health protection says the risk of infection is low.
An extensive audit of the infection control procedure within the four practices — which was prompted by customer complaints — found issues with cleaning, sterilisation and storage of equipment dating back several years.
These practises did not comply with the Dental Board of Australia's guidelines, and subsequently, 12 dentists have been subject to disciplinary action since December. Six dentists, including Dr Chan and Dr Starkenburg, have had their registration suspended, while the rest have had conditions imposed on them.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Dr Starkenburg said he had struggled to keep in step with updating regulations, particularly in the last eight years. "I was a little lax on getting the latest protocols ... [but] I have [since then] taken a couple of courses and taken steps to rectify the problem," the 75-year-old said. However, he tells the ABC he hasn't put any patients at risk.
Dr Samson Chan is yet to comment on the controversy, but the Sydney Morning Herald reports it's "understood" many of his The Gentle Dentist employees are "young, with little experience with infection control."
Deborah Cockrell, President of the Australian Dental Association's NSW branch, says this doesn't sound accurate because all dental education programs require students to be "comfortable with the highest level of infection control".
“I would think for the younger dentists it would be fresh in their memory," she tells The Glow. (Post continues after gallery.)
Today's news probably isn't reassuring for anyone who dreads going to the dentist, but Dr Cockrell iterates this is an isolated, atypical incident and shouldn't cause patients to be worried about their own dentists.