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New Jersey dentist facing class-action malpractice suit

It's rare that a visit to the dentist turns into a life-altering and potentially fatal event. However, that's what's happened for 15 people who went to a New Jersey dentist for oral surgery, such as wisdom teeth extraction. One is dead and nearly a dozen others had to have heart surgery -- all because of a bacterial infection they reportedly picked up in the dentist's office. State health authorities believe there may be more cases that have yet to be linked to the dentist.

According to the New Jersey Board of Dentistry and the New Jersey Department of Health, the patients developed endocarditis, an infection that affects the heart. The bacteria at the root of the infection is called enterococcus faecalis. That "literally means feces," says the father of one patient who needed heart surgery after developing the infection and still has hearing problems. "He's going to need special care his whole life," says his father.

According to local and state health authorities, the infections were caused by problems with sterilization and hand hygiene. They say that likely they were contracted not during the surgeries, but when the patients were receiving intravenous sedation

In November 2014, they reportedly found "multiple safety breaches" by the dentist and staff, including unwrapped syringes. On a follow-up visit, despite changes made by the dentist, authorities still noted "deficiencies."

The dentist has offices in Budd Lake as well as Parsippany. It wasn't reported which office(s) had the unsanitary conditions or where the impacted patients (who range from 16 to 69 years old) had their oral surgery.

Most of the infections appear to have been contracted in 2013 and 2014. However, the father of the young man discussed above says the first case was in 2012. Since it was a single case, it didn't require reporting to health authorities.

Although the dentist has been sanctioned by the state dentistry board, he hasn't lost his right to practice. He has agreed to use the board's "best practices in sanitation." However, he's facing a class-action suit.

When multiple patients are impacted similarly by a single medical professional or facility, it may be in their best interest to participate in a class-action suit rather than file an individual claim. A New Jersey malpractice attorney can provide guidance.

Source: Daily Record, "15 cases of bacterial infection, 1 death linked to Budd Lake dentist," Michael Izzo, Aug. 17, 2016

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Gary D. Ginsberg is a Certified Civil Trial Lawyer who has been recognized as an expert in litigating cases in the courts of New Jersey.

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