Countless adults and children in the United States have outpatient oral surgery procedures every day at their dentists’ offices. Most are weary about getting these procedures done but complete the unfortunate task as required and recommended by their dentist. However, one young high school student was right to be weary as his oral surgery unfortunately caused his early and untimely death just before his high school graduation.

CBS news reports on the eighteen year old's unfortunate death.

The young teen’s name was Ben. He went to his dentist to have a common oral surgery, removal of all four of his wisdom teeth. Many people get this procedure done between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two. But little did he or his parents know that he would never fully recover or be the same again after his painful procedure.

Ben was an intelligent National Honor Society student as well as a talented musician who was all set to graduate high school and start college in a couple of months when his medical problems started. He began to feel strange symptoms of a health issue shortly after having his four wisdom teeth removed.

Ben’s dentists told him that the massive swelling he was experiencing was normal. So when the swelling kept getting worse, no one did much about it treating it or relieving the pain. Eventually the swelling stopped confining itself to Ben’s jaw. The swelling that started there got so terrible that it spread to his eyes and the rest of his face. It prevented him from eating and swallowing properly. Despite this gigantic growth in swelling no doctor admitted Ben to a hospital or suggested that he get properly evaluated.

After a couple of days Ben could no longer even make it to the bathroom on his own. His mother found him on the bathroom floor unconscious one night after she had helped him get there and left him for a minute to go to the kitchen. Paramedics came promptly to their house to evaluate Ben. They tried to revive him to no avail but unfortunately he was pronounced dead at the scene.  

How did Ben get so sick? Well, the pulling of his wisdom teeth left an open wound in his mouth. And a deadly strain of flesh eating bacteria entered it. Those bacteria basically slowly ate away at Ben’s muscle tissue.

CBS explains, “The type of bacteria that caused the infection, called streptococcus A, is most commonly associated with strep throat, according to the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation. However, some bacterial strains can cause much more severe symptoms, especially if the bacteria can find a way to easily enter the body, for instance through an open cut. The bacteria rapidly reproduce and attack the soft tissue surrounding muscles. If it is not detected soon enough and treated with powerful intravenous antibiotics and surgery to remove the dead tissue, it can lead to toxic shock, organ failure and death.”

Fox news also commented on Ben's condition saying,

“Commonly referred to as flesh-eating bacteria, necrotizing fasciitis is a rare but extremely aggressive disease that destroys the fascia – a layer of connective tissue right underneath the skin that surrounds muscles, blood vessels and nerves. The condition can be caused by several types of bacteria, notably group A Streptococcus, when they enter the body through a break in the skin.”

If treated immediately a person can survive the infection but when they do not receive prompt treatment and surgery the bacteria produces toxins that destroy fascia tissue.

Could Ben have survived?

Some doctors have said that if Ben’s condition had been treated immediately he could have survived the infection. But Ben was told that the swelling and other symptoms were normal and was not evaluated or treated in a timely manner causing his infection to worsen and eventually cause his unfortunate death.

How common are infections resulting from oral surgery?

Experts say that Ben’s particular deadly infection is rare but general infections resulting from oral surgery are not so unusual. Dr. Dodson, a maxillofacial surgeon who has been performing surgeries for 30 years told CBS, “About one in 20 people who have oral surgery experiences an infection of some kind. However, most of those cases can be treated with oral antibiotics, and most infections are caused by the numerous bacteria that are typically present in the mouth and throat.”

Dr. Dodson has treated patients with necrotizing fasciitis (the type of infection Ben had). He has also advised other colleagues on how to treat patients they encounter who have the serious infection. Dr. Dodson says that the treatment plan for these patients is quite rigorous. Patients suffering from necrotizing fasciitis need to be properly medicated in a hospital, usually kept in the intensive care unit.

Why is this necessary?

They need to be there to have multiple surgeries to remove all of the dead tissue inside their bodies.

What is the proper protocol for dentists and oral surgeons as per American dental agencies?

Dr. Molinari, infection control expert for the American Dental Association told Fox, “I have not heard of anything like that (talking about Ben’s case), with necrotizing fasciitis as a result of routine oral surgery extractions. Dentists and oral surgeons must follow a set of strict protocols in order to limit infection, such as sterilizing gloves and wearing protective gear.”

Some researchers have come up with a drill free plan so that patients do not have to fear their dentists’ intimidating drill again.

How are scientists planning to perform the difficult task of eliminating drills?

Well, they are trying to come up with a way for your teeth to strengthen and repair themselves.

The BBC reports, “Researchers at King's College London believe electricity can be used to strengthen a tooth by forcing minerals into the layer of enamel. They hope it will get rid of the need for drills, injections and fillings. Minerals such as calcium and phosphate naturally flow in and out of the tooth. Acid produced by bacteria munching on food in the mouth help leach minerals out. The group at King’s College applies a mineral cocktail and then use a small electric current to drive the minerals deep into the tooth. They say ‘Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralization’ can strengthen the tooth and reduce dental caries - areas of tooth decay.”

How long will it take for this to reach consumers? The project’s leaders are hoping to have it out by next year. Researchers from King’s College in London are extremely excited about the new product. The device’s inventor told the BBC, “This is an early stage - you don't start with the finished product - but we're excited because we think it is groundbreaking. We have set up a company to convert it from a demonstration technology into a viable commercial product that we can put into the hands of dentists around the world. The technology had the potential to replace the need for many existing fillings, but could not tackle large ‘end-stage’ cavities. What it will not do is physically re-grow a tooth.”

While such technology cannot go the great length of actually growing a tooth or re-growing a new tooth, it is still provides hope that technologies such as this might help deter the need for certain oral surgeries. If many of these surgeries are deterred then this will also lower the number of infections that occur as a result of such surgeries. 

Gerry Oginski
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NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer