Good Decision - Bad Outcome

by Hal Mooz 24. December 2012 11:02

Teen dies after 'routine' wisdom tooth surgery

When 17-year-old Jenny Olenick went in to have her wisdom teeth removed, her parents weren’t worried. After all, wisdom tooth extraction is so common these days that it’s almost become a rite of passage for teens. “She was supposed to be out of there in an hour and a half,” Jenny’s mom, Cathy Garger, told TODAY. “Just something we all do, going to the dentist. She was supposed to resume normal functioning within about four days or so.”

But the routine procedure quickly took a tragic turn. Just 15 minutes after Garger and her husband dropped Jenny off at the clinic they received an urgent call from the oral surgeon’s office.

Though Garger and her husband were worried, they still had no idea of how badly things had gone wrong during the “routine” procedure on March 28, 2011. When they got to the hospital, doctors told them the outlook was bleak. Their daughter died 10 days later.

The autopsy report revealed that the apparently healthy teen had died of “hypoxia while under anesthesia for a tooth extraction.” In other words, she’d been deprived of oxygen for so long that her brain was severely damaged. Sometimes when patients are under anesthesia their heart rate can slow, and then the body gets less and less oxygen if doctors can’t get their heart back up to speed. Jenny’s death was ruled to be an accident.

According to the American Association for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons cases like Olenick’s and Kingery’s are rare, albeit tragic. In fact, the association’s records show that the risk of death or brain injury in patients undergoing anesthesia during oral surgery is 1 out of 365,000. While maintaining that safety standards are stringent, the organization still encourages patients to ask their dentists the tough questions.

Though these kinds of tragic outcomes are rare in healthy patients, there are some important questions to ask your doctor or dentist before undergoing anesthesia, Fleisher said.

First, you want to make sure that there will be someone other than the surgeon monitoring your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing, Fleisher said.

“It’s also appropriate to ask what kind of monitoring equipment will be there and who will be doing the monitoring,” Fleisher said. “Do they have the proper equipment if someone stops breathing? Do they have a plan to deal with emergencies?”

For those with serious medical conditions it might make sense to talk to your internist before scheduling a dental procedure that will require anesthesia, Fleisher said.


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About Hal Mooz

Engineer, Project Manager, Entrepreneur, Author, Trainer, Lecturer, Thought Leader, Consultant

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