A teenage girl in Minnesota died after undergoing a routine dental surgery in 2015, and now the family is suing the dentist seeking $50,000 in damages. Sydney Galleger was having a wisdom tooth removed and was put under general anesthesia. The 17-year-old girl went into cardiac arrest in the dentist’s chair.
The dentist started CPR and called an ambulance, which transported her to University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. Her condition stabilized at the hospital, but she continued to suffer from a series of seizures. She died a few hours later due to swelling of the brain.
Gallerger’s parents originally blamed a possible undiagnosed heart condition for their daughter’s fatal reaction to the dental procedure, but they now allege the dentist did not administer general anesthesia properly, and that he also failed to monitor her properly. Dr. Paul Tompach has been placed under restrictions barring him from using anethesia, but he is still allowed to treat patients. His license was suspended for a short time before he was reinstated for practice while an investigation continues.
A Spate Of Dental Deaths
Sydney Galleger is among a small number of young patients to die in recent years during dental surgery while under anesthesia, or from complications arising after the procedure. A 24-year-old southern California man died while having wisdom teeth extracted in 2013, and a 17-year-old girl in Maryland died under the same circumstances in 2011.
Others have died from different complications resulting from wisdom teeth extraction. In 2016 Benjamin LaMontagne fell seriously ill days after having a wisdom tooth removed. The 18-year-old from Maine was diagnosed with an infection of streptococcus bacteria, a potent superbug that attacks skin, muscle and fat in the human body leading to toxic shock and death.
Risks Are Still Small
Despite these tragic deaths, dentists point out that thousands of wisdom tooth extractions are handled successfully every day across the U.S. and throughout the world. The risk of death is extremely small. There is often no choice but to remove a wisdom tooth that has become impacted and infected. That means surgery, involving anesthesia, is usually the only way the procedure can be done.
Dr. Joel Weaver, director of anesthesiology at Ohio State University’s College of Dentistry, reports that one out of every 350,000 patients sedated for dentistry die each year. But patients undergoing general anesthesia in a hospital operating room die at a rate of 1 in 100,000, making general anesthesia three times deadlier in hospital ORs than dentist chairs.
Special Problems With Wisdom Teeth
Wisdom teeth are located in the deep rear of the mouth making them difficult to clean, which in turn leads to infection. Another common problem is that wisdom teeth are prone to emerge or grow incorrectly.
Typical side effects associated with post-wisdom teeth surgery are pain, a condition called dry socket, and bacterial infection. Such complications are rare, however, with less than 6 percent of all cases requiring any follow-up medical treatment.
Removing Wisdom Teeth Before They Go Bad
Many people opt to have their still healthy wisdom teeth removed at a young age as a preemptive measure. This decision for elective wisdom teeth extraction is somewhat controversial even among dental professionals. Not all dentists advise early removal, and some are quite passionate against it.
The American Dental Association’s official policy is that wisdom teeth should only be removed,
when there is pain, infection, cysts, tumors, damage to adjacent teeth, gum disease or tooth decay.
This suggests the ADA does not recommend the elective removal of viable wisdom teeth, since it’s a potentially complicated procedure, unless there’s an actual need for it. If you’re thinking of getting your own wisdom teeth removed just in case, maybe ask for a second professional opinion before you decide.
Photo by Ricky Romeo, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.