NC dental board discusses anesthesia rule changes after death of Wilmington doctor and 5 others since 2014

Dr. Henry Patel died in August of 2020

MORRISVILLE, NC (WNCN/WWAY) — The North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners is looking at changing the rules for sedation.

The board held a public hearing Thursday regarding the proposed changes.

One change is having an anesthesiologist present during procedures, something Shital Patel is advocating for. Her husband Dr. Henry Patel died in August 2020 at age 53, following a complication after receiving anesthesia for an oral procedure.

Dr. Patel went to Dr. Mark Austin, an oral surgeon in Leland, for a dental implant. Towards the end of the procedure, Dr. Patel’s oxygen levels dropped and after an unsuccessful effort to place an endotracheal tube, 911 was called. Dr. Patel died at NHRMC.

“That was the last time I saw him, and you don’t expect that when you go to a dentist’s office,” Shital Patel said.

Patel believes having a separate anesthesiologist present to administer and monitor anesthesia, like there is in a hospital setting, will make things safer.

“Medical doctors cannot do this, simultaneously do a procedure and give sedation at the same time in a hospital, but oral surgeons and dental professionals can do it in their own office without a CRNA or an anesthesiologist,” she said.

Several oral surgeons at Thursday’s meeting opposed the proposed change.

Dr. Alec Parker, the executive director of the North Carolina Dental Society, said the board is committed to ensuring patient safety but doesn’t support having a separate anesthesia provider.

The CEO of the dental board said there have been six deaths related to anesthesia in dental offices since 2014, and that dentists violated rules in all of those cases. He said North Carolina would be the only state to require a separate anesthesiologist for dental procedures if the proposed changes went through.

The board is taking public comment through March 4 and said the earliest any potential changes would go into effect is in May.

On May 6, 2021, the Dental Board suspended Dr. Austin’s dental license. That order alleges that Austin prescribed controlled substances for his staff members, including those outside the scope of practicing dentistry, such as narcotic cough suppressants and sedative-hypnotic medications. In August of 2021, Dr. Austin permanently surrendered his dental license.


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