Death in the Dental Office: Avoid Tragedy with Proper Training

Death in the Dental Office: Avoid Tragedy with Proper Training

Last week, I read an article about a dentist in North Carolina who got busted after a patient died. So in this episode of Talking with the Toothcop, we’re going to talk about what happened, why it happened, and how it could have been prevented. This isn’t to shame the dentist or staff involved, but to learn from the mistakes that were made. Tragedies in the dental office should never happen. 

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:22] Death in the dental office
  • [8:50] Get professional help before it’s too late
  • [13:45] The Professional Recovery Network 
  • [18:21] Your patients may not trust you anymore
  • [20:20] The current action being taken
  • [24:15] Upcoming CE courses

Death in the dental office

According to the article Leland oral surgeon suspended by Dental Board, under investigation by SBI for drug misuse, Dr. Mark Austin had his license suspended following an investigation by the State Board of Dental Examiners. The patient in question came in for an appointment to receive a dental implant. The doctor administered sedatives before and during the procedure. Unfortunately, the patient’s oxygen saturation dropped significantly, and after attempting to place an endotracheal tube, 911 was called. The patient died a few days later in intensive care. 

This prompted an immediate investigation by the dental board. The DEA and state board combed through this dentist’s practice. Even worse, in an earlier audit, the doctor couldn’t account for substances that were supposed to be maintained at his office, including Fentanyl. The investigation also alleges that he used illicit substances personally for two years while practicing

The patient was at 60-70% oxygen for 20 minutes. Brain death happens when it’s deprived of oxygen for 4–6 minutes. When EMS arrived, the patient didn’t have a pulse. The Dr. had not administered CPR prior to their arrival. His brain was deprived of oxygen for far too long, and he suffered irreversible brain injury and died 4 days later. 


Get help—or get busted

If you or someone you know is struggling with a drug or alcohol problem, get help. It can be done anonymously before you impact your patient’s lives. Because when a dental board gets involved, they’ll issue an emergency suspension which creates a public spectacle. This situation is attached to Dr. Austin’s license for the rest of his life. Every insurance company he attempts credentialing with will know. Some won’t take the risk. If someone had recognized he had a problem it could all have been prevented.

It’s hard to get help. But when you do, you go to a special rehab just for doctors. You’re there with other dentists or physicians in recovery. You avoid a public stigma while getting acceptance and support. This isn’t about shaming dentists, it’s about getting them help. 

It’s sad that a world-renowned cardiologist—someone who devoted his life to helping people—lost his life in a preventable situation. 


You have a moral obligation to protect your patients

Someone had to have seen the signs in this doctor and did nothing. You can’t hide a drug addiction for over a year. If you work with someone who is struggling, you have an obligation and responsibility to report this behavior. You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. The staff had a moral and ethical obligation to make a decision. They didn’t make the right one. 

The proper training and preparation for something like this could have prevented someone’s death. This is why we’re talking about this. Dental offices need to be taught the right way to do things. A reasonable person should ask, “What could I have done to prevent that?” Sadly, these staff members will carry guilt with them for the rest of their lives. 

The current action being taken


The dental board received information that Dr. Austin had prescribed controlled substances for staff members—outside the scope of dentistry. The board also received evidence that he was unable to account for controlled substances and had been taking them for two years. In a nutshell, he agreed to a suspension of his license. 

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