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Death of 3-year-old girl from dental procedure raises questions about safe practices

The tragic death last Friday of 3-year-old Finley Boyle—a girl from Hawaii who fell into a coma from a dental procedure gone horribly wrong—has raised questions about safe dentistry practices.

“It was topic number one at our dental board meeting this week,” said Mina Paul, a Roslindale dentist who is president-elect of the American Association of Dental Boards. The group, which represents dental boards from every state, received an update on the case from the head of the Hawaii dental board.

“We’d like to ultimately determine what went wrong and whether lessons can be learned from the case to improve safety in every state,” Paul said.

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While the full investigation into Boyle’s death has not yet been completed, the little girl went into cardiac arrest while under sedation during a root canal procedure. Her parents filed a lawsuit alleging that the improper medications with incorrect dosages were administered to the girl, according to CNN, and that the dentist had no plan in place to respond to medical emergencies involving anesthesia.

Whether Hawaii dental board regulations were violated remains under investigation. When the incident occurred, the lawsuit contends, dental staff failed to administer medications to counteract the anesthesia drugs and had to seek help from a pediatrician down the hall to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Massachusetts state law requires dentists and dental hygienists to be certified in CPR and get recertified every two years. Dentists who administer anesthesia during treatment—beyond a local anesthetic to numb the gum—must obtain both a facility permit and a permit for the dentist administering the anesthesia that includes emergency plans and patient monitoring during the administration of the sedatives. The state last updated its rules for administering dental anesthesia in 2010, Paul said.

Often in cases where a major medical emergency occurs during a dental procedure, state rules weren’t being followed. “A main mission of state dental boards is to deal with dentists who violate the rules,” said Paul, who previously served as chairperson of the state Board of Registration in Dentistry. “They may be ignorant of the law or just choose not to pay attention to the rules.”

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