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Children's Dental Group; image courtesy of KTLA.com

The Children’s Dental Group of Anaheim, located in Orange County, California, is responsible for sending 30 children to the hospital recently after using tainted water during routine dental procedures. It is estimated hundreds more children remain at risk after having received treatment at the dental office. One such patient, 7-year-old Mimi Morales, had to undergo major surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) to remove three permanent teeth, one baby tooth and a portion of her jaw that had become seriously infected.

Morales had undergone a pulpotomy at the health center two months prior to her hospital stay; a pulpotomy is the term used to describe a “baby” root canal, where the infected tooth will eventually be lost and replaced by its permanent adult counterpart. After the initial procedure, which involved cleaning the tooth out with medication and water before resealing it, the second-grader appeared to be on the mend within a few days. That is until she felt a bump in her mouth and began to see blood in the sink after brushing her teeth. She also began to express discomfort in her “silver tooth” any time she chewed her food but, according to the young girl’s grandmother, her symptoms soon disappeared.

While watching the news two months later, however, her grandmother happened to catch a story about the clinic that indicated close to a dozen children had developed potentially dangerous bacterial infections that eat away at the jaw and teeth after having visited the Children’s Dental Group, many of whom underwent the same pulpotomy procedure young Morales had; days later, the number jumped to 20 and later 30, where it remains thus far. Realizing the danger Morales could be in, her family rushed her back to the office where it was discovered her tooth was severely infected; they referred her to CHOC, where she was admitted on arrival because the infection had spread so aggressively, leading doctors to perform the frightening surgery.

7-year-old Mimi Morales post-surgery; image courtesy of Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG
7-year-old Mimi Morales post-surgery; image courtesy of Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG

As a result of having lost a portion of her jaw and three of her adult teeth, Morales will have to wait until she is 18-years-old before restoring her smile with dental implants; another long, arduous (and extraordinarily expensive) series of procedures. While in the hospital recovering, her father and grandmother both constantly at her side, the little girl looked at her school picture and said, “I want my teeth back. The kids are going to laugh at me.” When interviewed, her grandmother (who shares the same name as her granddaughter) said, “The doctor said he removed as much bone as he could without disfiguring her. Look at this poor baby, what she’s going through just because of a tooth. I’m just flabbergasted that we’re even here.” A preliminary investigation identified the clinic’s water system as the responsible culprit, which has been ordered to be replaced immediately.

Of the so-far 30 children who have suffered from serious infections, many have been put on large doses of antibiotics, delivered intravenously because they are not able to swallow the enormous pills required to properly treat their conditions. Orange County’s Health Care Agency has warned parents to watch for signs of infection, which they determined begin to emerge between 15 to 85 days after undergoing the pulpotomies. According to public health officials, more than 500 children have undergone the procedure at the clinic since April 1, 2016, and should be examined as soon as possible as a precautionary measure.

The CEO/owner of the Children’s Dental Group, Sam Gruenbaum, provided a statement to the press that said he “regrets even one patient has developed this condition,” and he wants to ensure “every single person is seen for a precautionary examination.” However, he declined to comment further, except to say he appreciated the patients and their families who are still coming to the office for dental screenings.

The young girl’s father, Zack Morales, has expressed his tremendous gratitude for his mother’s astute action, saying he hasn’t fully been able to process what has happened to his child. He said, “Thank God for my mom having the common sense to see this on the news and connect the dots. That’s my baby. I told her last night I wish I could have gone through the pain instead of her.”

Sources:

Number of Children Hospitalized After Treatment at OC Dental Office Rises to 30; Hundreds More at Risk

‘I want my teeth back,’ says one of 30 Calif. kids infected by dirty, dangerous dentist water

7-year-old girl loses some teeth, part of jaw bone, after dental infection outbreak

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