She had failed to check identity of patient; fined $3,000 by dental council
A 23-YEAR-OLD man went to the dentist to have his teeth straightened, but emerged two teeth short – teeth that should have been taken out from another patient. It was a case of a mistake compounded by another mistake at the National Dental Centre (NDC), in an incident which has landed a dentist in the soup, and earned the young man free corrective treatment. The May 2007 incident – the first such case to come to light here – began when the clinic clerk put the chit for extracting two teeth into the wrong patient’s file, and the wrong patient was called into the treatment room.
Dr Debbie Hong Pooi Mun, then four years into her career, failed to check the identity of her patient before commencing to extract the teeth. She wrongly took out the upper left first premolar and lower left second premolar. The Straits Times understands that the patient was not under general anaesthesia; however, he said nothing when the first tooth was taken out. When the error was discovered, he was informed within the hour. Although three senior NDC specialists were immediately called in, attempts to reimplant the two teeth failed.
The patient made a complaint against Dr Hong to the Singapore Dental Council, the professional regulatory body for dentists, which heard the case. Yesterday, the council censured Dr Hong and fined her $3,000; she also has to pay the cost of the inquiry. She pleaded guilty to the charge and has promised not to repeat the error. In a statement yesterday, the council said: “The disciplinary committee was of the opinion that the wrongful extraction of the patient’s two teeth was a serious matter which could have been avoided if Dr Hong had been more diligent in her duty.” The council said there were “other mitigating factors”, but did not elaborate.
The NDC, located next to the Singapore General Hospital, also issued a statement yesterday to accept responsibility for the mistake. It said it has apologised to the patient; citing patient confidentiality, it refused to go into the details of the orthodontic treatment given to the young man to cover up the gaping holes left by the wrongful extraction. The treatment was completed in January this year.
Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry dealing with the proper alignment of teeth, often accomplished with braces. Internal checks revealed that the referral slip for extraction had been attached to the wrong patient call number. The centre, part of the public health-care system, has since improved its processes to prevent such lapses. This includes checking the patient’s identity twice at every point, and confirming with the patient the procedure to be carried out. Patients must also give consent for tooth extractions, to ensure that they know the risks and what is involved.
Dr Wong Mun Loke, the executive secretary of the council, said the patient had wanted treatment to adjust his crooked teeth. Such treatment sometimes involves the extraction of teeth so those remaining can be properly aligned. Dr Ho Kok Sen, a dentist in private practice specialising in oral and maxillo- facial surgery, agreed that perfectly sound teeth are sometimes removed as part of the straightening process. “It is different when teeth are extracted because of dental caries or fracture,” he added.
Dr Wong, also deputy director for youth health at the Health Promotion Board, told The Straits Times: “This was the first time a wrongful extraction of teeth has been heard by a disciplinary committee.” He added that the dental council hears very few cases; the last was five years ago, involving a dentist’s failure to obtain informed consent from a patient for a dental procedure.