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Parents suspect son's death was due to dental surgical error

For many Boston patients, dental procedures are necessary evils. Dental appointments are often associated with discomfort and swelling. Few people connect tooth fillings, extractions or dental surgeries to serious injury or death.

Surgeon malpractice is not exclusive to doctors in hospitals. Every operation carries potential patient risks, including oral surgeries. An allergic reaction to medication can be just as life-threatening for some patients as a surgical error.

A former Harvard Dental School professor said the likelihood a patient could die from wisdom tooth surgery complications is so small, estimates are unknown. Surveys filled out by Massachusetts oral surgeons over two decades reported no deaths among patients who had undergone the surgery. Even patients requiring hospital care after wisdom tooth surgeries are rare -- about 2 or 3 patients for every 100,000.

A teen in another New England state died last month, three days after the removal of his wisdom teeth. The 18-year-old developed problems two nights after surgery and died the following morning, shortly after waking. An autopsy has yet to be performed.

The high school senior's parents are convinced their son's death had something to do with the oral surgery. The family has not disclosed which surgeon performed the operation or the teen's health history. The student was one of the family's five children.

The head of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons said negative patient issues following wisdom tooth surgeries are frequently due to drug allergies. Skin problems like hives or itching develop. An uncommon response is anaphylactic shock, a full-body reaction to an allergen that can swell and restrict a patient's airway.

Injuries like nerve damage and severe infections or allergic reactions may be due to dental negligence. Victims who feel a dentist caused an injury can consult with an attorney, who will review the case and assist with the pursuit of compensation in Massachusetts civil courts.

Source: Portland Press Herald, "Love, sorrow, questions after Cheverus student’s death" Matt Byrne, Feb. 26, 2014

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