"I want my teeth back": Calif. dentist under investigation for kids' infections

CA dentist tied to infections

Thirty children have now been hospitalized in California with a serious bacterial infection, after visiting the same dental clinic.

The number of victims has more than quadrupled since “CBS This Morning” first aired the story last month. The Dental Board of California is now investigating the office tied to the cases.

More than 800 children were given pulpotomies, or baby root canals, at one dental office between March and September. The Orange County Health Agency said tainted water used during the procedures caused the bacterial infection.

Now, families affected by the outbreak want to know what went wrong, including Mimi Morales. She is worried that her granddaughter’s stay at the hospital was just the beginning of long-term health troubles for the little girl.

“Flabbergasted that this would happen. We’re talking about children,” Morales said. 

“What’s it like to be here in the hospital?” CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy asked.

“Well, it’s kind of, you feel like, I don’t want to be here ‘cause stuff hurts here,” said her granddaughter, also named Mimi, after her. 

California children hospitalized after visits to dentist

Surgeons had to remove three of the 7-year-old’s permanent teeth and part of her jawbone to stop a dangerous bacterial infection she contracted during a visit to the Children’s Dental Group of Anaheim.

“Now she has to have three antibiotics that are very serious, they can cause hearing loss, affect her kidneys,” Morales said.

The Orange County Health Care Agency said at least 29 other kids were hospitalized.  Morales said the clinic didn’t contact her after they discovered the problem.

“They never miss a phone call to remind that you have a dental appointment. And they should have been working around the clock to notify people. That’s what I’m most upset about,” Morales said.

The dental clinic is now being investigated by the dental board and has stopped performing any procedures that involve water as they wait to install a new water system.  A longtime former employee of the clinic who wanted to remain anonymous said she believes the water lines weren’t flushed correctly.

“I think there’s been a lot of high staff turnaround there and they weren’t following protocol,” she said. 

About 75 percent of the Children’s Dental Group clients are low income and covered by Denti-Cal, which would have been billed for the procedures. 

“It just became all about, ‘we need to increase production and efficiency and it’s not so much about the kids anymore,’ without saying that,” the former employee said.

The Dental Group called these allegations hearsay. Answering our questions by email, they said, “We are committed to… providing our patients with safe, quality care.”  They said they have contacted more than 640 affected patients and examined nearly 450 kids. 

Mimi’s family hopes the dental office will be held accountable.

“She was looking at her school picture and she said, ‘Grandma, I want my teeth back.’ And she says, ‘The kids are going to laugh at me. And I said, ‘The kids aren’t going to laugh at you. You’re beautiful. Nobody’s going to laugh at you.’ But that breaks our heart,” Morales said.

The 7-year-old has now been released from the hospital, and is recovering at home before she returns to her second grade classroom. But there are still five other children in the hospital.