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Deadly Dental Procedure Has Heartbroken Family Pushing For New State Law

KCBS_740 ALBANY (CBS SF) -- One year after their six-year-old son died following a dental procedure, an East Bay couple is channeling their grief into political activism, fighting to pass a California law to make sure it doesn't happen again.

It's called Caleb's Law and is named after Caleb Sears.

The Albany boy went to an oral surgeon to have a tooth pulled. The oral surgeon recommended general anesthesia because he had an extra tooth embedded in his palate that would affect how his permanent teeth would come in, according to a family spokesperson.

But something went horribly wrong. Caleb stopped breathing and two days later he died in his parents' arms at Children's Hospital.

"He was the sweetest little boy," said his father Tim. "It would make him feel good knowing we are doing something for other kids."

Tim Sears says he had no idea that dentists and oral surgeons are the only medical providers who can administer anesthesia themselves without an anesthesiologist present. No warning of the procedure's inherent risks were ever given to the Sears.

The couple has teamed up with East Bay Democratic Assemblyman Tony Thurmond on a law that would require dentists to inform parents about the dangers of dental procedures involving general anesthesia.

"What we are asking for is that parents be given the information they need to make an informed decisions and that will save lives," he told KCBS.

Sears, in his first interview since his son's death, says Caleb stopped breathing and the oral surgeon missed opportunities to save him.

Now the Sears family is fighting to pass Caleb's Law, AB 2235. The law would require the tracking of adverse effects from dental sedation and require notice of the risks be given to parents.

Thurmond's bill comes up for a key committee vote next Tuesday. Opposition from dentists and oral surgeons has forced Caleb's parents to moderate the bill, which they initially hoped would BAN the practice of putting kids under without an anesthesiologist present.

On Thursday, the California Dental Association issued a statement saying it welcomes an investigation into the state's laws and procedures when it comes to administering anesthesia to pediatric dental patients.

In the meantime, the CDA reminded the public that thousands of children receive dental work every year and that deaths from anesthesia "are rare".

"This strong safety record is built upon significant anesthesia training (that is required)," the association said.

The CDA said an in-depth, in-person evaluation must be completed before a dentist is given a permit to provide anesthesia in California.

Editor's note: Those wishing to donate to Caleb's school in his memory can visit the Marin School PTA at this link.

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