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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Suit Claims Dentist Used ‘Barbaric’ Restraints

SANTA ANA (CN) — A pediatric dental office forced to shut down for two months because its tainted water supply caused infections in nearly five dozen children now faces a lawsuit from parents of a child they claim was restrained in a "barbaric straitjacket-like device" during a type of root canal.

The Superior Court lawsuit filed Friday by Sergio and Lorena Sanchez appears to be the first over problems at the Anaheim office of Children's Dental Group. At least 57 children treated at the office developed difficult-to-treat mycobacterial infections traced to a contaminated water system.

The Sanchezes say they don't yet know whether their son Leonel was infected during the pair of pulpotomies, known as baby root canals, he received from the group.

But they say that dentists at the Anaheim office restrained the 6-year-old boy, who is autistic, "against his will on a 'papoose board' during the procedure, which took approximately 90 minutes."

They had "paid $750.00 for anesthesia, but do not know if it was actually administered," their suit says.

They also allege that "two pulpotomies performed upon Plaintiff Leo, were medically unnecessary and were performed in order to exploit Plaintiff Leo's insurance benefits."

"They make a lot of money on these," the Sanchezes' attorney, Catherine Lombardo of the Napolin Law Firm in Claremont, said in an interview Wednesday.

She said she expects to fill additional lawsuits on behalf of infected children Friday and next week.

Besides the dental group, the lawsuit names as defendants six dentists, Jerry Minsky, Rita Chuang, Gabriel Mizraji, Lillian Ho, Karla Thompson and David Han, as well as Minsky's own dental group.

In an email Wednesday, Children's Dental Group CEO Sam Gruenbaum said he could not comment on the pending litigation. "We provide this service and do our work because we care for the children in our community," he wrote. "We want them to have access to quality care from excellent dentists and caring staff, and sincerely regret that any patient had complications."

In a separate email to the Orange County Register, Gruenbaum said the company has replaced the contaminated water system with one designed to protect patients' health and safety, adding that the Anaheim office hopes to begin seeing patients again Nov. 21.

Pulpotomy patients apparently were infected at the office from March 1 through Aug. 11, according to news accounts. Eventually, 57 children were hospitalized for the challenging infection at CHOC Children's Hospital of Orange County. One girl had part of her jaw removed, according to news accounts.

The Orange County Health Agency ordered the office to stop using its on-site water system on Sept. 15, and the county board of supervisors gave an emergency $150,000 grant to the hospital to treat those infected. The healthy agency lifted its prohibition Nov. 8 after Children's Dental Group replaced the contaminated water system.

The Sanchezes say Leo received his treatments in May, but they were not allowed to be with him for the procedure.

Lombardo said they learned about the "papoose-board" from talking to their son. "The clinic calls it a hugging blanket," although it also straps down the child's head, she said.

Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists do allow "protective stabilization" in unusual situations with parents' consent. But the Sanchezes were never informed about the restraints, their lawsuit says.

The couple learned about the spate of infections in July from a dental office phone call. Although they took Leo back to Children's Dental Group clinics for follow-ups repeatedly since then, they have never been informed whether his tests indicate infection, according to the suit.

But when they bring him back to the clinic, he "tearfully begs his parents not to take him to the dentist, and cries that he 'will be a good boy.'"

They allege that if they had been informed about the infections or the "papoose board," they never would have consented to the pulpotomies.

The lawsuit seeking punitive damages accuses the defendants of malpractice, battery, false imprisonment, misrepresentation, negligence and infliction of emotional distress.

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