A dentist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah, Wisconsin put almost 600 veterans at risk for multiple blood-borne diseases after failing to properly sterilize equipment between patients. As a result of the incident, the VA is now offering free testing to those veterans who may have been affected.
The VA published its initial report on October 20 and has agreed to treat any of those veterans who discover they’ve been infected. There haven’t been any reports of infection yet, but close to 600 patients are still being monitored and undergoing testing.
Approximately 32% of people report being uncomfortable with their teeth, but these veterans have something much more serious than dental hygiene to be worried about.
The availability of testing was announced shortly after a dentist at the Tomah VA failed to practice proper sterilization techniques. It was discovered that the dentist had been reusing drill bits to treat patients without properly sterilizing them. Standard VA procedure dictates that a drill bit should only be used once before being discarded.
The VA wasted no time condemning the dentist’s actions. Victoria Brahm, the center’s acting director, issued a statement on the matter. The dentist “brought in his own [dental] burs and cleaned them with Virex solution, salt and a wipe which is nothing we endorse,” she said.
The issue itself, however, wasn’t reported to the VA until a new dental assistant was hired and reported it. Dr. David Clemens, President-elect of Wisconsin’s Dental Association, explained in an interview that while the dentist’s sterilization techniques may have been acceptable in the 1980s, much has changed. Any dental instruments that can be reused must be put through an autoclave for sterilization first.
The VA recently held a news conference to announce their findings and the free Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV screenings. Brahm said that the goal of the news conference was to provide as much transparency as possible in the situation.
If veterans have questions, they’re encouraged to call a 24-hour medical hotline to receive answers and possibly book a screening appointment.
Brahm closed the conference with prayers and hopes that no infections were discovered.