Teen dies during wisdom tooth surgery, lawsuit ensues

Dec. 16, 2011
A 17-year-old teen died in Woodstock, Md., earlier this year from complications during wisdom tooth surgery. The dental profession responds.

A 17-year-old teen, Jenny Olenick, died in Woodstock, Md., earlier this year from complications during wisdom toothsurgery.

Parents of the high school junior have sued both the oral surgeon and the anesthesiologist for medical malpractice. The suit claims negligency on the doctors' part, as they failed to resuscitate Jenny after her heart rate and blood oxygen level dropped.

Chris Salierno, DDS, of Broadhollow Dentistry in Melville, N.Y., and co-editor of Surgical-Restorative Resource, comments, "Like many dentists, I recommend extraction of third molars based upon my assessment of a patient's particular circumstances. However, if the teeth are fully impacted and asymptomatic, I inform the patient and family about the potential risks of extraction vs. watchful waiting. We make an informed decision together about the best course of action.

"Many medical and dental procedures carry serious morbidity and mortality risks. Fortunately these serious complications are quite rare and typically do not outweigh the benefits of the procedure."

On the subject of anesthesia in this case, Dr. Salierno said, "One would think that the appropriate monitoring equipment was utilized if an anesthesiologist was present in the room. This patient did not lose her life due to removal of wisdom teeth, but because of the anesthetic procedures. While the article questions the need for prophylactic removal of wisdom teeth, I think a more interesting question for us to consider is the need for patients to undergo deep sedation for the procedure."

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