Former patients of a now-defunct dental clinic in Marana are being notified they may have been exposed to blood-borne diseases, such as HIV or hepatitis B or C, because of improperly installed equipment.
The equipment includes the tools used to spray air or water into a patient's mouth, and to extract waste from the mouth.
That equipment includes a compressor.
The Pima County Health Department is notifying the 174 adult patients who were seen at T Dental Clinic at 3662 West Ina Road from January to July of 2010.
The Health Department stresses this is a precaution.
Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Francisco Garcia says there are no confirmed cases of infection linked to this problem.
"Let me reassure you that even in the rare event where there may have been some exposure to the equipment in question, the risk of actual infection also remains very very low. However, it is not zero and that is part of the reason why we are reaching out to you today," Garcia said at a news conference Wednesday.
Garcia also said there is no evidence any of the patients were infected when they went to T Dental during the period in question.
The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) says it was told in February there might be a problem.
It investigated and consulted federal health experts.
"They consulted with the Centers for Disease Control who thought that, although there was a low risk for infection, there is not a zero risk for infection with blood-borne pathogens. And, therefore, that we needed to contact those individuals who were served by this practice between January and July of 2010," Dr. Garcia said.
The dentist associated with T Dental is Dr. Victor Trujillo who practices in Tucson.
His attorney, Lee Horner, says Trujillo is suing the contractor who installed the equipment.
Horner said Marana shut down T Dental when it was discovered there were code violations and the contractor did not have the proper permits.
Horner also said, Trujillo's position is that the contractor improperly connected the equipment, resulting in the contamination of the equipment and possibly the infection of some patients.
Horner also says Trujillo notified health officials of the possible problem at least twice. Once in 2010 and again last fall.
We asked Horner why it took health departments nearly three years to notify the public.
Horner said that was a good question.
"They were notified right after the contamination and the shutdown by Dr. Trujillo that, 'there is a problem. My expert had identified this contamination situation. You need to look into it.' And nothing was done. There was no asking for the patient list or anything like that," Horner said.
An ADHS spokeswoman told us that, by law, health departments cannot get involved in a dental practice unless there is disease transmission or the possibility of it.
She speculated that the initial reports were not clear that that was the problem.
She said the health department would have referred the information it got about the dental practice to the Arizona State Board of Dental Examiners for action.
No word on what the board did with that information, if it got it.
The ADHS spokeswoman says ADHS took action when it got the report of possible infection in February.
She says the dental equipment is in storage in Phoenix and is not being used.
Dr. Garcia says the County Health Department has sent registered letters to the patients.
He says the department highly recommends patients contact their doctors to arrange to be tested for the diseases.
Garcia says, if patients don't have insurance or they can't reach their doctors immediately, they can be tested at the Pima County Health Department.
He says the department will pay for the tests.
For more information, patients may call the Pima County Health Department in Tucson at 520-243-7808.
Click here for the full Pima County Health department news release.
Click here for a list of FAQs.
Dr. Garcia and his staff say this type of situation is rare and they can't remember it ever before happening in Pima County. They urge patients to continue with their regular dental care.
They warn that oral health problems can lead to major health issues.
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