30 Kids Hospitalized From Bacteria in Dentist's Water: What You Need to Know

It's pretty safe to say that no child likes going to the dentist. But as of last week, parents in California are a little more apprehensive about bringing their kids in for that six-month checkup! Around 30 children have been sent to the hospital because of a bacterial outbreak linked to a contaminated water supply at one Anaheim dentist office. And parents as well as professionals are looking to get to the bottom of this matter that could cause serious long-term issues for those infected. 



According to CNN, the outbreak was tracked to one Children's Dental Group clinic. The kids in question (ages 3 to 9 years old, who all visited the clinic between March and July) received pulpotomies -- essentially the child version of a root canal -- and they were infected with Mycobacterium abscessus from the water used during the procedures. (You know, that water that comes out of the little hose?)

The common symptoms are pain, redness, and swelling around teeth, but the infection can also spread to the gum and jawbone. In severe instances, patients might need to have parts of their jaw removed to stop the spread of the infection. Even scarier: The symptoms can take weeks or even months to appear.


The Dental Board of California is currently investigating whether or not proper protocol was followed at this clinic -- they say this bacteria can occur in low-level, stagnant water that isn't flushed. Over 800 patients have apparently received this procedure during the past few months, so there is a possibility that even more children could be infected with the bacteria.

So should we all be totally freaked out about the risk of bacterial infection from water at the dentist's office?

CafeMom reached out to the American Academy of Pediatrics, but they declined to comment on the situation because it's still under investigation. However, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Dr. Paul Reggiardo, DDS, of Pediatric Dentistry for Infants, Children and Adolescents in Huntington Beach, California, says there's no need to panic.

"This was an exceedingly rare occurrence and one in which public health officials and investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are searching for ways to be sure another such outbreak does not occur in the future," he explains. 

Okay, but what do parents need to know about the situation?

According to Dr. Reggiardo, this was an isolated series of events limited to a single dental facility. "The facility has suspended patient care until the source of the problem is identified and corrective action taken to assure the safety of patients," he says. "No other offices or dental facilities have experienced similar problems and parents should feel safe about the care rendered by their dental providers."

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And yes, there are protocols in place to prevent these situations, he adds.

The Orange County Health Care Agency reports that initial testing indicates the apparent source of infection was traced to the facility's on-site water system, explains Dr. Reggiardo. "Flushing of dental waterlines at the beginning of the day and between patients is one of the methods to reduce the likelihood of bacterial contamination." 

Others techniques include chemical water treatment, self-contained water sources, point-of-use-filters, and periodic water quality monitoring, he says, adding: "No single approach is applicable to all office situations."

Dr. Reggiardo says he is aware of only one other similar incident ever having occurred anywhere in the United States in the past.

We wanted to know: Is there anything parents should be asking or observing before taking our children for dental treatments?

"Waterline safety is just one part of the meticulous attention to all aspects of infection control that characterize a modern dental office," Dr. Reggiardo explains. So, it makes sense to pay close attention to all the details. If you have a concern about any facet of your child's care, including waterline safety, he recommends discussing this with the dentist prior to any treatment or procedure.

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"We will never eliminate all potential side effects and complications of treatment, even very rare ones," concludes Dr. Reggiardo. "We can, however, reduce the need for treatment by starting dental visits when the first tooth appears and certainly no later than the first birthday. Your pediatric dentist will provide infant and child preventive services and parent education to minimize the risk of developing dental decay."

Good to know!


Image via iStock.com/zlikovec

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