Essential Dental For Life in the Campus Shopping Village in Smithfield. Picture: PETER CARRUTHERS
Essential Dental For Life in the Campus Shopping Village in Smithfield. Picture: PETER CARRUTHERS

Health alert: Fallout from dental clinic shutdown

HUNDREDS of patients have been put at risk of being exposed to HIV by a Cairns dentist using poorly sterilised equipment.

Queensland Health is contacting about 550 patients of Essential Dental For Life at Campus Village, Smithfield, who have been placed at risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other bloodborne diseases.

The clinic was shut down by authorities on June 24, after a patient complained to the Queensland Office of the Health Ombudsman about inadequate infection control standards at the private clinic.

The Office of the Health Ombudsman ordered the clinic to cease practising until an "audit is conducted to assess infection control, sterilisation processes and procedures".

Essential Dental For Life in the Campus Shopping Village in Smithfield. Picture: PETER CARRUTHERS
Essential Dental For Life in the Campus Shopping Village in Smithfield. Picture: PETER CARRUTHERS

An investigation revealed patients who had been treated at the practice since March 2018 were at risk of infection.

Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service medical services executive director Dr Don Mackie said there were issues involving the cleaning and sterilisation of dental instruments used on different patients.

"These were not done to an acceptable grade," he said.

He said the risk of disease transmission between patients was "very small", and the issue had only been made public out of an over abundance of caution.

"It's taken us quite a bit of time to actually establish a) the risk that's been presented and b) to work through the list of patients," Dr Mackie said.

"I've got to say that the practice has been very co-operative in helping us with this."

Patients are being given the option to be tested for free via Queensland Health, or pursue their own testing via their GPs.

Cairns Tropical Public Health Unit director Richard Gair told reporters the regulation of private dental clinics was "complicated".

"All health facilities should have infection control plans in place, and those plans should be followed," Dr Gair said.

"Under the Public Health Act, there is a requirement to have these plans.

"But it's the responsibility of the practice to ensure this plan is followed."

Cairns resident Timothy Bottoms, who is a long-term patient of Essential Dental, said he still had complete faith in the clinic's procedures, and would not bother getting a blood test.

"The clinic has a wonderful dentist who has been fantastic over the last 10 years I've been with him," Dr Bottoms said.

"I've never had any reason to doubt the hygiene of the place.

"I just can't believe that (health authorities) are zoning in on (the practice)."

Essential Dental did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

It is understood the clinic is being assisted by the Australian Dental Association in dealing with the enforced shut down.

While authorities were not aware of the issue occurring in the Far North before, a similar incident of dentists performing dental surgery with poorly sterilised equipment emerged in Sydney in mid-2015.

Patients of Essential Dental with concerns can contact 13 HEALTH (13 432 584) or see their doctor.