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Dirty dentists: Sloppy work, lack of oversight can mean infections

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TUCSON, Ariz. -

Almost 200 people in Marana are being asked to get tested after they were potentially exposed to HIV and Hepatitis C after going to the dentist. This comes on the heels of an Oklahoma dentist who allegedly exposed thousands to the same diseases.

We found out dentists' offices are not routinely inspected.

Arizona dentist Dr. Victor Trujillo is now working out of a new office. Last month, the health department notified 174 patients of the now closed, T Dental Clinic in Marana, that they may have been exposed to HIV and Hepatitis C and needed to be tested.

Reporter: "Dr. Trujillo?"

Clerk: "No he's not available you need to turn that off please."

In court documents, Dr. Trujillo claims a compressor was not properly installed in his T Dental Office in January 2010.

He says the discovery was made 6 months later, after another dental supply employee saw blood flowing from the compressor.

He claims the compressor and vacuum pump were cross connected.

That means whatever was suctioned out of your mouth might have been squirted into somebody else's -- leading to possible infection. As of yet, the health department cautions, no infections have been reported.

"Infection control is generally not a problem here because we have a much higher emphasis on this state on infectious disease prevention," says Kevin Earle, Arizona Dental Association.

Kevin Earle is also the former executive director of the Arizona State Board of Dental Examiners.

Reporter: "In a situation like that when equipment is installed in a dental office does anybody inspect it in advance?"

Earle: "No usually it's the manufacturer or supply house that does that installation."

The Board of Dental Examiners regulates dentists. Earle worked there for a year.

He told us dental offices are not routinely inspected in the state of Arizona.

Reporter: "In your time in Arizona how many offices do you think were actually inspected?"

Earle: "During my time there? Maybe one."

It's not unusual. Other states do not routinely inspect clinics, blaming lack of money -- and saying incidents are so rare the need just isn't there.

Reporter: "Unless a complaint's filed they are never inspected?"

Earle: "Correct."

That's what happened in Oklahoma with the case of Dr. Scott Harrington. After a complaint, state inspectors allegedly found contaminated drug vials and unsanitary instruments.

State officials say more than 7,000 patients may have been exposed to HIV and Hepatitis C. Deann Zavala's 8-year-old daughter had to be tested after having a tooth removed by the dentist.

"How do you look at her and be like you could have AIDS or HIV?" wonders Zavala.

"No dentist wants to see their patient exposed to an infectious disease and have that liability nor does any dental hygienist or dental assistant," says Earle.

The Arizona State Board of Dental Examiners has one full time investigator, but they say they have dental consultants they can send on inspections, if needed. Still, Earle says resources are limited.

Reporter: "So even if the State Board of Dental Examiners wanted to inspect every dental office there's not the personnel, there's not the funding and there's no state law that says that they have to?"

Earle: "No. Correct."

While the Oklahoma State Board of Dentistry is considering changing its practices, Earle doesn't think that's necessary in Arizona.

"No I think by and large dental offices operate with a healthy fear of the Board of Dental Examiners as it should be," says Earle.

"Proper infection control techniques are something that is constantly emphasized and we want to reassure the public yes it is safe to go to the dentist."

Trujillo closed T Dental in 2010. Only those patients seen from January 2010 to July 2010 were asked to be tested.

The company that installed the equipment in his office says Trujillo made up the contamination claim after they sued him for not paying.

Dr. Trujillo, according to patients, is now practicing in Tucson, while the case is in court. He is still licensed in the state.

The State Board of Dental Examiners will not confirm or deny if Dr. Trujillo is being investigated. He wouldn't talk with us at his new office, sending out someone else instead.

Reporter: "We're looking for Dr. Trujillo we wanted to ask him about why happened in Marana? Can you comment at all about why he's working here? Is he still practicing here? Is he still accepting patients?"

"He can't comment sorry. Can't answer any questions. No."

Again in the Marana case, health department officials say no one has tested positive for HIV or hepatitis. However, in the Oklahoma case 57 people have tested positive for hepatitis and at least one person tested positive for HIV.

Check for disciplinary action filed against your dentist:


AZ State Board of Dental Examiners:


Tips on what to look for at the dentist:

In Arizona, dentists are required to take 6 hours of infection control classes every three years. The president of the Arizona Dental Association says don't be afraid to ask questions at your dentist's office.

Ask your dentist about what their sterilization procedures are and what kind of training they have. On bagged instruments sometimes there is an indicator that changes color to show that it's sterilized -- ask to see that. Or ask to see a copy of their autoclave validation, that is a report done by a third party that shows how well the sterilization machine is working.

Ask your dentist how often they change gloves. Dentists should be willing to provide that information.

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