Tragic Mistakes

Last week a tragic story began circulating in the media about a woman who died during dental surgery.  Dr. Rashmi Patel, a general dentist in Suffield, Connecticut has been charged with criminally negligent homicide and tampering with evidence.  Patient Judith Gan was undergoing treatment to have 20 teeth extracted and dental implants placed while under conscious sedation.

While I do not have all of the facts, I believe that it is safe to say that this tragic death could have been prevented, and that poor judgment on Dr. Patel’s part is to blame.  First of all, according to the article, Mrs. Gan had underlying medical conditions that were not adequately addressed.  She had suffered a heart attack and two strokes within the last two years.  In addition, she was prescribed and taking medications that would affect the effectiveness and safety of conscious sedation.  There are inherent risks in all dental procedures and anesthesia; even more so when administered by individuals not adequately trained to do so.  Patients that present these medical conditions within my practice are typically sedated by our board-certified anesthesiologist, Dr. Penelope Duke.  If medical conditions are more serious, surgery is better suited for our local hospital where I, as a board-certified oral surgeon, have privileges.

It is my opinion that Dr. Patel failed to recognize the risks associate with patient Gan.  While the treatment plan should be acceptable for a healthy individual, it proved to be risky for her.  Dr. Patel should have been trusted to identify her dental problems and fix the ones for which he is trained. He should also be trusted to refer the patient to a specialist who has the training and experience in physical diagnosis, the administration of IV anesthesia, and emergency care if required.

I question why Mrs. Gan would allow the dentist to perform this surgery given her medical conditions and her dentist’s lack of training and experience.  It could be a case of misplaced trust.  Or, perhaps she was working within the confines of her personal finances and dental insurance.  It could have made sense to her financially to just get it all done in one procedure.  Sadly, we may never know why she and her family chose to proceed with surgery and Dr. Patel.  But, it is my hope that consumers may learn from the tragic mistakes of others.

Fortunately, the majority of us living in and around The Woodlands are fortunate to have access to excellent medical and dental providers.  And, for the most part, we have insurance that allows us to make healthcare decisions that are in our best interest.  Nevertheless, it never hurts to repeat the following when it comes to your health:

  • Get a second professional opinion
  • Make sure you understand your provider’s qualifications, credentials, licenses, certifications, training and experience.
  • If the treatment plan doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.  Ask questions.
  • Report to your provider ALL medical conditions and medications. Don’t leave any information out.
  • If your surgeon requires a medical clearance, it shows that he/she is making sure that you are capable of undergoing surgery.  He is treating you as a whole patient.  Be glad that he/she is taking this step.  It is in your best interest.

If you have any questions about any dental procedures or surgeries, feel free to contact me.  My email address is  I will be happy to help you.  If you would like to read the article related to this blog, please visit:


Dr. M. James Clark is a board-certified oral surgeon specializing in wisdom teeth extractions, implant dentistry and the treatment of other conditions of the mouth, face and jaw.  Dr. Clark practices at the Technology Forest office of Northwest Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery.