Tenn. practice may have exposed patients to HIV, hepatitis

2017 09 12 21 56 9566 Risk Magnifying Glass 400

Patients may have been exposed to bloodborne infectious diseases, including HIV and hepatitis B and C, at a Tennessee dental practice that failed to properly sterilize tools and equipment. The state recommends patients who were treated at the practice's two offices during the last three years get tested, according to news reports.

Clarence "Buzz" Nabers, DDS, sent letters to all patients who were treated at his two offices in Knoxville between September 15, 2016, and September 15, 2019, advising patients to get tested for the bloodborne infections.

The Tennessee Department of Health required the dentist to send the letters after an investigation by the Tennessee Board of Dentistry found that Dr. Nabers failed to ensure that all instruments were properly sterilized. The lack of infection control, as well as other violations, led the dental board in August to fine Dr. Nabers $11,000 and put his license on probation for two years.

Along with the state's recommendation for testing, Dr. Nabers sent his own letter, which was not printed on company letterhead and did not include the name of his practice, stating "there have been no reports of any harm to patients. We have no reason to believe any harm has occurred."

Patients were informed that sterilization techniques were revised and corrected after the state learned of the problems, according to the state's recommendation letter. Also, it advises patients of the "very remote" possibility that they had been exposed to infection.

On December 9, Dr. Nabers posted a video on his Facebook page, notifying his patients that some may be receiving letters about issues that the practice has since resolved. He encouraged patients to contact them with any questions and shared some other positive news about the 28-year-old practice.

All patients are expected to receive the letters before the holidays.

Though the state's dentistry board cited Dr. Nabers' office for failing to properly sterilize instruments from July 2018 through October 2018, the state health department determined that it was reasonable to recommend testing for patients during the three-year period.

Patients were encouraged to undergo blood tests at their primary care providers. The letter also listed recommended tests along with their corresponding diagnostic codes. Those who don't have primary care doctors should get tested at the Knox County Health Department.

More on the inadequate sterilization practices

In August, the state dentistry board completed its investigation and found that Dr. Nabers' practice used disposable drill pieces, put them in cold sterile solution, and reused them. However, when state investigators asked where the solution was located, employees didn't know how to respond.

Additionally, the practice didn't properly sanitize dental tools and air water syringe tips. Instead, these instruments were merely wiped with sanitizing cloths. Lastly, leather dental chairs were not sanitized between patients, and the office's sterilization machines were not tested to ensure they were cleaning items properly.

In addition to the improper sterilization practices, the state determined that after the only other dentist at his practice resigned abruptly in 2018, Dr. Nabers allowed dental assistants to handle duties outside their range of experience, including filling teeth and placing permanent crowns and bridges without him being present.

Furthermore, the state cited Dr. Nabers for forging certification documents. Dr. Nabers admitted to the dental board that he forged several certifications from a dental laboratory and sending them to the board during an education audit. He also had a dental assistant forge a cardiopulmonary resuscitation card.

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