Dentists And Health Safety


In July 2015 we all woke up with the news that NSW Health suspended six dentists and cautioned another 6 over exposing their patients to HIV and hepatitis. One was The Gentle Dentist in Campsie and Sussex St and the other was Dr Starkenburg who had practices in Surry Hills and Bondi Junction. I remember being shocked but not surprised with this news. For a long time after I felt the fear and uncertainty these patients must be experiencing. Well, it has happened again this month with the patients of Dr James Pok-Yan Ng at 90 Ramsay St, Haberfield.

I feel like apologising for the dental profession on their behalf because we work so damn hard to keep our patients safe. They have exposed more than 20, 000 patients to HIV/AIDS and hepatitis over a period of at least 10 years.

All dentists that earned their degree from an Australian university are taught the same infection control guidelines and standards. It is up to them, when they graduate and go out into the big wide world to follow these basic guidelines and standards.

All overseas dentists are rigorously tested for their knowledge and expertise and must pass the same guidelines and standards before practising dentistry in Australia. Unfortunately, there is no-one that checks that they are in fact doing this when they start practising dentistry. There is a voluntary accreditation program for any dental practice to participate in, but it is rare for them to do this. It is expensive and time consuming, but we did it just to show our patients that they can rely on us to look after them.

I have no real insight as to why these three dentists chose to ignore basic infection control. Ego? Laziness? Apathy? Money pinching? Defiance?

In my opinion, there is absolutely no excuse to have below standards as these three clearly did. Apart from the ethics, anyone with an ounce of moral fibre would simply not put their patients at risk.

Sterilising at the dentist

How we helped a suspended dentist understand his basic obligations……

In 2015 one of the dentists that was suspended by the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA) after this came to light, was asked to come in to see how an accredited dental practice works. It was hoped that this person would see how infection control is practised, how sterilisation procedures should be set out, and how equipment should be tested, and everything documented. He chose to come in to see us. When I first greeted (let’s call this person Happy Harry) Happy Harry, he said he was ‘just here to go over things and that it shouldn’t take much time cause I’m confident in how I run my practice’. I took a deep breath, smiled and started showing him our practice. 6 hours later and he apologised for his attitude at the beginning. He said he had no idea how much was involved and felt overwhelmed with the amount of work ahead of him. I had barely shown him half of what he should already know. Some of the things I discussed with Happy Harry was:

  • have in place appropriate procedures for surface cleaning and decontamination between patients;
  • maintain separate clean and contaminated zones within the treatment room and instrument reprocessing area;
  • observe proper standards for the safe transfer of used instruments and materials;
  • have adequate cleaning aids and facilities;
  • ensure that instruments were sterile at point of use;
  • have an ultrasonic cleaner that was appropriately tested and contained appropriate cleaning solution;
  • have an autoclave that was tested and calibrated on an annual basis;
  • maintain adequate batch control identification and maintain and store instruments in a hygienic manner;
  • observe appropriate practice and procedure in relation to hand hygiene; and
  • maintain and make available appropriate information relating to infection control policies and procedures.

It took him months (scary to think of) to get up to where he should have always been and is now allowed to practice dentistry again.

What can you do if you attend a non-accredited dental practice?

If your dentist is working in an accredited practice you can definitely feel reassured. They will be displaying this sign:

family dental care campbelltown

If they are not, you can look around the treatment room and see if there is a barrier of some kind on all areas where the dentist touches, are they wearing gloves, masks and gowns? There should be lots of glove changes. Ask to see their sterilising records. They should be comfortable and happy about showing them to you.

It should look something like this:













At Family Dental Care, you can be reassured that we have the highest infection control and sterilising for EACH AND EVERY patient. We are an accredited practice which means quality, safety and peace of mind for you.

If you would like to see if your dental practice is accredited, click here and put in their postcode.

If they are not accredited perhaps you can ask them why they aren’t. I always say if you have nothing to hide, you hide nothing. An accredited practice has nothing to hide and will happily give you a tour of the practice sterilisation area and provide you with the sterilising records and equipment maintenance records to view.

Any patients that have concerns after attending a non-accredited dental practice, can call this helpline 1800 610 344

The Dental Board of Australia have some tips for patients on their website. It is certainly worth a look.

What happened to Dr Ng?

Dr James Pok-Yan Ng had his registration suspended on 27th July 2018 after a patient made a complaint to the Health Care Commission. He has since chosen to retire but the case is still pending.

What happened to Dr Samson Sing Hon Chan?

On 1 May 2017 the Health Care Complaints Commission Tribunal proved that Dr Chan had engaged in professional misconduct.  The breaches were numerous, significant and involved most areas of the practice.  They included the failure to maintain the cleanliness of surgery equipment and lack of information regarding infection control.  However, unlike Dr Starkenburg, he admitted to most of these failures.

Dr Chan was reprimanded and allowed to continue providing dental services. However, he must submit to an inspections of every practice he has, within the following three months and at random times thereafter. He also needed to enter into a mentoring arrangement with an experienced dentist for at least 12 months. Since this time, he has re-branded his dental practices in Campsie and Sussex St and is no longer The Gentle Dentist.

The full decision is available at NSW Caselaw

What happened to Dr Robert Starkenburg?

The Tribunal could see he didn’t get what he did was wrong and felt that they couldn’t trust he wouldn’t do this again.

On 9 February 2017, the Health Care Complaints Commission Tribunal proved that Dr Starkenburg had engaged in professional misconduct and cancelled his registration.

The full decision is available at NSW Caselaw

A hotline has been established to answer patient’s questions, the number is 1800 610 344.

You can have full confidence having dental treatment at Family Dental Care.

Book in with confidence by calling us on 4625 4897 or clicking the ‘Book Now’ button to take you to Health Engine Online