Investigation into 4-year-old's death reveals scary truth about dental practices

Whenever a new story comes to light about a common behavior's hidden dangers, people often begin to fear that 'everything can kill you nowadays.'

An investigation prompted by the death of 4-year-old Texan Salomon Barahona Jr. revealed that some of those fears may not be completely unjustified.

SEE ALSO: Dentist makes mother's worst nightmare a reality

The investigation, led by investigative reporter Brooks Egerton at the Dallas Morning News, began in the spring of 2014, when Egerton learned about the Dallas boy's tragic death due to oversedation by his dentist.

Salomon Jr., called "Junior" by his parents Salomon and Daniela Barahona, say that they took their son to a dentist for the first time in 2013, where they learned that he had four cavities. It was recommended that they see a specialist to have the cavities filled.

However, the specialist, Dr. John Riehs, told the Barahonas that Junior actually had 12 cavities and he recommended he be sedated so that he could be properly treated. Trusting the doctor's assessment, his parents agreed to let him perform the procedure. %shareLinks-quote="They said it's time to go back, you can't come to the back from this point, so [the dental assistant] took him from my arms and just walked away with him. That's the last time I saw him." type="quote" author="Daniela Barahona" authordesc="victim's mother" isquoteoftheday="false"% According to records, the dentist gave Junior a sedative "cocktail," containing the narcotic painkiller Demerol and the anti-anxiety drugs Valium and hydroxyzine, that was so strong it stopped Junior from breathing. However, Dr. Riehs didn't even notice this because the clip that was supposed to be attached to Junior's finger to measure the oxygen levels in his blood had fallen off.

After attempting CPR, Dr. Riehs reportedly "injected the boy with a drug to reverse the narcotic's effects," which successfully brought his pulse back. An ambulance was called and Junior was rushed to the hospital, but by then the damage had been done. %shareLinks-quote="I could see the tears coming out of his eyes. He was squeezing my hand because he was afraid." type="quote" author="Daniela Barahona" authordesc="" isquoteoftheday="false"% Junior remained in the Intensive Care Unit for four days on a breathing tube, his condition worsening until he passed away on January 2, 2014.

Junior's untimely and tragic death may seem like a freak accident, but Egerton's report suggests that it is not as much of an isolated incident as we may want to believe. %shareLinks-quote="The idea of somebody dying from going to the dentist was pretty unfamiliar to me. It is no longer unfamiliar." type="quote" author="Brooks Egerton" authordesc="Investigative Reporter" isquoteoftheday="false"% According to his report, 85 Texas dental patients have died since 2010, and an estimated 1,000 people have died nationwide during the same time span -- about one person every other day.

If you're wondering why all of this is news to you, you're not alone. Apparently, it is extremely hard to obtain any sort of information related to dentist related injuries and deaths:

That information came only after the newspaper sued the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners and filed open records requests in all 50 states for the right to see the investigative findings made by the board in the wake of the fatal accidents committed by practitioners.

This is due in part to suspected corruption and favoritism present on Dental Boards around the country like Texas' dental board, which doesn't require dentists to disclose any restrictions they face to their patients. The majority of people voting to pass these kinds of rules are practicing dentists, themselves.

Dr. Douglas Terry, a Houston dentist and patient-safety advocate, attended a board meeting last year to urge truth-in-advertising reforms. %shareLinks-quote="It appears that you are protecting bad players." type="quote" author="Dr. Douglas Terry" authordesc="patient advocate" isquoteoftheday="false"% Hopefully now that these issues have been brought to life, steps can be taken to create a safer environment for patients across the states. Then, maybe a small part of Junior's death will not have been in vain.

As for Dr. Riehs?

He received five years of unsupervised probation and a $3,000 fine. His sedation permits were taken away, but he got them back in exchange for "taking remedial courses online and passing a multiple-choice test."

This year, he reopened a new clinic, and is still seeing patients today.

RELATED: See the story of a dentist charged with homicide:

Connecticut Dentist Charged  With 'Negligent Homicide'
Connecticut Dentist Charged With 'Negligent Homicide'

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