How a routine trip to the dentist can put your life at risk

For some patients, a trip to the dentist ended in the emergency room when a piece of gauze became lodged in their throats, with some cases even ending in death.

John Santilli went into cardiac arrest at his dentist after a throat pack made from gauze allegedly became lodged in his throat.

"I am so lucky to be alive," he told Inside Edition.

Jared Wakefield, 22, was declared brain dead after a piece of gauze allegedly became stuck in his throat during a dental procedure.

His brother, Lance, told Inside Edition: "He had a gauze like this in his mouth during basic oral surgery and he choked on it."

His family is now suing Provo, Utah, dentist Dennis Blume, who denies any negligence.

Inside Edition chief investigative correspondent Lisa Guerrero asked Dr. Blume how something like that could happen.

"Well, I'm not going to answer your specific questions to the accident because it's still an ongoing investigation and case, which I can't comment [about]," he said.

In Nevada, a young mom named Kimberly Ortiz also choked to death on gauze in the dentist's chair, as did businessman Marek Lapinksi in California.

Dentistry professor Jimmy Kilimitzoglou demonstrated on a mannequin, showing Inside Edition how easy it is for gauze to become lodged in a patient's throat.

"Sometimes what happens is, as you try to get it out, you can lodge it further into the airway," he said. "Under normal circumstances, patients have their protective reflexes so they can gag, they can choke, they can cough. But a sedated patient, they lose those protective reflexes so they can't help us determine if something's lodged in there."

He says there is a simple technique that could have prevented the tragedies: A piece of dental floss wrapped around the gauze.

"When this piece of gauze is tied to a piece of string, this piece of string is our lifeline. And it's as easy as pulling this string and this could keep our patient safe and save our patient's life," he said.

Lance Wakefield says if that procedure had been followed, his brother would be alive today.

"Two feet of dental floss would have saved his life," he said. "It's a tragic loss."

The American Dental Association told Inside Edition they do not have any recommendations for throat packs because materials used during dental procedures are chosen through the clinical judgement of the individual dentist.