Team 10 questions California Dental Board oversight after patient death

Public not notified of patient's death

SAN DIEGO - A Team 10 investigation found the California Dental Board doesn't disclose everything it knows about the state dentists it regulates. Team 10 found more than a month after a San Diego County man died in a Temecula dental office, that the state Dental Board continues to offer no information to patients about the incident.

"My daughter was first in line for his chair and we had no idea that the previous patient had died," Temecula resident Terri Biancardi said.

The previous patient was 24-year-old San Diego County resident Marek Lapinski.

He saw Dr. Steven Paul in his Temecula dental office in March for a wisdom teeth extraction.

According to medical reports obtained by Team 10, Lapinski was in "cardiac arrest" when paramedics arrived. They found "two pieces" of "surgical gauze in his airway" and as many as six different sedatives in his system, according to anesthesia records and the paramedic narrative record.

"Immediate measures were undertaken to revive the patient," Paul's lawyer said. "All standard protocols were followed."

Lapinski's autopsy has not been released yet and there's no official word on his cause of death.

Paul's office told Team 10 he is still seeing patients.

Celine Biancardi, 15, had her wisdom teeth removed by Paul 24 hours after Lapinski died.

"Something went wrong and it could have been anyone," Celine Biancardi said. "It could have been me. It could have been the girls after me."

In February, Team 10 found hundreds of California dentists still seeing patients -- some after burning, stealing from or sexually violating them.

The investigation found the state dental board allowed these dentists to stay in business as long they paid thousands of dollars in fees and fines.

"The financial incentives in particular are pointing in the direction of keeping the people in business, keeping the office open, keeping the patients in their chair," Fabian Biancardi, Celine's father, said.

Former Dental Board executive Richard Decuir said it was not a conflict of interest for the Dental Board to regulate the same dentists that finance the regulatory organization.

"I don't think dentists paying our way factors into what the board does," Decuir said in late 2012.

Decuir resigned from the Dental Board in early 2013. The state now forces dentists to post signs in their offices pointing patients to the state's dental license verification page.

The Biancardi's said they checked the site before sending their daughter to Paul.

There is no mention of Lapinski's death on Paul's license verification page. It shows his license is "renewed and current" with "no" actions listed.

"I think consumers need to get as much information as they can," Dental Board spokesman Russ Heimerich said. "We can offer part of that."

"If somebody passes away in a dental chair we're not sure that the dentist made them pass away," Heimerich said.

Heimerich said the Dental Board will post information about a dentist once an investigation is complete. He would not say if the Dental Board is investigating Paul.

According to Dental Board records, the average time to complete an investigation into a dentist is 401 days.

"Patients are not being protected and that is the purview of our legislators to protect patients," Biancardi said.

A San Diego lawmaker will soon have some say into how the state Dental Board does its job.

State Sen. Marty Block will serve on the committee that oversees the state's professional boards, the dental board included.

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