TODAY   |  March 30, 2013

HIV testing to begin for thousands of dental patients

Health officials in Oklahoma will begin testing as many as 7,000 patients of a Tulsa dentist accused of unsanitary practices. An investigation into the dentist’s office turned up rusty equipment, re-used needles and drug vials. NBC’s Charles Hadlock reports.

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>>> thanks. now to a disturbing story out of oklahoma. today health officials there will begin testing as many as 7,000 patients for hiv and hepatitis. their dentist is accused of numerous health and safety violations. charles hadlock is in tulsa, oklahoma this morning.

>> reporter: good morning. when state health officials inspected this dentist's office in tulsa they said they were sickened by what they found. as a result of what happened thousands of patients now have to be tested for infection. the dental office of dr. scott harrington remains closed this morning after he voluntarily surrendered his dental license and is now cooperating with state health authorities. beginning today thousands of his patients will undergo blood tests at this public clinic to determine if they have contracted blood-borne illnesses such as hiv and hepatitis c .

>> every patient assumes when they enter a dental office that things are being done per the standard and the law and, unfortunately, in this situation that was not the case.

>> reporter: health inspectors called harrington 's office the perfect storm for infection. in a 17-count complaint the state board of dentistry accuses dr. harrington , seen here in an earlier photo, of being a menace to public health after one of his patients tested positive for hepatitis c . inspectors say harrington 's clinic had rusty equipment, illegally allowed dental assistants to perform i.v. sedation, and reused needles and drug vials. according to the complaint one of those vials expired 20 years ago, and a device used to sterilize instruments had not been tested in six years.

>> he said, i don't handle that. talk to my assistants. sterilization questions, i don't handle that. talk to my assistants.

>> reporter: joyce baylor had her tooth pulled at the clinic a year and a half ago. now she wonders if she is somehow infected.

>> it's scary. it's almost unreal in a sense that this could be happening.

>> the likelihood that someone will actually become sick from this particular exposure in this dental office is very small.

>> reporter: still, health officials want every patient of this clinic to get tested just to be sure. and the first of thousands of patients will begin the process of blood testing today. they'll know the results in about two weeks. lester?

>> all right. thanks.

>>> boy, that's a long two weeks for some people to have to wait for those