Push made for tougher laws in dentist offices after dozens die under anesthesia

HOUSTON – It used to be that going to the dentist meant nothing more than a little anxiety, but in 2011, to his utter horror, Don Gressett watched his only son Marc die at the dentist’s office.

“Our son died in front of me. It was a life and death struggle,” Gressett, of Kingwood, said.

At 39-years old, Marc Gressett had simply gone to the dentist to have a root canal. While there, it was determined that Marc would need anesthesia to get through the procedure. But once the anesthesia was given, Marc started having trouble.

“Marc’s life was on the line and no one was prepared to help him out of that trouble,” his father said. “Why did no one there have the preparation to help Marc get out of this life and death struggle?”

Later, the Texas State Board Of Dental Examiners found that Dr. Jason Huneycutt was missing the lifesaving equipment needed to save Marc’s life.

“He passed away and he was gone," Don Gressett said. "My wife and I will never, ever, ever get over that day."

“No child should ever die in a dentist’s chair, and I think the public is outraged,” Sen. Charles Schwertner said.

Schwertner, a doctor and orthopedic surgeon himself, is proposing a new bill in Austin.

Senate Bill 313 is aimed at strengthening the rules and the enforcement of rules for dentists who offer their patients anesthesia. 

“First of all, it would enhance the education and training requirements to provide dental anesthesia," Schwertner said. "It puts into place and into law certain permit levels for dentists. This makes sure the dental board is doing its job in protecting the public."

Protecting people like little Nevaeh Hall.

Nevaeh was a perfectly happy, healthy child, but after visiting Dr. Bethaniel Jefferson and being given anesthesia, she suffered a seizure and severe brain damage and is now confined to a wheelchair.

Last October, Jefferson had her dental license taken away by the Texas Dental Board, meaning she can't practice in the state.

Don Gressett said after losing his only son, he firmly believes dentists who use anesthesia on their patients have to be much more heavily regulated and punished by the Dental Board.

“The Texas Dental Board needs teeth in their actions to protect us," Gressett said. "It’s not happening."

Senate Bill 313 has already passed in the Senate. The next step is for it to go before the House.

Channel 2 Investigates will keep you up to date on which way the votes for the new bill go.

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Emmy-winning investigative reporter, insanely competitive tennis player, skier, weightlifter, crazy rock & roll drummer (John Bonham is my hero). Husband to Veronica and loving cat father to Bella and Meemo.