Health scare after visiting Cronulla dentist

Health scare: Cronulla Dental Surgery (pictured) is in hot water following an investigation by the Dental Council of NSW and NSW Health. Picture: John Veage
Health scare: Cronulla Dental Surgery (pictured) is in hot water following an investigation by the Dental Council of NSW and NSW Health. Picture: John Veage

Almost 1000 patients who visited a Cronulla dentist between 2003 and 2017 have been contacted by NSW Health following concerns they could be at risk of serious infection.

The Dental Council of NSW and NSW Health have held an investigation and found evidence of poor cleaning and sterilisation of dental equipment used in the practice of Dr Nicholas Southall, of Cronulla Dental Surgery.

At present, there have been no reported cases of patient infection resulting from treatment at the Cronulla Dental Surgery on Gerrale St.

However, as a precaution, NSW Health has written to about 930 patients advising them there is a low risk of having contracted a blood-borne virus and recommended that they visit their GP for testing.

An additional 2500 patients whose records did not indicate invasive procedures have also been sent a letter recommending that they consult their GP if they have any concerns.

The Leader could not reach Dr Southall for comment. 

South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD) public health unit director Mark Ferson said the potential risk of infection to patients was low and only applied to those who underwent invasive procedures, such as those involving a needle or other instrument piercing the skin, gums or tooth pulp/root and other procedures where bleeding may have occurred.

“Patients who only had simple check-ups, an x-ray, or attended to get dentures should not be at risk, but those with doubts or concerns should see their GP,” Professor Ferson said.

Dr Southall has been practising as a dentist since 1986, according to the Cronulla Dental Surgery website.

Dr Southall was not able to practice during the investigation and his registration has since expired.

A Dental Council of NSW spokesperson said the Dental Board of Australia would decide whether Dr Southall could gain registration in the future if he reapplied.

“He is able to apply to the Dental Board of Australia for registration. The dental board will, in case of any such application, take all of the circumstances, including the conditions imposed by the dental council, into account.”

The Health Care Complaints Commission is now assessing the complaints against Dr Southall. Any potential fines are still a long way down the track.

The Cronulla Dental Surgery is currently closed, although a message on its answering machine said it planned to re-open on February 1.

The patients who were contacted by NSW Health received dental care at the Cronulla Dental Surgery between May 2003 and October 2017.

The investigation was launched following a complaint to the Dental Council of NSW in September 2017.

  • Any patient complaints regarding Dr Southall should be made to the Dental Council of NSW at mail@dentalcouncil.nsw.gov.au.
  • If you were a patient of Dr Southall and have any questions about your risk of infection, please contact 1800 610 344 between 9am and 7pm, Monday to Friday.

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