Most people who go to the dentist get nervous about whether their procedure will be painful, but they probably never think about contracting HIV because of it.
That is exactly what patients of a Colorado dentist now have to worry about after police accused him of reusing syringes and needles in his practice for decades, possibly exposing thousands of people to HIV and other infections.
The dentist, Stephen Stein, is already under investigation for prescription fraud when new allegations surfaced that he had reused medical equipment, Fox News reported. Police and prosecutors had not yet said whether the fraud inquiry would be expanded to investigate the allegation of reusing syringes and needles in patients who received intravenous drugs and painkillers.
Officials in Colorado said it was too early to tell if anyone had contracted HIV from the needles, and the director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment noted that no specific infections have been linked to his practice. An estimated one in 300 people in the United States has HIV, though for gay and bisexual men the rate is one in five.
The dentist ran Stein Oral and Facial Surgery from September 1999 until June 2011, starting outside Denver before moving into the city itself. Health officials have mailed letters to more than 8,000 of the dentist’s former patients advising them to get tested for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, Reuters reported.
Shannon Stamey, a former patient who visited Stein in 2008 for a dental implant, told KMGH-TV that she had to learn about the allegations through Facebook. She tested negative for HIV.
“How could people working in the office not say anything? And I just don’t understand why. I mean, I don’t know if it was a money thing? I don’t think syringes cost that much,” Stamey said. “I don’t really understand how someone could do that or why you would do that and why no one would speak up for 12 years.”
Because Stein’s records were incomplete, health officials said its possible the dentist exposed many more people to HIV than they already know about.