Alleged pediatric dental malpractice lands Houston dentist in police custody

Houston’s ABC Channel 13 recently reported that Houston dentist Bethaniel Jefferson, DDS was indicted and in custody on the charge of “intentionally and knowingly by omission” causing serious bodily injury to a child by failing to seek and provide adequate medical attention.

It is shocking that a four-year-old little girl ended up with severe brain damage in what started as a visit to have a tooth pulled. Her family filed dental malpractice suit was filed in July 2016, and the 281st District Court, where Judge Sylvia Matthews presides. The case settled earlier this year.

According to the lawsuit original petition, Dr. Jefferson left the parents in the waiting room and took the little girl into a dental treatment room. The dentist strapped her to a papoose board restraining device and then administered large doses of anesthetics and sedatives. At that point, the little girl began crying, moving her head, screaming, and shaking violently.

The parents stated that Dr. Jefferson ignored these alarming signs of distress, but eventually stopped treatment and turned the young patient on her side. At that point, the dentist went and spoke to the parents to see if she had had any history of medical issues or “the shakes,” which the parents understood to mean a seizure.

Next, according to the lawsuit petition, the father went to the treatment room to see his daughter, and the staff told him that she was “just a bit congested” and that the dentist was trying to get her to cough. The parents were worried and asked Dr. Jefferson if they needed to call 911, but were assured that their daughter would be fine.

The lawsuit pleadings state that the staff then locked the treatment room door and resumed dental work on the little girl. The parents later learned that Dr. Jefferson administered additional medication to their daughter, even though they had not been asked for their consent.

While the dental office had an immediately accessible computerized vital signs device, the lawsuit alleged that Dr. Jefferson and her staff ignored warnings sounds and lights that showed that this little patient had suffered from a severe lack of oxygen for about five hours.

Incredibly, the parents said that they learned that their daughter got very hot during the procedure, so the dental office staff removed her clothes, turned down the air-conditioning, and began bathing her with water. Meanwhile, the dental office staff assured the parents that their daughter was “doing well and taking water.”

After spending eight hours in the waiting room, the parents were allowed back into the treatment room, just as an EMT and ambulance crew arrived. They were told that Dr. Jefferson could not control “the shakes,” so they called an ambulance. Sadly, once the patient arrived to the hospital, she was diagnosed with severe permanent brain damage.

Protecting your children

Based on my experience as a medical and dental malpractice lawyer, I strongly recommend that parents always stay with their children when they are receiving treatment from a doctor or dentist. This not only soothes a child, but also allows the parents a firsthand vantage point to know immediately if something goes wrong. In some situations, dentists and physicians may try to manage serious, life-threatening complications on their own, without calling for help. If you are in the room, you can call 911 yourself, if needed.

In addition, over the past few years I have seen a dramatic increase in the number of cases where there are severe injuries and even death based on administration of anesthesia and sedatives. This can happen in a dental office, physician office, or even a hospital.

Some dentists and doctors will administer anesthetic medications to patients in an office setting, without having an anesthesia provider on site. At hospitals, many times certified registered nurse anesthetists manage anesthesia, even during lengthy and complex procedures, without an anesthesiologist in the room. In my opinion, these practices are all unnecessarily risky.

Before proceeding with any procedure involving anesthesia, I recommend having a thorough discussion with the doctor or dentist on what to expect. It is important to know the degree of anesthesia, for instance, general anesthesia or sedation. In addition, you should know who will be administering the anesthesia and monitoring it, as well as who would be immediately available and present to handle any complications.

We are here to help

If you or someone you care for has been seriously injured as a result of medical or dental malpractice, including mismanagement of anesthesia, call Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, at 281-580-8800, for a free consultation about your potential case.


Attorney Robert Painter is a medical and dental malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. As part of his practice, he is represented clients in wrongful death and medical negligence cases  errors involving errors and anesthesia care. He holds an AV preeminent rating from Martindale-Hubbell, which is its highest possible rating for attorney professionalism and ethics. 

Robert Painter
Article by

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.