What has caused this issue? How was it identified?
What is being done to prevent this happening again?
What are the diseases I could have been exposed to?
How will I know if I have these diseases?
What are the chances I will have one of these diseases?
What should I do if I think I have had an invasive procedure?
How do I know if I have had an invasive procedure?
I already have one of these diseases – who can I talk to about this?
I wish to make a complaint about Dr Southall – who can I talk to?
I wish to make a complaint about another health practitioner – who can I talk to?
I went to this dentist before May 2003 – am I at risk?
What tests do I need to have?
How soon will I know the results of the tests?
Will I have to pay for seeing my doctor and having these blood tests?
What should I do if I have a positive test result?
What does it mean if I have a positive test result?
Is there any evidence that patients have been infected as a result of these problems with infection control?
Where can I find further information?
Why wasn’t this picked up earlier? How do I know if other dentists are safe?

What has caused this issue? How was it identified?

Following a complaint made to the Dental Council of NSW on 29 September 2017 about Dr Southall, the Council identified concerns regarding Dr Southall’s infection control practices. The Council conducted an inspection of Cronulla Dental Surgery on 11 October 2017 and identified that Dr Southall was not cleaning, sterilising, and storing instruments in accordance with the relevant national guidelines set by the Dental Board of Australia.

Following the inspection by the Dental Council, the matter was referred to NSW Health and a public health investigation was initiated.

A NSW Health expert committee examined the findings of the investigation and concluded that there was a small risk that a blood borne virus infection (hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV) may have spread from one patient to another from the use of these instruments in certain procedures where the instruments are in contact with gums with open wounds.

This risk applies only to people who had an “invasive” procedure at the clinic after May 2003, where dental instruments go into the gums or a diseased/injured tooth. The risk of any person being infected was assessed as low, and testing is being recommended as a precaution.

What is being done to prevent this happening again?

The Dental Council of NSW placed conditions on Dr Southall’s registration on 24 October 2017 and his registration has lapsed so he can no longer practice as a dentist.

In 2015 the Dental Council of NSW​, in partnership with the Dental Board of Australia, wrote to every registered dental practitioner in Australia to remind them of their legal obligations and actions to ensure they are compliant with national guidelines on infection control. The Board published a fact sheet which outlines the infection control obligations of dental practitioners, and what members of the public can do to ensure they receive safe care.

The Council has published its Infection Control Checklist​ used by the Council in conducting inspections of dental surgeries. The Council has made the tool available to the profession to facilitate transparency in the Council’s assessment and inspection processes.

In 2016, the Council carried out an audit to assess compliance with the required infection and prevention control standards by NSW dental practitioners. The audit revealed a high level of compliance with the majority of practitioners demonstrating sound knowledge of infection control guidelines, procedures and obligations.

The Council is continuing to work with stakeholders to review and strengthen the infection control framework within NSW.

What are the diseases I could have been exposed to?

Poor dental infection control practices could cause an infection from bacteria, viruses or other organisms in the mouth.

There is also a low risk that a patient who had an invasive procedure at this clinic may have been exposed to a blood borne virus potentially passed on via a dental instrument from another patient who was already infected.

The blood borne viruses patients should be tested for are hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus and HIV.

We advise that it’s beneficial for everyone to know whether or not they are infected with these viruses as there is now effective treatment available to prevent long-term complications.

How will I know if I have these diseases?

Bacterial infections would generally cause infection in the mouth and become evident with pain and/or swelling within a few days to a week after the visit to the dentist. No special test is required for these infections if you have no symptoms.

Blood borne viruses may not cause symptoms at the time of infection or for years afterwards. However infections with these viruses can easily be detected by a blood test.

What are the chances I will have one of these diseases?

For a person who had an invasive procedure since May 2003, where dental instruments go into the gums, done at Cronulla Dental Surgery, the risk of getting a blood borne virus from the procedure is low. The risk may be higher if a person had multiple invasive procedures.

People who have not had an invasive procedure that involves instruments going into the gums (e.g. simple examination and clean) are not at risk of having caught a blood borne virus infection at Cronulla Dental Surgery.

What should I do if I think I have had an invasive procedure?

NSW Health has written to all patients recorded as having an invasive procedure to recommend testing. However records may not be complete.

Therefore, as a precaution, NSW Health is recommending that anyone seen by Dr Southall who thinks that they may have had an invasive procedure to see their doctor to discuss testing for blood borne viruses.

NSW Health recommends that people who have had at least one invasive procedure are tested for blood borne virus infections.

People who are unsure whether or not they had an invasive procedure, should see their doctor to discuss testing for blood borne viruses (hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV).

How do I know if I have had an invasive procedure?

Invasive procedures include oral surgery, such as implant or removal of teeth, or procedures involving work on the gums or diseased or injured teeth where instruments may be in contact with a gum (or tooth) with an open wound e.g. root canal therapy.

If you are unsure whether or not you had an invasive procedure, NSW Health recommends you see your doctor to discuss testing for blood borne viruses (hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV).

I already have one of these diseases – who can I talk to about this?

Talk to your doctor about monitoring and management of your disease.

I wish to make a complaint about Dr Southall – who can I talk to?

You can make a complaint about Dr Southall or any other dental practitioner to the Dental Council of NSW at mail@dentalcouncil.nsw.gov.au or on their website Dental Council of N​SW.

I wish to make a complaint about another health practitioner – who can I talk to?

If you are a member of the public or a registered health practitioner in NSW and you want to make a complaint or raise a concern about a registered health practitioner or student in NSW, contact:

I went to this dentist before May 2003 – am I at risk?

There is evidence that infection control procedures at Cronulla Dental Surgery before May 2003 were appropriate.

What tests do I need to have?

Your doctor can organise blood tests for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV infection.

How soon will I know the results of the tests?

Your doctor will advise you on when the results of the tests will be available. It is likely that results will be available in less than 7-10 days.

Will I have to pay for seeing my doctor and having these blood tests?

You should use your usual arrangements to see your doctor visit and get the blood tests – usual Medicare or private health care rebates apply.

What should I do if I have a positive test result?

You should talk to your doctor about your results.

What does it mean if I have a positive test result?

A positive result means that you have been infected with a blood borne virus sometime in the past. For hepatitis B and hepatitis C, you may have cleared the virus by yourself, or you may have a long term (chronic) infection. Your doctor will tell you whether or not your infection is active now. HIV infection is a lifelong infection.

There are many ways in which people can get infected with HIV and hepatitis B and C viruses. If you have long term infection with one of these viruses, your doctor will work with the local Public Health Unit to investigate possible sources of your infection.

More information on infection with blood borne viruses is available in Infectious diseases - Fact sheets.

Is there any evidence that patients have been infected as a result of these problems with infection control?

The initial investigation did not identify any patients with infections linked to this dental practice.

Where can I find further information?

Refer to NSW Health website's Infectious diseases - Fact sheets page or call your local public health unit on 1300 066 055.

Why wasn’t this picked up earlier? How do I know if other dentists are safe?

All dental practitioners are required to comply with the Dental Board of Australia’s ‘Guidelines on infection control’. These guidelines address how dental practitioners must practise in a way that maintains and enhances public health and safety by ensuring that the risk of the spread of infectious diseases is prevented or minimised. Additionally, on renewal of registration as a dental practitioner each year a declaration must be made of compliance with the National Board Guidelines.

In the event that the Dental Council receives a complaint raising concerns about a dental practitioner’s infection control procedure, the Dental Council may authorise an inspection of the dental practice in order to assess compliance with the Dental Board of Australia’s Guidelines.

Regulation of dentists in New South Wales is the responsibility of the Dental Council of New South Wales. The Dental Council can be contacted on 1300 197 177 or email mail@dentalcouncil.nsw.gov.au.

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Page Updated: Friday 2 March 2018
Contact page owner: Communicable Diseases