Dr. William McDonald said he would like to retire with his reputation intact.
The Vermont Board of Dental Examiners voted this week to revoke McDonald’s license. McDonald, who practices in Rutland and Woodstock and has been subject to several disciplinary actions through the years, said he has never harmed a patient, and the guidelines he has been found to have violated are “arbitrary.”
The decision, issued Wednesday, found that McDonald performed “unsafe and unacceptable patient care” and “failed to practice competently” by not following the guidelines for sterilizing equipment.
“The Board concluded that because of the circumstances of this case, and because of the Respondent’s history of multiple adjudications of unprofessional conduct, revocation of the Respondent’s license to practice dentistry was the only appropriate sanction,” the decision read.
The charges against McDonald stemmed from late 2018, when a patient visited him to have a filling in a molar repaired. The complainant arrived shortly after McDonald had finished with another patient, and filings from the Office of Professional Regulation describe McDonald cleaning the handpieces of his equipment with surgical soap and other cleansers, but not using an autoclave on them.
McDonald said he wanted people to understand that the removable tips of his equipment — the ones that touch a patient — go into the autoclave, but that he only goes that far with the handpieces after working on a patient with a history of hepatitis or HIV. The decision notes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration call for handpieces to be heat-sterilized.
“The CDC recommendations — they’re only recommendations,” he said. “There is no law. ... What they also say is that there is no epidemiological evidence for the transmission of diseases via these handpieces. There’s no evidence for it.”
He also said the handpieces in question are effectively identical to ones that do not detach from water lines and as such are not recommended to be heat-sterilized.
McDonald said he began routinely heat-sterilizing the handpieces following the complaint.
“Since this whole thing blew up about a year ago, I’ve been doing that, just to keep the peace,” he said. “I’m not a radical or a rebel.”
He does, as the decision noted, have a history of disciplinary problems.
Paperwork in the case states that the board had disciplined McDonald nine times prior to the incident, starting in 2003 when four separate incidents were resolved and most recently in 2015.
“That’s what’s working against me,” he said. “Every disciplinary action against me always involved an ancillary procedure. Nothing involved clinical dentistry.”
When his license was suspended in 2015 over an emergency tooth extraction, the board found that pulling the tooth was medically sound, but that McDonald’s treatment notes did not cast the situation as an emergency, that he should have noted that the patient was 16 and had received consent from her mother, who was seated in the waiting room, prior to the procedure and that he relied on outdated X-rays.
McDonald said he has retained a lawyer, but is not sure he wants to appeal the ruling.
“I could just retire,” he said. “I’m 77 years old. ... I like to do this because it’s satisfying. It gives me an excuse to get out of bed in the morning, and in the end I feel like I’ve made a contribution to people’s lives.”