16 children need follow up after drain fluid used at Clare dental clinic

Mother said young son was ‘very distressed, very uncomfortable’ and his mouth was sore after dentist visit

The HSE said the majority of the children are fine although some had experienced mild symptoms. File photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

The HSE said the majority of the children are fine although some had experienced mild symptoms. File photograph: John Giles/PA Wire


An investigation has begun after drain cleaning fluid was used instead of an approved dental product during treatment of up to 43 children at a clinic in Ennis, Co Clare.

It is believed the drain cleaner product used was potassium hydroxide, at a low concentration of 5 per cent. The product is used in many disinfectants.

The HSE, which has started the review, said it is taking all necessary steps to ensure 43 children believed to have undergone treatment there on Wednesday and Thursday are contacted, supported and that their families have all necessary information.

Five dental surgeries at the facility have been closed in the meantime.

The Dental Clinic at Bindon Street in Ennis has six surgeries, five of which were in operation at the time of the incident.

It appears drain cleaning fluid, rather than dental product, was mixed with water for the treatment of patients. The fluid then ran through instruments used during treatments such as teeth cleaning.

HSE Mid West Chief Officer Bernard Gloster said: “This is so regrettable and unfortunate. I want to apologise for any concern or upset caused to the children and their families.”

He said it appeared, though it was yet to be confirmed, that a drain cleaning product was mixed with water used to sterilise instruments during treatment, when normally the water would be mixed with an approved dental product.

The drain cleaner seemed to have “got misplaced with or confused with another product”, he said.

“One of the clinical staff became concerned at the reaction of a child in the chair to the instruments. They reported it and we did further checking,” he said.

Mr Gloster said the majority of the children are fine although some had experienced mild symptoms. A number had reported mild discomfort and irritation. Some were seen by their GP or ShannonDoc while others went to hospital emergency departments to be checked out on being informed about what had happened.

Sixteen children required follow up treatment . Common “mild” symptoms included burning sensations in their mouths, blistering, and upset stomachs, according to a HSE spokesman.

Of the children with more serious reactions to the cleaning product, at least two presented to the emergency department of University Hospital Limerick for assessment, but did not require admission. Other children sought medical assistance from the out-of-hours ShannonDoc service, GPs and the local injuries clinic.

After the problem was detected on Thursday, staff at the facility started contacting the parents of children who might have been affected.

One mother whose 12-year-old boy was affected said she took her son to the dentist on Wednesday to have his teeth cleaned, after which he was “very distressed, very uncomfortable, and he said his mouth was sore.”

She reassured him and he went to school but in the evening he said he had had nothing to eat all day, that his mouth was burning. It took him a long time to have some dinner which was unusual as he liked his food.

“I had a look at his mouth and could see the sides of his tongue and the corner of his lip was burnt,” the woman told RTÉ’s Drivetime programme.

“I returned to the clinic on Thursday morning to alert them that something had happened my son, that he’d had a reaction maybe to a product that was used. They did ring me back within 20 minutes to see if I wanted to bring him in,” she said but he had already gone to school. They rang her Thursday evening to say there were other children affected. “I think I was the first to alert them”.

They asked her to bring her son in to have him checked out before 8pm that evening. The doctor looked at him and suggested she give him Nurofen. “He has been told his tongue will be sore for a few days”.

On Friday morning she was contacted by the clinic and told two parents had been in touch with the clinic and it was possibly a solution mixed with water that had caused the problem but she was not told it was drain cleaner, something she learned from media outlets.

“I’m very angry. I do think it would have helped a little if I had been contacted personally first of all,” she said.

A HSE spokesman said earlier: “HSE Mid West Community Healthcare is currently in contact with the parents of up to 43 children to establish if they were affected by an apparent problem at the HSE Dental Clinic in Bindon St Ennis Co Clare.

“The incident is believed to have occurred on Wednesday (4th) and continued until it was detected on Thursday 5th. Early indications, yet to be confirmed, suggest that a drain cleaning product got mixed with the water used during treatment when normally the water would be mixed with an approved dental product”.

As a result of the incident, the surgeries were closed on Friday for corrective action but the HSE said it hopes they will be back in operation by Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.