Harris ‘appalled’ after drain fluid used on children at dental clinic

Parents do not expect child to come into contact with bleach at dentists, Minister says

Simon Harris  was very pleased that the HSE apologised very quickly and was investigating how the incident could possibly have happened.

Simon Harris was very pleased that the HSE apologised very quickly and was investigating how the incident could possibly have happened.


The Minister for Health has described as “ an appalling situation ” the revelations that 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.

Simon Harris said when parents brought their children to the dentist and put them in the dentist’s chair “they do not expect that child to come into contact with bleach”. He was speaking at the annual conference of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) in Limerick on Saturday.

He said this was a “very serious situation”.

He had received an update from the HSE on the issue and as of now he was pleased that not all of the 43 children concerned were affected. However he said a number of children did require medical treatment.

Mr Harris said he was very pleased that the HSE apologised very quickly and was investigating how the incident could possibly have happened.

“I think the HSE is taking the appropriate steps. From the moment it became aware of this it immediately contacted patients. It apologised and informed the ppublic as gto the situation and is now investigating. I lookforward to the outocme of that investigation as quickly as possible.

It emerged on Friday that 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.

Potassium hydroxide

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 a review and 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.

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.

Burning sensations

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 ibuprofen. “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.