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LETTER: This 'feels like a fear campaign,' local pediatrician says

Dr. Jones-Stokreef said her confidence in the health unit has been undermined by its actions related to Dr. Joe Philips
dental care dentist teethshutterstock_373410019 2016
File photo

OrilliaMatters received the following letter from Nicola Jones-Stokreef in response to recent stories about the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit's decision to circulate a media release about former patients of Dr. Joe Philips testing positive for Hepatitis C.

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We are often told the devil is in the details. Read the fine print. Make sure you read all the possible answers before making your choice in a multiple choice test. 

But I never expected to have to do this when receiving a media release from our public health unit.

Patients of Orillia dentist, Dr. Joe Phillip, have already been warned once by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit to be tested for particular viral infections. Why the need to warn them again, especially when there is no evidence of contamination?

Two of his patients (reportedly) have tested positive for Hepatitis C, but we have no idea where they contracted these infections. They haven’t been confirmed as his patients, nor where they were treated (office or hospital). I would expect the Public Health Unit would do their due diligence in confirming certain facts before issuing another warning to the public and creating unnecessary fear.

Here is some more fine print. There is no evidence that Hepatitis B or C or HIV or any other virus for that matter can be transmitted by clean dental instruments.  Hepatitis C is thought to infect between 1% and 3% of the adult Canadian population. A full seventy percent of people infected with Hepatitis C are unaware of their infection. 

Recent recommendations in an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggest everyone born between 1945 and 1975 should get tested for Hepatitis C. According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, prior to adolescence, Hepatitis C is now transmitted almost exclusively during birth and delivery from an infected mother. So a positive test for Hepatitis C in two people who attended the same dental office does not mean it was contracted at this office. And no attempt has been made to make such a link.

The unfortunate result of this media release by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit on June 19, which is sent by email and fax to every doctor’s office in the district, posted on their website and distributed through the media, is that it undermines confidence in not just Dr. Phillip’s care, but that of dental practices everywhere. 

Dental care is an important component of overall health, especially for the vulnerable population that Dr. Phillip treats. I know this, because many of them are my patients. I am a developmental paediatrician, and many of my patients with autism and intellectual disability seek their dental care from Dr. Phillip. Their families tell me he does a great job and treats them when no one else will.

On an even larger scale, this undermines my confidence in the public health unit on other health matters. We rely on them to help with so many important issues from immunization to dealing with tic bites and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. The public health office plays a crucial role in our health care system.  If this issue of safe infection control practice in dental offices can be handled so carelessly, how can we trust other information that is shared? I expect an evidence-based approach, always.

Who is providing oversight on how decisions are made at the health unit? At the very least, I expect a full review of the scientific basis of infection control requirements in dental practices, so our dental colleagues can feel confident they won’t be tarred with the brush of what feels like a fear campaign. Only then can they get back to doing what they do best: keeping our dental health the best it can be.

Nicola Jones-Stokreef, MD, FRCP(C)

Developmental Pediatrician

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