WOODSTOCK — The Vermont Board of Dental Examiners has revoked the license of a Woodstock dentist, citing his use of unsterilized instruments and a history of “unprofessional conduct.”
Dr. William McDonald, a 77-year-old Woodstock resident whose primary dental office is in Rutland, has a history with the board going back at least to 2003, according to the board’s records. The board had previously fined him, required him to take various continuing education courses, as well as an exam which he failed the first time he took it, and suspended his license more than once.
“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 board wrote in a Feb. 13 order.
McDonald, who has a satellite office in Woodstock, was first issued a license to practice dentistry in Vermont in 1980. He earned his dental degree from Tufts University and his bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University, he said in an interview on Tuesday.
“The frequency of revocations is extremely rare,” Dylan Bruce, a policy analyst in the Vermont Office of Professional Regulation, said in an email. The board has revoked just nine dental licenses since the mid-1960s, Bruce said. The office only has a total of 615 complaints against dentists on file since the 1980s, he said.
In addition to failing to properly sterilize instruments, McDonald’s previous infractions include using a gloved hand to move a garbage can and then placing the hand back into a patient’s mouth; failing to get proper patient consent before extracting a minor’s tooth; verbally abusing a patient; discarding study models of patients’ teeth; failing to take X-rays before providing treatments; improper billing; and incomplete record-keeping. One order, from 2015, also references a 1987 welfare fraud conviction “arising from the practice of dentistry.”
But McDonald said that this history stems from his taking “disadvantaged” patients who are covered by Medicaid, when most of his colleagues do not because of Medicaid’s relatively low reimbursement rates. He said some such patients are “challenging” in that they tend to come to him with serious dental problems and he has not developed a relationship with them.
“I’m willing to take challenging patients,” he said. “Nobody else will.”
He also suggested that the board might be biased against him because of his “liberal” politics.
“It’s a very conservative profession,” he said.
In previous orders, the board pointed to McDonald’s “impetuous” attitude as part of the problem.
“His attitude may generate more trouble for him than anything else,” the board wrote in a 2007 order.
In one instance in which McDonald failed to get proper consent from a minor patient’s mother who said she was at the time in the waiting room before extracting the patient’s tooth, the board found that he “revealed an attitude of self-righteousness and an unwillingness or inability to take responsibility for his failure to obtain parental consent before treating Patient. His letter to Patient’s mother blamed her.”
In the same case, the board wrote in its order that McDonald “launched into personal attacks on the prosecuting attorney rather than addressing the disputed issues of the hearing.”
In the interview on Tuesday, McDonald acknowledged that he “lost it” and became very angry during the earlier hearing related to failing to obtain proper patient consent. But he said the patient was in need of immediate treatment and he was focused on her care, rather than on her age. He said he didn’t think the mother was in the waiting room at the time of the appointment and said that the board believed the patient’s mother instead of him.
“I’ve paid a price for my political liberalism,” he said.
The most recent case that has resulted in McDonald’s license being revoked involves a complaint from a patient of unsanitary conditions in McDonald’s Woodstock dental practice.
The patient came to McDonald’s office in October 2018, seeking to repair a filling in a molar.
The patient found that the dental operatory light and ceiling were “visibly soiled” and the dental tools were “in a state of disarray,” according to a specification of charges by the prosecuting attorney in the Office of Professional Regulation.
The board found McDonald “failed to practice competently and performed unacceptable patient care” by failing to heat-sanitize handpieces after use on each individual patient, in violation of guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
McDonald on Tuesday said that his method of cleaning the handpieces using chlorhexidine gluconate, the active ingredient in surgical soaps, and then wiping the tools with Cavacide, a disinfectant, is sufficient.
McDonald said he has delayed retirement because he likes the way his part-time work as a dentist helps to structure his day. He also enjoys the social aspect of the work. He said he may appeal the board’s decision.
Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3213.