Mother, legislators advocate for more regulation of pediatric dentistry

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

On Jan. 4, Ashley Boyle returned to Kailua Beach to remember her lost child.

The date marked a year and a day since 3-year-old Finley Boyle died. The little girl lapsed into a coma after undergoing a dental procedure, reporter Ben Gutierrez reminded viewers of Hawaii News Now.

A medical examiner’s report found that Finley suffered cardiac arrest after she was given sedatives during a procedure at Island Dentistry for Children in December 2013. She died a month later, on Jan 3, 2014.

Since then, Ashley Boyle has set up a website finleys-law.org that she is using to raise awareness about some of the larger questions raised by her daughter’s death.

“She’s pushing for a law allowing parents to be in the treatment room with their children during dental procedures, or at least to have a window available so they can observe. She also wants a law that says any drug must be administered by the dentist or an equally-certified staff member,” Gutierrez told viewers.

Boyle’s family reached a settlement with the insurance company of Finley’s dentist, Lilly Geyer, the channel reported last fall.

However, Ashley Boyle told Hawaii News Now she wants the dentist to face criminal charges in her daughter’s death.

“She needs to be held accountable for what she did,” she said. “And a slap on the wrist and an insurance settlement is not justice. That’s not what I’m looking for. I would give all the money back in a heartbeat.”

Geyer voluntarily shut down Island Dentistry and remains under state investigation, but no charges have been filed, Gutierrez said in his report.

“Meanwhile, Ashley Boyle still returns to Kailua Beach often, sometimes to talk to her daughter,” Gutierrez reported.

“Pretty much I tell her I miss her all the time,” the mother said.

While the mother continues her advocacy work, state legislators preparing for the 2015 session are considering placing additional regulations on dentists, Tim Sakahara, also of Hawaii News Now, reported in a Jan 5 story.

“New sedation rules already went in place last year regulating how many hours of training a doctor must have and [they must] have advanced life support documentation. Some lawmakers say are thinking about making the rules even tougher,” Sakahara said.

Noting that Geyer had used five different sedatives on the young child, who weighed less than 50 pounds, legislators are considering whether there should be a law regulating just how many sedatives a small clinic can use, Sakahara told viewers.

State Sen. Josh Green, a physician who chairs the senate health committee voiced his concern in an interview with Sakahara.

“I’m an ER physician and I don’t even use one full sedative that puts people out let alone two. I’ll use pain medication but I won’t give them something that could compromise their airway or God forbid mix and cause heart problems,” said Green. “If I find that there are still providers out there using too much sedation we may absolutely legislate what could be done.”

Green said he was open to the idea of allowing parents to sit in with children during dental procedures.

“I like the idea of having family members in there with patients in general. We’re not talking about open heart surgery or transplant surgery, we’re talking about more limited smaller procedures, in this case dental procedures,” he said.

But Hawaii Dental Association President Lynn Fujimoto, who is a pediatric dentist, expressed concerns that allowing parents to be present for procedures might be distracting to the doctor, Sakahara reported.

For more about the questions raised in the days after Finley’s death, see this interview with Wong, who weighed in with a Jan. 21, 2014, piece for the Honolulu Civil Beat and this pediatric dental anesthesia tip sheet.

Earlier coverage

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