Dentists are too quick to offer general anesthetic to patients when they don't even have the most basic monitoring equipment to cope with complications.
A third of anesthetics in dental surgeries are given by non-specialists, a quarter of clinics have no electrocardiograph, the simplest form of heart monitoring, and a fifth of dentists have no way of measuring patients' blood pressure during treatment.
A report by the Clinical Standards Advisory Group is calling for national safety standards to protect patients in Britain, where the survey was conducted.
The study discovered a wide disparity of staff expertise, knowledge and equipment. All clinics must have up-to-date equipment, and properly trained staff need to be available to deal with problems, such as dangerous reactions to anesthetic drugs.
The report also criticizes dentists for offering general anesthesia, when local pain-killers would be just as good, and much safer. General anesthesia should be reserved for patients with learning disabilities, patients who don't respond to local painkillers, those who are allergic to local anesthetic, and for nervous children or adults, says the Faculty of Dental Surgery (BMJ, August 19, 1995).