The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is consulting on the case, and agency spokeswoman Abbigail Tumpey said such situations involving dental clinics are rare. Last year a Colorado oral surgeon was accused of reusing needles and syringes, prompting letters to 8,000 patients, Tumpey said. It wasn't clear whether anyone was actually infected.
"We've only had a handful of dental facilities where we've had notifications in the last decade," Tumpey said.
The Oklahoma Dentistry Board lodged a 17-count complaint against Harrington, saying he was a "menace to the public health by reasons of practicing dentistry in an unsafe or unsanitary manner." Among the claims was one detailing the use of rusty instruments in patients known to have infectious diseases.
"The CDC has determined that rusted instruments are porous and cannot be properly sterilized," the board said.
Health officials are sending letters to 7,000 known patients but cautioned that they don't know who visited his clinics before 2007. The letters urge the patients to be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV — viruses typically spread through intravenous drug use or unprotected sex, not occupational settings.
Harrington could not be reached for comment Thursday. A message at his Tulsa office said it was closed, and the doctor's answering service referred callers to the Tulsa Health Department. Phone numbers listed for Harrington were disconnected. A message left with Harrington's malpractice attorney in Tulsa, Jim Secrest II, was not immediately returned.
Harrington's Tulsa practice is in a tony part of town, on a row of some of the city's most upscale medical practices. The white-and-green stucco, two-story dental clinic has the doctor's name in letters on the facade.
According to the complaint, the clinic had varying cleaning procedures for its equipment, needles were re-inserted in drug vials after their initial use and the office had no written infection-protection procedure.