The fate of a Lewiston dentist accused of putting the health and safety of his patients in jeopardy likely won’t be known for several months.
On Friday, the Maine Board of Dental Practice held its first hearing to determine whether Dr. Jan Kippax should be further disciplined after his license was temporarily suspended in February. Some patients are frustrated that it has taken seven months for the board to take action, and Kippax’s attorney is also frustrated by the slow process to resolve the complaints against his client.
It was three years ago when Donna Deigan of Brunswick went to Kippax to have a tooth pulled. But that visit made a lasting impression.
“Because of what he did to me, I can’t go to a dentist. I’m scared,” she said.
Deigan said she has anxiety, and that Kippax refused to give her anesthesia for the procedure.
“Then the next thing was, he started to give me the Novocaine. And when he began to pull the tooth, I kept telling him, there’s not enough Novocaine. And he refused to give me more,” she said.
Deigan said three staff members held her down during the excruciating procedure. But, she said, that wasn’t the worst of it.
“The biggest part of this is that he didn’t even pull the right tooth. He pulled a front bottom tooth, so I have this big gap in the front of my mouth now,” she said.
Deigan’s experience is similar to those alleged by 17 other people who filed complaints against Kippax with the state Board of Dental Practice. The board temporarily suspended Kippax’s license in February for 30 days and said it would hold a hearing within that time frame. Instead, it’s taken seven months.
“This is ridiculous. He should have been in front of the dental board and had his license taken away like that,” Deigan said.
It’s not just patients who are frustrated. Kippax’s attorney, James Belleau, issued a statement the day before the hearing, complaining that his client is not receiving a fair and prompt hearing. In his opening statements on Friday, Belleau also said the board was biased, and suggested that the temporary suspension against Kippax was part of a public relations stunt because the board wanted to appear tough after a news story about Kippax had aired.
“Without any expert evidence or opinion, you determined that Dr. Kippax, by simply practicing dentistry, comprises a grave threat to the public,” Belleau said.
But that’s exactly what the state intends to prove. Its first witness, Catherine Clavet, told the board that Kippax pulled multiple teeth last September before anesthesia and Novocaine took full effect. She said she was restrained throughout the procedure, which felt more like an assault.
“I started trying to grab his hand from my mouth. And I was screaming, ‘Stop, help,’” she said.
Clavet is one of five patient complaints the board is currently considering. It’s unclear whether it will consider other complaints at upcoming hearings, but state Assistant Attorney General James Bowie told the board he’s confident that the evidence will show that Kippax is incompetent, unprofessional and fails to uphold a core physician obligation.
“That obligation is, do no harm,” he said.
Kippax has been disciplined by the board twice before. He was placed on a five-year probation after his license was suspended for a couple of weeks in both 2002 and 2003, and he had to pay more than $60,000 in penalties and reimbursements.
Since his more recent temporary suspension expired, Kippax has technically been able to resume his practice. But Belleau said the state is no longer allowing MaineCare patients — which represented about half of Kippax’s practice — to use him.
“So in an effort to protect the public, he can’t even exercise his legal right to practice,” he said.
Belleau argued that is the real harm that has been done in this case.
The board will hold at least three more hearings, which are scheduled to run into November.