Dentist guilty of unprofessional conduct in cancer death

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 February, 2008, 12:00am

A dentist who failed to spot that a patient had oral cancer has been found guilty of unprofessional conduct.

Augustine Wong Hung-leung was charged after the widow of former patient Chan Ip-cheung filed a complaint to the Dental Council on the death of her husband in September 2004.

The council heard that Dr Wong examined the patient on September 8, 2000, and diagnosed periodontal disease. Four follow-up appointments were made that month and the next for the extraction of two teeth.

On March 31, 2001, Dr Wong found a 'suspicious grassy growth' in Chan's mouth, according to the dentist's solicitor. He said Dr Wong immediately referred the patient to Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

The council heard that the suspicious growth was diagnosed as cancerous in April 2001. Chan died of pneumonia in 2004 after two sessions of chemotherapy.

Council chairman Lee Kwing-hong said yesterday that oral cancer could easily be confused with periodontal disease on a first consultation, but Dr Wong should have recognised the problem during the four follow-up consultations.

'It was improper for him to turn a blind eye to the continuing pain, abnormal tissue and unhealed wound,' Dr Lee said. 'Worst of all, he assured the patient that the condition was all right and the patient only needed to have replacement teeth installed.

'General practitioners, as frontline dentists, play an important role in the recognition of oral cancer and are trained to watch out for it.'

The council ordered that Dr Wong be reprimanded. The order will be published in the gazette in accordance with provisions of the Dentists' Registration Ordinance.

Dr Wong was acquitted of a charge of delaying referral of the patient to another dental practitioner or specialist for treatment. Dr Lee said Dr Wong failed to recognise the oral cancer because of incompetence; he had no reason to believe a referral was necessary.