Photo does not depict actual patient.

Lee SlatonBy Lee Slaton, Vice President of Healthcare; Smart Training

Last month, Bethaniel Jefferson, a former Houston dentist whose license was permanently revoked by the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners in 2016, was convicted over a dental procedure that left a young child with permanent brain damage.

The state dental board had reprimanded her twice before the procedure that resulted in the charges in this case.

The jury found Jefferson guilty on two counts of “recklessly causing serious bodily injury to a child by omission” in connection with the January 2016 surgery to stabilize decaying teeth. The procedure left 4-year-old Nevaeh Hall sedated for most of the day as her body seized and blood oxygen levels plunged. A grand jury indicted Jefferson in 2017 on the charge of an injury to a child by omission.

Prosecutors had asked jurors to consider a punishment of 20 years in prison, the maximum amount for that charge, rather than probation. The jury handed down a 10-year prison sentence but recommended probation, allowing the judge to then set Jefferson’s probation at five years, Assistant District Attorney Gilbert Sawtelle said. “I don’t think justice was served.”

In September of last year, a civil lawsuit related to the incident deemed Jefferson responsible. The jury in that case awarded Nevaeh’s family about $95.5 million in 2022. Most of the funds could not be paid because Jefferson’s malpractice insurance did not cover the full amount.

What Happened?

The charges stemmed from a year-long investigation after the child suffered hypoxia which led to irreversible brain damage that left Hall blind in one eye and without the ability to talk or walk. She requires constant care.

According to court documents, the child was administered sedatives at Diamond Dental at 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 7, 2016, and suffered a seizure around 11:30 a.m. The child’s oxygen and temperature levels dropped to between 50% to 80% of normal levels.

Prosecutors argued that Jefferson had a duty to seek help for Nevaeh sooner. Instead of calling 911 when Nevaeh’s seizures started around 11:15 a.m., the dentist waited more than five hours, officials said. She called a pastor and a pharmacist before paramedics were dispatched to the Diamond Dental Practice around 4:30 p.m. in the 15000 block of Kuykendahl Road, records show.

Expert Testimonies

The trial brought several medical experts, some of whom testified during the civil trial, to the witness stand.

A medical expert for the defense, Dr. William Spangler, testified that Nevaeh had prior medical conditions, such as hypoglycemia, that contributed to the seizures during the procedure.

Dr. Roger Byrne testified that Nevaeh’s medical records show that her oxygen was below the appropriate threshold for about three hours and that she was suffering from hypoxia—a lack of sufficient oxygen in the body—as a result. Giving the child a dose of Halcion during the procedure made it worse, and “administering the Halcion drug was a mistake,” Dr. Byrne testified. He said that Jefferson should have called for help.

Dr. Amy Arrington, who examined Nevaeh at the Texas Children’s Hospital intensive care unit after the procedure, reported Jefferson to the TSBDE, believing that the dentist “should have called 911” as soon as the girl’s seizures started, according to court records. “It’s not something I took lightly,” Arrington testified. “I felt [Jefferson’s treatment] was below the standards of medical care.”

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