April 07, 2020
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Maine dental board sends Lewiston dentist case to district court

Patty Wight | Maine Public
Patty Wight | Maine Public
Dr. Jan Kippax (from left), attorneys Adam Lee and James Belleau, and expert witness Dr. John Kelly at a hearing of the Maine Board of Dental Practice in 2017.

The Maine Board of Dental Practice on Friday voted unanimously to send the case of a Lewiston dentist who is accused of putting patient health and safety in jeopardy to district court. The board already cleared Jan Kippax of 64 allegations, but more than 100 remain. The hope is that moving the matter to court will bring closure to the high-profile case, which involves more than a dozen patients.

The frustration over a case that has dragged on for more than a year bubbled to the surface during the dental board meeting Friday, when a member of the public asked to speak and was denied. As he stood up and walked toward the door, he decided to say something anyway about Dr. Kippax: “He’s a brutal sadist. A brutal sadist.”

Outside the hearing room, Stuart Smith of Wayne said he went to Kippax six years ago for a tooth extraction. He said he told Kippax that his veins are hard to find, and that Kippax should use a butterfly needle, but he said Kippax ignored his request.

“[Kippax] just jammed me up with a regular needle,” Smith said. “I had a welt as big as a tennis ball on my wrist when I got done with the whole thing. When I woke up, he was just kinda over me, pulling my tooth. The guy was — there were dogs running around the office, I mean the guy is — are you kidding me? How is this guy practicing?”

[Board clears Lewiston dentist accused of health, safety violations]

It was last February when the Maine Board of Dental Practice temporarily suspended Kippax’s license after receiving 18 patient complaints resulting in nearly 200 allegations. The board considered five of those patient complaints last fall and found in favor of Kippax after expert witnesses testified that he had not violated the standard of care.

On Friday, Kippax’s attorney James Belleau asked the dental board to review the remaining complaints before holding further hearings.

“I’m not asking you to say, ‘these 13 complaints don’t go forward,” Belleau said.

What he was asking for, he said, was for the board to reconsider whether hearings are warranted on every single remaining complaint, given that it already cleared Kippax of the first batch it considered. Those first hearings, Belleau noted, took several days over the course of months. Undertaking 13 complaints, he argued, would take much longer.

“What we’re looking at is essentially, if we have 13 complaints, five took six days,” Belleau said. “That’s 12 days, add a few more, that’s 15 days worth of hearings.”

Belleau also pointed out that an oral surgeon now sits on the board, who would be better equipped to review the allegations against Kippax, who is also an oral surgeon.

[‘I was screaming’: Patients testify against dentist accused of health, safety violations]

But Assistant Attorney General James Bowie said it would set a dangerous precedent to allow Kippax to choose the complaint officer on his case. Bowie also reminded the board about the nature of the allegations against Kippax: that he extracted the wrong teeth, performed painful procedures before anesthesia took effect, improperly restrained patients, and continued painful procedures after patients asked him to stop.

“I submit you don’t need an oral surgeon to make an assessment about whether these cases should be heard or not,” Bowie said.

The board agreed with the state’s arguments, and denied the request to review the complaints before holding hearings. That decision left the board facing what would likely be a lengthy process, so hearing officer Mark Terison made a suggestion: send the case to district court.

Board chair Lisa Howard noted that sending the case court would eliminate the discomfort of board members essentially acting as judges when they don’t have legal backgrounds. The vote was unanimous.

As the case is in process, Kippax is still in practice.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.

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