AUGUSTA — After five days of testimony spread across three months, Maine’s dental overseers Friday threw out the remaining charges against Lewiston oral surgeon Jan Kippax.
James Belleau, the attorney for Kippax, credited members of the Maine Board of Dental Practice for listening to the evidence, especially the testimony of two experts who backed Kippax, and “applying the law correctly.”
The move brings to a close every existing charge against the longtime dentist, though the state has the option of levying a new case against him from among the scores of allegations it opted to put aside.
“We’ll deal with whatever happens next,” Belleau said. “I wish it never got to this point.”
Kippax has been under fire since 2016 and suffered a 30-day suspension of his license last winter after the dental board proclaimed he lacked the skill, empathy, respect for patients and “commitment to serving his community in a safe and caring way.”
“Basically his career has been ruined by it,” Belleau told the five dental board members who heard the case. He told them, “Only you can try to make it right.”
Panel members expressed sympathy for some of Kippax’s patients, particularly Christine Duplissis of Greene, who complained of mistreatment by the dentist when she sought to have a tooth pulled in July 2015.
They said, though, the assistant attorneys general arguing for the state failed to prove their charges were likely true, especially in the face of two expert witnesses — one of them called by the state — who said Kippax had not violated the standards of care for oral surgeons.
“I knew it would play out like this,” Duplissis said. “You speak up and then nothing ever happens.”
Belleau, who practices in Auburn, recognized that the panel members hearing the case felt sorry for Duplissis and other patients.
He told them that given the evidence presented, they had to follow their legal obligations.
“There’s only one outcome that can occur in this case, whether you like it or not,” he said.
In the end, four of the five board members voted to clear Kippax of all of the remaining charges. One, Rowan Morse, thought there was enough evidence to justify sanctions on one of the four counts under consideration.
When the board suspended Kippax last February, it cited 195 allegations of improper conduct with 18 patients to justify its warning that recklessness had put “his patients and staff in immediate jeopardy.”
But when it got around to holding a hearing on them in September, the tally had shrunk to 64 charges involving his treatment of five patients. A month ago, the state dropped half of them and the board tossed out 28 additional charges for lack of evidence.
Friday, it wiped away the remaining four, with nobody offering an explanation of why the board thought last winter that Kippax posed such a threat to the public that he should be suspended immediately.
Belleau repeated a charge Friday that a board member who investigated the case — and was not among those deciding the charges — and the board’s executive director were biased against Kippax and had misled the panel. The case’s hearing officer, Mark Terison, said neither could discuss any aspect of the case as long as more charges could potentially be brought.
The expert who testified Friday, John Kelly, a retired oral surgeon and physician who taught oral surgery at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and practiced at hospitals such as Massachusetts General Hospital and Yale-New Haven Hospital, said Kippax not only met the standards of his profession but in some instances exceeded them.
Kelly said charges that Kippax refused to stop when patients complained of pain were off the mark.
He said that depending on the point where it happens, there are times a surgeon has to “just finish up” because stopping would leave the patient in worse shape than pressing on.
He suggested that Duplissis, who had one bad tooth that had to be pulled, may have experienced “an instantaneous bit of pain” during the few seconds it took to yank her abscessed tooth. Sometimes, he said, a “hot tooth” like that can provide “a zinger” when it is finally removed.
James Bowie, one of the assistant attorneys general, said Duplissis cried and sobbed throughout the procedure.
But she said Friday it only began to hurt when Kippax started to pull. She said she cried for him to stop, but he didn’t.
Kelly said patients who are sedated, as Duplissis was, don’t recall events sharply, if at all, and sometimes do odd things.
“They can moan. They can groan. They can do a lot of things,” he said. “One sat bolt upright and said, ‘Does anyone here want to buy a duck?’”
Lewiston oral surgeon Jan Kippax sits at a hearing Friday to determine what, if any, sanctions board members would impose on him for alleged violations of professional standards. The Maine Board of Dental Practice decided not to bring any sanctions against Kippax. (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)
Dr. John Kelly, left, an oral surgeon and medical doctor who worked at Massachusetts General Hospital and Yale-New Haven Hospital, told the Maine Board of Dental Practice on Friday that Lewiston oral surgeon Jan Kippax did not mistreat patients who filed complaints against him. Looking on is Dr. Glen Davis, one of the five panel members who ultimately decided no sanctions should be levied against Kippax. (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)
Dr. Jan Kippax, a Lewiston oral surgeon, at a hearing Friday in Augusta before the Maine Board of Dental Practice. The panel was weighing charges that Kippax failed to provide proper care to patients. (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)