2-Year-Old Boy Dies at Dentist. But This Isn't 1st Death at This Office


Zion Gastelum, 2, was taken to the dentist for a filling and crown. He left Kool Smiles, not to go home as expected after his dental treatment, but was rushed to Yuma Regional Medical Center.

It was supposed to be a simple trip to the dentist but turned into a heartbreaking tragedy.

Zion’s family was left with the unimaginable task of burying him.

They were also left with many questions. How did their boy die from a visit to the dentist?

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The details surrounding the death are not clear, but Zion experienced what has been described as a medical emergency on Dec. 16 while at Kool Smiles. Paramedics arrived at the Yuma, Arizona, office in response, which was confirmed by the Yuma Fire Department.

The 2-year-old might have stopped breathing. After being taken to Yuma Regional Medical Center, Zion was flown to Maricopa County.

On Dec. 20, Zion passed away. A Kool Smiles spokesperson emailed KXNV a statement that began, “The Kool Smiles family expresses our sincere, heartfelt sympathy to the family of Zion Gastelum.

“Our hearts are breaking for Zion’s family at this very sad time. Since Kool Smiles’ founding nearly twenty years ago, we have safely and compassionately provided needed dental care through more than 19 million patient visits,” it continued.

The statement concluded by sharing that the “Kool Smiles family” was mourning “this tragic loss” with the rest of the community.

It’s difficult to even begin to imagine how Zion’s parents, Joseph and Veronica, have handled the tragic loss of their son.

They “honored Zion’s kindness and generosity by donating his organs to other children in need,” according to the GoFundMe page created to help the family with his funeral costs. This funeral wouldn’t be the only one held for a child who died after being treated at the same dental office.

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In 2016, Lizeth Lares, 4, underwent a routine tooth extraction at Kool Smiles. The next day, her mom took her back to the office because she was worried about her daughter’s fever after the procedure.

They examined the extraction site, noted it as normal, and told Lizeth’s mom to take her to a physician for further evaluation.

The 4-year-old died days later, but Kool Smiles claimed that her death was tragic yet unrelated to her dental work.

KPNX reported that they have found 50 cases involving the death or life-altering emergency of a child while at a dentist office since 2010. These stories and cases are not comforting to parents who may be concerned about their own children at the dentist.

Dr. Sara Bukhari shared with KPNX, “Almost 90 percent of the time it is an airway emergency — that’s why the child stops breathing.” Children under 3 years old are not sedated by her, and she recommended asking your child’s dentist office about emergency procedures and CPR training.

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Carolyn Fultz is a former contributor for Liftable Media. She holds a B.A. in Communication from Hope College.
Carolyn Fultz is a former contributor for Liftable Media. She holds a B.A. in Communication from Hope College. Carolyn's writing has been featured in both online and print media, including Just Between Us magazine. She resides in Phoenix with her husband and children.
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