1. Health

Dental Mistakes Take a Toll, Too

By May 7, 2010

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We brush our teeth 2-3-4 times each day.† We might floss, swish some mouthwash from time to time... but I think most of us care for our teeth as a routine hygiene matter, giving little thought to the health aspects of those routines.

When we have a painful tooth or a canker sore, or some other mouth-related pain, we're always so surprised!† Unlike a pulled muscle, or some other pain we cause from falling, or an accident -- mouth pain often seems to come out of nowhere.

Even our payment systems are different.† Dentists and dental insurance have gone off on their own tangent.† Few employers offer dental insurance anymore, and even when they do, sometimes it seems like it's really no insurance at all.

Those problems became the perfect dental storm for one reader who wrote to me recently.† It seems that he had a problem with his wisdom tooth, his dentist explained that it would need to be extracted, and told him it would be an easy procedure....† but the procedure was botched.† The wisdom tooth was never pulled out -- it's now moved into his sinus.

Four years later the situation has not been reconciled.† The reader has been in pain all these years.† The original dentist told him nothing could be done to fix the problem.† He has been to other dentists who, he feels, are covering up for their dentist friend who botched the extraction.

Now he continues to be in horrible pain, is highly frustrated, and he can't afford anymore trips to the dentist where they just can't help him.

Further, he has contacted an attorney about suing to get the help he needs, and the attorneys have told him that nothing can be done until he has the tooth in hand, successfully extracted.

So what is this reader supposed to do?† I had a couple of suggestions for him.

First -- the situation needs to be taken care of.† He needs the tooth removed and the pain relieved, and he needs to get that done by someone who is less concerned with covering up for his buddies, plus, someone who won't charge him a fortune to do it.

I suggested the reader find the closest dental school, and contact them to make an appointment.† Dental schools often run clinics where new dentists can get the experience they need, where they aren't afraid to take on unusual cases, where they are less concerned with their dentist buddies - and where sometimes they charge for services based on the patient's ability to pay.

Second, by the tone of his email, the reader is clearly frustrated (If I had been in pain for four years believing someone had botched my surgery and everyone else was covering for him, I would be frustrated, too!)† But I also get the impression that each time he sees a new dentist, he is probably explaining his frustration, explaining that he feels there has been a cover up, telling them the attorney has told him he needs the tooth in order to sue -- then asking them to help.† Those dentists are reluctant - because they don't want to be the target of his wrath. I can't blame them!

So I suggested to him that he needs to remember that these new dentists had nothing to do with the original problem.† He needs to just approach them as if he wants the tooth removed -- without all the history of his bad experiences to this point, and certainly without mentioning that he wants to file a lawsuit!† As I wrote in a post just a few days ago, sometimes getting what you need is as much about your tone of voice and your approach as it is about what you need to have done.

What do you think of this advice?† Do you have any other suggestions for this reader?† Feel free to post them to the comments area, linked below.

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May 14, 2010 at 7:38 pm
(1) Evan says:

I am a victim of dental malpractice and I live in severe chronic pain for 8 years now. It is a lifetime injury. I would say first, don’t go to a dental school. They haven’t a clue. Do you really want to take more chances?

I was sent there after my injury for a wisdom tooth. My injury was caused by a dentist. He dislocated my disk in my TMJ. The oral surgeon was excellent but the students were not close to being right. The students were ready to pull the wrong tooth and took an x-ray of the wrong tooth. I could barely open my jaw as it was. My wisdom tooth did get a huge cavity because I could not open my jaw and get back in there.

My first question would be, why wasn’t the tooth extracted? Why do you need a tooth in hand? This person could have had a nerve sliced. With that, only pain medicine will help. Have you tried an experienced oral surgeon?

I would suggest to this person try to find an attorney who has knowledge in the TMJ/TMD area if that is where you are headed.

Also, don’t hold a grudge on everyone. They are not the ones who injured you, although many do cover up for colleagues. Itís a nightmare. I know. They take our remarks like we are attacking them when we are only trying to explain what happened and get relief. Maybe get an expert witness.

Best always. Keep us posted.

May 20, 2010 at 9:02 pm
(2) sciquest says:

I have had an experience that has similarities to the person in this article. I don’t think that the other providers are actually covering for the original provider (although I think there is an element of “professional courtesy” that makes them inclined to defend one another to a degree). I believe the real motivation is that no provider wants the possibility of being dragged into a lawsuit even if they are not the target. They just don’t want the hassle, nor do they want to make any enemies in their profession. Unless the mistake the original provider made was very egregious, i.e. patient horrendously disfigured or badly disabled as a result, the patient is going to have difficulty finding a new provider willing to say anything against the original provider.

That said, I haven’t had any difficulty getting subsequent care, however I’m extremely delicate about how I talk about my original provider with whom I had a problem. I try to keep the conversation focused on what needs to be done now, not what was done wrong in the past. If the provider volunteers that info, great, but I found it usually makes them very skittish if I ask them to critique the work of a colleague.

One suggestion I have seen is try to go outside the geographical area where your original provider practices to where he isn’t likely to be known to your new provider. In my case this doesn’t work because the original provider is very prominent in his field.

January 25, 2011 at 5:25 pm
(3) farmboy says:

wow !! that sounds like me. Jan 2011 and still having trouble
just so we have the fact correct
I returned 5 times to this dentist in hope of get problem corrected. Was told by dentist that i was WAISTING HIS TIME!!!
He was a no show on my first follow up and his partner was called in to take a look.
I did see other dentist and told all of them the TRUTH about this,who had did the extraction,med history, how I was feeling AND what i felt was the problem,
And i can tell you for-sure they all know him . I have done all the things Dr’s wanted me to .
EXCEPT FOR THE PAIN KILLERS,can you blame me? 5 yrs of pain killers, they would have made a drug Attic out of me, That I had control of .
There is much more to this story and how things went for me,
It is a FACT that dentist do not fix others mistakes
and I was not treated because of who had made this mistake,
I refused to lie to get treatment, That make me no better then them,
I and others be-leave that what has been done to me is a criminal act and no longer a mistake and to prove that will be easy, The case speaks for itself .I can also tell you this involves more the 7 Dr’s and 2 hospitals 1 being a major teaching hospital,
I have come to except things for what they are, I am learning to live with a sagging face,lip and numb feeling in leg foot ,eyesight and hearing lost.
My case is very rare and unheard of with a 3rd molar that is not impacted,
We as humans have been pulling teeth all the way back to the cave man days Dental work is the oldest form of medicine there is, There was no good reason i was not treated correctly, But i am sure there will be a few dentist out there who read this will come up with some b/s story why this happened,
So keep it to yourself .
And to do so is a criminal act. no longer a mistake,

August 2, 2012 at 9:54 am
(4) Hanna says:

thank god I found this thread – I thought I was going insane! I went to see a specialist who was extremely rough, clumsy and incompetent. Long story short, I now have a crown that is so poor it needs to be redone, and the tooth next to it was knocked around so badly, I’ve been in pain ever since (two months now), and now it looks like I could lose this tooth.
Unwilling to return to him for obvious reasons, I sought the help of other specialists (four so far). On the advice of my own dentist, I have held my tongue and said as little as possible – he is the only one I’ve told the whole sorry story to. It is a very delicate situation as invariably they want to know: who did the job, and why I won’t go back there. It is very difficult to give a truthful answer without sounding a little upset. It’s also difficult for them to treat you properly if they don’t have a proper history. It’s hard to get that balance in truth and tact.
I’ve been horrified by the way dentists cover for each other. Aren’t they supposed to be concerned foremost with patient welfare??? this botch-up could quite conceivably cost me more than $10K on top of what I originally paid – & that’s not taking into consideration the emotional stress & physical pain I’ve endured over the last couple of months.
I think dentists should exercise a little more care and empathy and try to see things from the patient’s point of view – if they or their loved ones were the ones suffering, they wouldn’t be so quick to cover up these devastating botch-ups. But I think most of them have more interest in $$$$ than integrity.

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