I had my top 4 front crowns replaced and the new crowns are gray in appearance. They kind of match the rear teeth but in many conversations with the Dr. having the new crowns match the bottom teeth and whiter than the old crowns was very important. When the color was being chosen, I stated that it looked dark. The response I got was “trust me.” At the time the crowns were being installed, I again said they looked dark and the response was “they are perfect, trust me.” In the dentist’s photographs they don’t look terrible although the gray is clearly visible. In natural light I am extremely unhappy with them. So much so that I now consciously try not to smile. We met with the dentist and he again claimed that they looked great but stated that he would discuss with his peers and “make it right.” The next correspondence we received was a certified letter stating that he would not re-do the work and in his opinion they looked great. He claimed that his peers felt the same way, although without looking at anything other than pictures taken with a bright flash I question how that can be determined. What should I do?
– Glen from Massachusetts
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I love your question and the situation you relate, because it illustrates so well the mentality of much of the dental profession. It’s an authoritarian attitude that is truly foreign to excellent cosmetic dentistry. What your dentist is telling you is that, as far as the appearance of your teeth, “the dentist knows best” and “who are you to tell me how your teeth should look?”
I have interviewed a number of great cosmetic dentists who create beautiful smiles. Some of them do celebrities. I will tell you that any smart celebrity simply wouldn’t trust a dentist with the attitude being displayed by your dentist.
When I do a website for a dentist who wants to promote himself or herself as a cosmetic dentist, I will have a long interview with them. One of the key things I ask them is how they create a smile design and what they do to make sure the patient is happy with any new smile they create. Without exception, these great cosmetic dentists are focused on how the patient perceives the appearance of the work. They view themselves as treating the self-perception of the patient. In the ethics of the cosmetic dentistry world, that is the problem the dentist is treating. If the teeth don’t look great but the patient has no sense of embarrassment over it and smiles broadly with no self-consciousness, then there is no problem. On the other hand, if the patient hesitates to smile or covers his or her mouth because they’re embarrassed over the appearance of the teeth, then that needs treatment. And the measure of whether or not that treatment is successful is that the patient now feels proud to smile. “After” photographs will typically show a relaxed, confident smile. Self-consciousness is gone. If that isn’t achieved, the cosmetic dentist would consider the treatment a failure. This is the universal attitude of these great cosmetic dentists.
However, to many in the dental profession, such concern over what the patient thinks is considered pandering to the patient and unprofessional. That is why this dentist, when you raised objections over how these crowns looked, replied simply, “trust me.” You see, your opinion doesn’t matter to him. And then, rather than making it right, he went to his peers. But any true cosmetic dentist would be appalled to let you out of his or her office with a smile they had created over which you were self-conscious.
You Are in the Wrong Dental Office
What to do? Well, for starters, you are absolutely in the wrong dental office. Any efforts you make in that office to get this right are going to be futile, because, based on what you have told me, this dentist is psychologically incapable of addressing your problem. So look for another dentist. Now there are many dentists who would have enough empathy with you to at least try to get this right for you, but if you really want to get it right, so that your front teeth look completely natural, you should go to an expert cosmetic dentist. If you let me know what city you are in, I could maybe find one for you close to you.
In my opinion, you should be able to get compensation from this first dentist to pay for re-doing the crowns, but I believe you are going to need to brace yourself to get tough with him. The first step is to find the dentist who will go to bat for you–you’re not going to get anywhere without a dentist who agrees with you. Then you would ask this new dentist to try to work with the first dentist to talk him into refunding your money. If that doesn’t work, you could go to a lawyer.
Your dentist isn’t innocent here, in my opinion, and it seems that he senses that–hence the certified letter. However, he is bracing to defend himself on the wrong principle. The first principle of medical or dental malpractice is informed consent. If I have your story right, your dentist put these crowns in your mouth over your objections. That isn’t informed consent–it isn’t consent at all. That principle of informed consent is your leverage here and your case is analogous to the very first informed consent case that I was taught about in dental school.
Many years ago, there was a patient in Great Britain who had broken his leg and it had healed improperly. He went to a doctor for help. The doctor studied his case and consulted with his colleagues. They all agreed that the leg needed to be re-broken to heal properly, so they went to the patient and whacked his leg and re-broke it. The patient sued, because he wasn’t told what they were going to do and hadn’t consented. The doctors argued that it was their unanimous professional opinion that this was the treatment he needed. The court, however, ruled in favor of the patient, saying that regardless of how right they felt the treatment was, they needed to obtain the patient’s consent before proceeding.
This dentist of yours may argue that you nodded or gave him some signal that you would let him put these crowns in. But in my opinion, a strong-armed consent isn’t consent, and I think the dentist should be held liable, even if you did allow him to proceed.
This is the point you and your new dentist need to make to the first dentist, and hopefully he will be persuaded that what he did needs to be remedied, without your having to go to court.
And don’t get the idea that an expert cosmetic dentist is going to be way expensive. Interestingly, most good cosmetic dentists charge about the same for crowns that good general dentists charge.
– Dr. Hall
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About David A. Hall
Dr. David A. Hall was one of the first 40 accredited cosmetic dentists in the world. He practiced cosmetic dentistry in Iowa, and in 1990 earned his accreditation with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is now president of Infinity Dental Web, a company in Mesa, Arizona that does advanced internet marketing for dentists.