Cosmetic Dentistry Blog Cosmetic and General Dentistry Questions Answered

July 3, 2018

Botched case by a very reputable dentist

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Dear Dr. Hall
This started about five years ago when I wanted to get a single crown for my front tooth (#8). The crown ended up being bulky and the color was off. After that, I was referred to a very reputable dentist. The first crown he did was too gray. The second crown he did was closer, but didn’t fit into my mouth because of a protruding lower front tooth. At that point the dentist told me to get orthodontic work. When I did that, I ended up with a gap.

I’m now shopping around for a dentist I feel comfortable with, and I feel very uncertain about this. I am not 100% sure these dentists are going to follow through with getting it right. My last dentist has a really great reputation. He charged me enormous fees, paired me with a reputable ceramist, and it still didn’t work. Strangely, as I interview other dentists, when they hear his name, I am forced to defend myself. If they see the work, they back off, but everyone assumes the patient is at fault. As if I somehow caused the poor looking crown. Or am just being too picky?
– Melissa from Southern California


Yes, I’m very familiar with stories like yours. But it’s interesting—you say the dentist and ceramist had “great reputations.” Oh, there is such a difference between a dentist with a great “reputation” and a great cosmetic dentist, and likewise for ceramists.

If you do a lot of reading on my blog, you’ll learn that institutional dentistry—most dental schools, the American Dental Association, and the “reputable” dentists look down their noses at cosmetic dentists. They mock them, calling them “cosmetologists” and unprofessional. I was taught in dental school that, on issues of how the dental work should look, we should not listen to the patient but should use our professional judgment. To these academics and dental leaders, true cosmetic dentists are pandering to the patient and unworthy. Read the Wikipedia article about cosmetic dentistry, written by someone with this academic mindset, and you’ll get a flavor of this condescending attitude.

This goes to the heart of why I founded this referral service and this blog—to be the politically incorrect advocate for beautiful dentistry.
Here, read two of my blog posts that deal with this issue. In the first one, the patient didn’t like the result because the teeth looked too white and phony, but the dentist insisted that they were fine, basically telling the patient that her professional opinion should out-weigh the patient’s opinion.

In the second post, I answer a patient named Glen from Massachusetts who kept having reservations as his smile makeover proceeded. As he voiced those reservations, his dentist kept telling him, “trust me.” After the work was completed and Glen was still unhappy with it to the point where he was embarrassed to smile, the dentist sent him a certified letter where he relates his professional opinion combined with that of several colleagues that the work looks great. This contrasts with the attitude of great cosmetic dentists that they are treating the self-perception of the patient and if the patient has reservations about the appearance of the final result, the case is a failure.

This is what I see over and over again when someone gets a recommendation from a dentist in this institutional mindset for appearance-related dentistry. They get a great mechanical dentist who has a “great reputation” among his or her peers but is really psychologically unfit for appearance-related dentistry. True cosmetic dentists are outliers in the dental community.

If you can come to fully understand that and realize that you were victimized by this institutional mentality and referred to a dentist who had a great reputation with the wrong crowd, and now you are moving into a different world that plays by a different set of rules where everything depends on whether or not the patient likes the final result, you may find it in yourself to trust again.

Dr. Hall

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About David A. Hall

Dr. David 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 complete Internet marketing for dentists.

May 5, 2016

On the appearance of my front teeth, my dentist just says “trust me”

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Dr. Hall,

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

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.

Informed Consent

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.
informed consentMany 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

Do you have a comment? We’d love to hear from you. Enter your comment below.

Click here to ask Dr. Hall a question of your own.

About David A. Hall

Dr. David 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 complete Internet marketing for dentists.

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