Hello Dr. Hall,
I have recently gone though what felt to me like a dental nightmare! I would appreciate any advice that can be given.
Situation: My #19 tooth (lower left 1st molar) started to feel pain to cold foods and beverages and the tooth was sensitive to the touch. I went to an “advertising” dentist and he did an exam and took x-rays. His diagnosis was that I have all my wisdom teeth and 3 are impacted but one is showing and should be pulled (could be pushing on a nerve). He also said that fillings should fix the issue.
I had the fillings done and two days later my mouth started really hurting. Went back to the dentist and he corrected my bite by adjusting the filling. He gave antibiotics and suggested over-the-counter pain meds. That didn’t help so he then again suggested getting the wisdom tooth pulled. I told him the source of the pain felt deeper and not close to that wisdom tooth.
I got the wisdom tooth pulled and continued on the antibiotics. It felt like things were getting better but I guess once I stopped taking pain meds and the antibiotics ran their course the pain was back with a vengeance. My mouth started swelling and the pain was unbearable. I went to the dentist again. He gave me antibiotics again.
Early the next morning I went to the ER and they could see that I had an abscess. I went back to the dentist again and he referred me out to an endodontist. They couldn’t see me for several weeks so I went back to the oral surgeon who did the wisdom tooth. He agreed that there was an abscess infection and recommended that we pull that tooth. My anger comes from me specifying that the #19 tooth was the source of the original pain and I had to pay for several visits to the dentist, ER, and oral surgeon before the correct procedure was done and the pain eliminated. Is there any legal recourse for a situation like this?
– Jason from Texas
(See Dr. Hall’s answer below.)
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You’re telling me a story of gross incompetence, a true dental horror story. And yes, I would call what was done to you to be dental malpractice. Based on what you are telling me, your dentist made serious diagnostic and treatment mistakes at every step of the way. If I were you, I would demand that this “advertising” dentist pay you not only for the extra visits to the oral surgeon and ER, but also for the cost of an implant and a crown to replace your missing first molar, or you will see a lawyer who will add pain and suffering damages to your claim.
Here’s a list of the mistakes he made.
First, at your initial appointment, with pain in the tooth to cold, you clearly have an inflamed pulp and he should have told you that a root canal treatment could be needed. Add to that pain to touch, and you have a high likelihood of needing a root canal. Bacteria had gotten into the pulp of the tooth, causing inflammation, and probably had begun to spread to the area around the root tip of the tooth, which would make the tooth sensitive to touch. It is puzzling to me why, with these symptoms, he would begin talking to you about your wisdom teeth.
At your second appointment, he continued with gross misdiagnosis. You have a new filling repairing what was undoubtedly deep decay, and he is adjusting the bite? The prescription for antibiotics seems to suggest that he suspected an infection in the tooth, but I’m wondering why again there appears to be a complete lack of knowing what to do. If he had missed this at the first appointment, surely he should be able to see it now. If he doesn’t like doing root canal treatments he should have referred you to an endodontist (root canal specialist) at that point. And antibiotics for a tooth infection? Since they can’t get inside the tooth, antibiotics will never completely cure a tooth infection. They only keep it at bay while waiting for treatment to be completed.
At the third appointment when you now have swelling, this should have been crystal clear to the dentist. But you just got antibiotics again. How did your dentist pass these courses in dental school about tooth infections?
It took the ER to tell you that you had a tooth infection, and when you told that to your dentist he referred you to an endodontist. Okay, your dentist doesn’t want to do root canal treatments. But he should at least know how to relieve your pain. With swelling in the jaw, the pulp of your tooth is dead, and if he had simply drilled an opening into your tooth, that would most likely have immediately relieved your pain.
And finally, with a raging infection and toothache, referring you to an endodontist who couldn’t see you for two weeks—that is the last straw. So now we have a combination of gross misdiagnosis with indifference to human pain. Based on what you are telling me, you have a great malpractice case here. I’d be tempted to go directly to a lawyer, but I think the nice thing to do would be to first give your dentist a chance to simply pay for all the extra treatment required. That would include everything you have spent so far plus the cost of replacing this missing first molar. When that tooth is missing, the tooth behind it will tend to tip into the space, and the tooth above will drift down, really messing up your bite and possibly leading to later TMJ disorder.
Sorry for all your pain and hoping you get this resolved,
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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.