Dentist pulled four wrong teeth from my 10-year-old — what is justice?
May 3, 2013 6:30 AM   Subscribe

My son's dentist pulled four teeth that were not supposed to come out. Help me restore order to the universe.

About ten days ago, in the middle of the second office visit for orthodontia-related extractions of some of my son's baby teeth, the dentist disappeared for a long while and then returned to tell me that all the teeth she had pulled so far had been the wrong teeth. The dentist explained that the mistake was the result of her dental office incorrectly entering the orthodontist's orders in the dental office computer.

Suffice it to say that this was a long and unpleasant visit; I walked out shaking, inadequately comforting a crying child.

In the family, we all were and still are pretty upset. The error means an additional visit and additional extractions. It complicates the orthodontia. It caused a lot of confusion and anguish for all of us.

In the face of these real and intangible injuries, we further feel that the dentist has been too proud or fearful to be as gracious as we would like.

The dentist has offered to forgive existing and future payments for the extractions if we sign a settlement that refuses to acknowledge her error or wrongdoing. I realize that is typical but it rubs my wife the wrong way; she feels like she is being asked to sign a non-apology.

Note: the orthodontist has a generous and patrician outlook on life and is going to eat the cost of the unanticipated orthodontic appliances now required. Kinda weird, but I think he is just trying to keep order and get back to the smile business.

Also note: all the teeth in question are juvenile.

What is a good approach to getting a more generous response from the dentist? We suggested that a small gift for my son would be thoughtful, but the dentist declined. I think a written apology is SUPER unlikely.

I want to de-escalate the conflict and I also want closure. I don't feel the dentist's offer is patently unfair, but I do think it is pretty weak.

Any clever suggestions on how to get what I want without signing a settlement? Or should we take what we are offered and swallow our pride?
posted by Glomar response to Law & Government (77 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Do you want to keep going to this dentist? I wouldn't. Everyone makes mistakes, but this one is pretty significant. You need to be able to trust your dentist. And if he's offering something your wife hates and you think is weak, why continue with him?

On the other side, you say that you're all feeling "anguish." These were juvenile teeth; is there something going on that's causing severe suffering for you?
posted by benbenson at 6:38 AM on May 3, 2013 [10 favorites]

The so-called "tort reform" movement has succeeded in shaming people into thinking lawsuits are a bad thing, but for the love of God, this is why courts and lawyers and malpractice insurance exist.

Please do not follow this path of de-escalation in the face of such obscene incompetence and indifference, without consulting a good attorney. This dentist has malpractice insurance for precisely this type of thing.

DO NOT sign a settlement without an attorney to negotiate what you get in return.
posted by Unified Theory at 6:40 AM on May 3, 2013 [111 favorites]

I hate to say it, but trying to negotiate more from them is probably something that is best handled by an attorney. They're asking you to sign something indicating that they're off the hook for the mistake. This benefits them, but not you. I wouldn't sign a single thing until I'd talked to a lawyer first.
posted by jquinby at 6:41 AM on May 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

Is there some reason why you're not suing this butcher all the way back to dental school?

Because that's what I'd do in a New York fucking minute.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:41 AM on May 3, 2013 [49 favorites]

...and to add a bit more: this doesn't mean that you've got to call an ambulance-chaser from the back of the Yellow Pages. I'd ask around for recommendations from people you know, or contact the local bar association for a referral.
posted by jquinby at 6:42 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yep. Lawyer up. Sign nothing. You and your family are owed more than free extractions and free braces.
posted by downing street memo at 6:43 AM on May 3, 2013 [11 favorites]

Lawyer. Now.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:44 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

The dentist has offered to forgive existing and future payments for the extractions if we sign a settlement that refuses to acknowledge her error or wrongdoing. I realize that is typical but it rubs my wife the wrong way; she feels like she is being asked to sign a non-apology.

Get a lawyer. You're being asked to sign an agreement not to sue, because this is precisely what medical malpractice claims are for. Right now the dentist's offer is "don't sue me and I won't make you pay for my mistake." That's a terrible deal, don't accept it, hire someone to get you something better.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:44 AM on May 3, 2013 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: OP here:
My review of the literature tells me that litigation in this type of case (juvenile teeth, no permanent damage) yields very small dollar amounts, so "see you in court" seems to have a small upside beyond shaming the dentist.

But perhaps the threat is what counts?
posted by Glomar response at 6:44 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

so "see you in court" seems to have a small upside beyond shaming the dentist.

Plus raising her malpractice insurance rates, which likely has a real settlement value to you. Consult a dental malpractice attorney in your area before talking to this person or her representatives again.

I am not your attorney and my comments are not legal advice--you need a local expert.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:48 AM on May 3, 2013 [8 favorites]

Don't sign! What the heck! I would see if there is a dental board you can lodge a formal complaint with.
posted by Malla at 6:49 AM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

You sound very reasonable and I just want to point out that it is not at all unreasonable/difficult/etc to just throw this at an attorney -- it's not like you're escalating or being sue-happy or anything else negative or unreasonable; just: this is part of why lawyers exist, to sort out messes like this. Ask around for recommendations, find somebody you like, and trust them to sort out "fair" for you here. I commend the impulses towards forgiveness evidenced here, but -- this is pretty messed-up stuff. You don't need to get a lawyer because you want revenge or cash; there are other reasons to bring them into stuff.
posted by kmennie at 6:49 AM on May 3, 2013

Please speak to a malpractice lawyer. Even if the $$$ amount isn't huge, they will be better able to tell you how to communicate with this dentist.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:52 AM on May 3, 2013

Glomar response: no permanent damage

Are you sure about that just yet? If you sign something that frees the dentist from any further claims, you would be prevented from seeking remedies down the road if something ends up being wrong with your child's permanent teeth as a result of this mistake.

I'm not a dentist, and I imagine the chance of that happening are remote, but don't take it off the table until you talk to a lawyer familiar with dental malpractice.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:53 AM on May 3, 2013 [20 favorites]

And surely no one expects you to pay for the existing extractions. Absurd!
posted by Malla at 6:53 AM on May 3, 2013

With all due respect, Glomar, are you an attorney working in malpractice? If not, your interpretation of legal precedent as it applies to your family's situation may or may not be consistent with a specialist's. At the very least, please think about seeking legal advice before signing a document that absolves the dentist of mistakes that can affect your son's orthodontic health (and potential future medical picture).
posted by anonnymoose at 6:54 AM on May 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

In a malpractice case, damages would typically be 5 times the additional costs, usually assessed for pain and suffering.

So if the dentist's mistake added $1,000 in extra costs to the bill (even if you're not paying them) that would be the basis of mesurement of damages.

It's a pretty heinous oversight but thankfully, they were just juvenile teeth.

I would meet with a malpractice attorney just to see what he/she says about it. Take the document to the attorney and get a professional opinion.

Also, review on Yelp.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:55 AM on May 3, 2013

My review of the literature

Are you a lawyer? If not, then your review is insufficient.

Money questions aside, they want you to sign something that says they are not responsible for this thing that happened, nor anything that might arise from it ever. Given that they are juvenile teeth, maybe nothing else ever will. But what if it does? Too bad, you signed the agreement.

Imagine if a plumber made a mistake in your house, admitted it, then asked you to sign a legal document saying that if anything ever goes wrong with the plumbing they messed up, too bad. It's like that, except with a human being's mouth which is infinitely more complex than plumbing.

Get a lawyer and get a new dentist. Do not make any payments or have any non-lawyer communications with this office.
posted by mikepop at 6:55 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

My review of the literature tells me that litigation in this type of case (juvenile teeth, no permanent damage) yields very small dollar amounts, so "see you in court" seems to have a small upside beyond shaming the dentist.


I commend you on your review of the literature and I think what you have found is accurate. Professional malpractice cases are tough for plaintiffs, and you may indeed get a small damages award.

That being said, I think you have a lot of leverage. If the dentist wants a release of a malpractice claim, she needs to do better. I understand that you will never get the written apology, but if the dentist is going to refuse a small gift to your son, that tells me that she does not take this matter seriously enough.

You strike me as wanting to handle this situation rather rationally. Think about what you want to get closure and tell the dentist that you will not sign any release until you get it. A release is a big deal because you will surely be releasing all claims, both known and unknown. To this point, you need another dentist to examine your son and give a second opinion. Maybe even a few dentists. I am not a dentist, so I have no idea what complications could arise for your son in the future. I would not want to release any claims until I knew what potential claims I would be giving up.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:55 AM on May 3, 2013 [52 favorites]

Consulting a lawyer does not mean you will be seeing the dentist in court. It is worth a conversation.
posted by barnone at 6:57 AM on May 3, 2013 [10 favorites]

"see you in court" seems to have a small upside beyond shaming the dentist.

This is not about shaming the dentist. This is about holding the dentist accountable for an egregious mistake committed against your child. This is about professional incompetence. A dentist that would mistakenly extract four teeth should be under professional review to ensure other patients are safe.

I'd have nothing further to do with this dentist, get a lawyer and bring suit, regardless of the potential "dollar amount."
posted by ecorrocio at 6:58 AM on May 3, 2013 [24 favorites]

I think you should pursue some kind of action - at least consult with a lawyer and see what you can do. But I'm not saying this because I think you'll win a suit - I'm saying it on behalf of your child. Let me explain.

My orthodontist drew out my treatment for an extra two years after my braces came off, because he literally went insane at some point. He just kept on prescribing me weirder and weirder stuff - retainers with ever-increasingly cumbersome headgear, some kind of spiked thing that was like a scold's bridle at some point - until finally my mother had my brother's orthodontist look at me for a second opinion (and that opinion was "yeah, the stuff he's giving you isn't doing jack shit"). We all just sort of wrote him off, and I was just too happy to throw away the retainer right then.

But years later, I was floored to discover that the other orthodontist had also advised my parents to sue my orthodontist for malpractice - but they hadn't. My mother said it was because they just plain aren't litigious people. However - I was quite hurt when I learned that, because it felt like my parents hadn't wanted to go to bat for me and come to my defense after my doctor had done me wrong. I can respect not feeling litigious, but - I wasn't legally able to make that decision for myself, and I fordamnsure would have wanted to. So it felt like my parents just sort of shrugged it off - and by extension, it felt like they didn't think I was worth standing up for, and I was actually really disappointed and hurt about that for a while.

Your son is relying on you to look out for him and go to bat for them in their interactions with adults. I would advise that you at least consult with a lawyer or your county health board ombudsman to find out whether there is something you can do, so your son will know that, when the chips were down, you spoke up for him at a time when he wasn't old enough to do so.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:03 AM on May 3, 2013 [66 favorites]

Yeah, don't sign anything. It's not worth it to get a couple of further extractions from this awful dentist for free. That's all they are offering, right? It's not like you want to take your kid back in there anyway. If your orthodontist demurs, just say you don't want to revisit that office.

On that point:

Suffice it to say that this was a long and unpleasant visit; I walked out shaking, inadequately comforting a crying child.

Speaking as someone with dental trauma, I suggest trying to make it as small a deal for your kid as possible. You don't want your son winding up dental phobic and avoiding dental procedures in the future.
posted by BibiRose at 7:05 AM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

Note: the orthodontist has a generous and patrician outlook on life and is going to eat the cost of the unanticipated orthodontic appliances now required.

Your sense of what constitutes generosity is out of whack. Eating all related costs is the bare minimum he should be doing, not a gift.

I think the main thing here is to not cement in your kid's mind the sense that dentists are dangerous and scary. Your behavior out to convey, if possible, the message that this is a bizzare situation and not something one typically has to worry about. If it were me in your shoes, part of that would be guaranteeing that your kid never has to sit in this guy's chair again.
posted by jon1270 at 7:06 AM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am a parent of two small children. First priority is your kid's health, which is your job. Second priority is ensuring that this dentist adequately compensates you, which is, ideally, not your job. The reason that is not your job is that you're not familiar with the legal and ethical landscape surrounding malpractice. If nothing else it's an extremely complex topic and you need help with it. I would: 1. Find a new dentist and ask them to (a) request a records transfer from the crappy dentist and (b) complete the extractions as they deem necessary, based on a comprehensive second opinion. 2. Ask friends and/or the local bar for a referral to a medical malpractice attorney. Work with that attorney to determine what compensation is reasonable and adequate. The attorney will be able to suggest appropriate actions and will help counsel you as to which might be best for you.

This is what attorneys are for.
posted by mindsound at 7:07 AM on May 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm a lawyer, not your lawyer, this isn't legal advice.

Hire a lawyer. Personal injury attorneys generally work on contingency, so you shouldn't let cost be a deterrent.
posted by ewiar at 7:10 AM on May 3, 2013

Since I think I may not have been clear on this point in my last comment, you should definitely talk with a medical malpractice plaintiff's attorney. This is one of the times when "lawyer up" is appropriate.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:11 AM on May 3, 2013

Response by poster: OP again —

Your sense of what constitutes generosity is out of whack.

To be clear, the orthodontist is offering to cover the dentist's mistake. The orthodontist pulled no teeth.
posted by Glomar response at 7:11 AM on May 3, 2013

To be clear, the orthodontist is offering to cover the dentist's mistake. The orthodontist pulled no teeth.

Ah, sorry.
posted by jon1270 at 7:13 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

My mother said it was because they just plain aren't litigious people. However - I was quite hurt when I learned that, because it felt like my parents hadn't wanted to go to bat for me and come to my defense after my doctor had done me wrong. I can respect not feeling litigious, but - I wasn't legally able to make that decision for myself, and I fordamnsure would have wanted to. So it felt like my parents just sort of shrugged it off - and by extension, it felt like they didn't think I was worth standing up for, and I was actually really disappointed and hurt about that for a while.

There have been a number of situations in my life where my parents could have (and really should have) taken action against people and situations that affected my brother and me like this, and if I'm being completely honest, it still hurts, more than 10 years later, knowing they didn't.

EC makes a really, really good point here that what you decide to do (or not do) in this situation will not go unnoticed by your kid.
posted by phunniemee at 7:14 AM on May 3, 2013 [16 favorites]

I had a dentist pull out four of my juvenile molars while removing braces (that she had erroneously applied too early, to boot). It was traumatic and bloody and left me with a very real fear of the dentist that has persisted well into adulthood. My parents not only did not sue her (not so much for the horrible extraction of my baby teeth, but because the braces had not been warranted, were incorrectly applied, and didn't do anything but harm my growing mouth) but kept me as her patient because the was "the best dentist in town."

Screw that. Showing your kid that you are mellow about the harm done to him is NOT going to convince him that this caused no lasting damage. The experience itself may cause lasting damage, at least psychologically.
posted by lydhre at 7:24 AM on May 3, 2013 [10 favorites]

Chiming in to emphasize that you want to talk with a lawyer even if you have no intention of suing. (And maybe don't tell us any too much more about your intentions, even though I'm curious.)

For example, one thing to keep in mind when looking for a more generous response here is that a waiver of claims and an apology can happen at the same time. It is perfectly possible for the dentist to: (1) give you fair compensation, including paying for treatment somewhere else; (2) be protected from lawsuits; and (3) issue a full and generous apology. This is just an example; there are other things that might be worked into the deal to address everything you care about (like what happens if there are future complications) in a way the dentist can agree to. A settlement can be a good move for everyone.

But what makes that possible is your lawyer. They can tell you all the options you have, show the other party you're serious, and formalize the deal in a way everyone can rely on. Without a lawyer in the room, you just can't have a useful conversation about how to resolve this; one or the other of you will be getting screwed and you won't know who. (But, given that the dentist already has a waiver-of-claims ready for you to sign that she probably didn't write herself, I could take a guess.)
posted by jhc at 7:28 AM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

(That should have said: "Without your lawyer in the room ...")
posted by jhc at 7:29 AM on May 3, 2013

Not charging you for the erroneous procedure is not a gift. I would ask for a refund of all previous fees, and I would go straight to another practice. The correspondence is best handled by a lawyer.
posted by theora55 at 7:40 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

To be clear, the orthodontist is offering to cover the dentist's mistake. The orthodontist pulled no teeth.

This is part of what the offending dentist should be offering to cover at minimum.

Also nthing what EmpressCallipygos et al have said re: going to bat for your kids. I also had a situation where my parents shrugged off something major and it continues to have negative effects on my life decades later.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 7:41 AM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

If nothing else, I would want the dentist to pay for someone else to do the cleanup work.

But I agree with others that you should consult an attorney. This is outrageous.
posted by spindrifter at 7:46 AM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

I really don't have much of an opinion regarding fair compensation for this; it is likely that there is no lasting damage done so compensation may be less than some people think. A good lawyer would know better than me what might be expected in your area.

More concerning is that this needs to be prevented from happening to someone else. The laws vary from state to stae and I am more familiar with medicine than dentistry, but operating on the wrong body part is considered a sentinel event and is taken very seriously by licensing boards and regulatory agencies. I know in our hospital when we have even a close call of something like this happening we have extensive meetings and policy reviews to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to prevent this sort of thing. In my state wrong-site surgery is required by law to be reported to the state; it looks like you are in Oregon and I would assume they have similar requirements. Here is the Oregon Board of Dentistry; they have contact information for consumers on that page.
posted by TedW at 7:49 AM on May 3, 2013 [22 favorites]

I agree, above all the kid needs to feel you went to bat for him. As an adult, I had an eye operation that went wrong. My father-- a lawyer, but not your lawyer or my lawyer-- said, "Walk out of there and find a new doctor. Leave however much money it is on the table. Get the procedure done right." In my opinion, this is what matters right now. By all means leave doors open for yourself legally. Sign nothing. If there are consequences from this dentist's mistake they may emerge later anyway. Failing to punish the dentist is less of a big deal at this moment than getting the job done right. It's good that your orthodontist is willing to do his best to cover for the mistake made by the dentist he recommended. As long as you trust the orthodontist, follow down that road. And also sign nothing.
posted by BibiRose at 7:51 AM on May 3, 2013

New dentist, lawyer up, and don't let this go. It's not just about the extra expense and some prematurely lost baby teeth, this is pain and suffering. Extractions are scary and as someone who is STILL fighting some serious dental trauma at the age of 36 (as in I can't even set foot in the dentist's office without 2mg of Ativan) from things far less damaging than unnecessary extractions, this is something that could haunt your child for years and have a very real impact on his dental health in the future.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:52 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am a litigation attorney. I agree that the dollar amount in damages is not likely going to be significant were the case to go to trial, but this situation has a real OMG HOLY SHIT factor to it that makes it worth pursuing.

I'm imagining that I'm sitting in my office and the phone rings. It is a dentist, who tells me she thinks she has a problem and needs legal advice. She tells me that there was this one patient, and some charts got mixed up, and the dental assistant did this and that, and it was really crazy in there that day, yada yada and at the end of it all she mistakenly pulled four teeth from a ten year old child who left crying and with his mother in shock. After I pick my phone up off the floor, I tell the dentist to put her malpractice carrier on notice immediately and then to start groveling and offering significant compensation to the mother unless said dentist wants to wind up featured in one of those blurb articles you see on the newspaper sidebar along with the other "can you believe this is a thing that happened"-type stories.

Don't let this one go.
posted by chicxulub at 7:58 AM on May 3, 2013 [55 favorites]

Well, if the dentist wants you to settle, and you want an apology to be part of that, ask for an apology.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:58 AM on May 3, 2013

Whether or not this causes any lasting physical or psychological damage to your kiddo in the future, you should 100% not have to pay for any of this. This isn't like you went into a routine procedure and there were complications as a result. Your kid went in for a procedure and they DID THE WRONG PROCEDURE. Keep a level head in front of your kid, yes, but this is certainly worth bringing forward through the proper channels (lawyer) to keep future occurrences from happening to someone else to whom long term damage could happen. Thank goodness they were baby teeth and not adult teeth in this situation, truly.
posted by takoukla at 8:01 AM on May 3, 2013

Personal injury attorney's work on spec. They have no incentive to pursue the case unless they believe he award is large enough to justify their time. And there is no way the dentist wants this splashed all over the court system. Go talk to the personal injury attorney. The initial consult will be free. They will advice you on the best course of action. If they pursue odds are 99% the dentist will settle out of court.

Also, don't be afraid of the ambulance chaser guys. When my wife was injured in a car accident I asked a traffic attorney friend which lawyer to call, specifically trying to avoid the guys always running the ads on TV. He said they were the best, despite their ads. They were completely profesional, easy to work with, and even voluntarily shaved their fee from 33% to 25% after the settlement because they said we were easy to work with and diligent about getting paperwork back to them, etc - all of which saved them time.
posted by COD at 8:03 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't disagree with the advice you're getting, but keep in mind: a lawyer could potentially get you money. A lawyer could potentially help you make sure you can take care of anything that crops up later.

But a lawyer cannot get you graciousness. A lawyer cannot make the dentist take what will feel to you like true responsibility. If what's eating at you is that dentist isn't reacting as a human being the way you want, that is not something a lawyer can get for you. As I said, I'm not disagreeing with any of the advice you're getting, but don't pursue litigation thinking that it's necessarily going to be satisfying in the way you're talking about -- feeling like the dentist understands the gravity of what you're experiencing and is sorry. If the dentist's position is, "My office made a mistake, mistakes happen, we pay what's owed and move on," and what you want is for the dentist to personally feel bad, you may not be able to get that, no matter how many any of us may emphatically agree with you that the dentist should personally feel bad.

You talk about wanting a gift, you want an apology, you want the human being who hurt your kid to act like you expect a human being to act and show contrition, and I don't blame you. But the reaction you want has sort of already not happened, and while you may absolutely positively be able to get an apology as part of this process, will it make you feel the way you'd have felt if the dentist had immediately been like, "Oh my GOD, let me buy you all a weekend trip to Amusement Park USA, you deserve it, I won't sleep for weeks because I caused you all so much pain"? Probably not. It doesn't mean don't get a lawyer, but understand what the lawyer will and will not be able to do for you.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:04 AM on May 3, 2013 [13 favorites]

IANAL and IANAD, but my friend is a dentist.

She said first that she's sorry and hopes your son is okay and eating ice cream.

Then she said...get a new dentist and orthodontist asap, don't sign anything with the current one and to talk to a malpractice lawyer because that's exactly what they have malpractice insurance for and this is clearly a case of medical malpractice, period.

She thinks you have two separate issues: 4 incorrect teeth getting yanked (and she said, yes, that's crazy but those teeth were gonna come out anyway so try not to get too upset) but more importantly, it's really unusual to pull that many healthy baby teeth in a 10-year-old for braces. So she said you need another ortho consult, because this plan seems extreme.

So to the first part, extraction mistakes do happen but this is a huge mistake. For this, you call a lawyer. You not only shouldn't have to pay for any of the extractions but ideally, this dentist should pay for the orthodontics, because, come on. She said the lawyer can also advise about how to report the dentist for this mistake. It needs to be reported so it never happens again and her office staff needs to be held responsible.

Second point she made, kids get all sorts of teeth pulled for braces but she said it's very rarely baby teeth because getting those teeth out doesn't bring up the adult teeth any's just a way to make money.

Orthos generally wait for baby teeth to come out naturally before starting braces. They don't want them pulled unless the baby teeth are impacted (and to that she said..."4 impacted baby teeth? Never happens.").

So she's wondering, was the plan that baby teeth be pulled to make room for the adult teeth to come in? Because if that's the case, the whole thing is kind of weird to her. If the teeth were pulled because of decay, then maybe, she said, but even then, this would be another reason to leave this dentist because they allowed your kid to have 4 teeth become so decayed they needed to be extracted.

She said sometimes they'll pull 2 adult teeth to make room for the braces to work (and then the ortho puts the braces on the adult teeth and pulls those spaces closed), but pulling four baby teeth for orthodontia is extreme.

So...get another orthodontist because this one sounds awful to her (she also said 10 is pretty young for braces and good docs won't even touch a kid til all their baby teeth are 12ish), see a lawyer, get a new dentist, give your kid some ice cream and she said to enjoy the sun and have a margarita (that's why she's my dentist/friend).
posted by kinetic at 8:07 AM on May 3, 2013 [69 favorites]

If you can't go the legal route for some reason - it's too difficult, the case is weak for some technicality or whatever - you can still show your child that you will go to bat for them by making it clear to your kid that you are writing letters of complaint to the medical board and making sure that everyone you know with kids is warned away from this terrible dentist, whatever steps you can take to make sure justice (not a punishment but justice - kids have a real sense of fairness) is served and that other kids are protected so his experience ends up helping other children, and that you will step up for him.

This time it's teeth, next time it's bullying at school or worse - you want your kid to see you model a sense of active justice (and appropriate litigation for something as horrible as this is not vindictive.) and that you will defend your kid when hurt.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:23 AM on May 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

the advice to get a lawyer is most sound. I would like to add, though, to this:
Way back in time, teeth were "designed" via evolution to last a lifetime but a lifetime back then was way under, with much life, we find our teeth in need of fixing often...the teeth, after all, are bones, and they give with age. My point: dentists are making loads of money these days.

Point two: If a dentist or doctor does an incompetent job, then having lawsuits against him or her goes on record and that will warn other potential patients...too often those in the medical area continue to work in their fields because fellow medical people do not report incompetence. But a patient can and should.
posted by Postroad at 8:25 AM on May 3, 2013

When I was relatively young, I had perfectly healthy adult teeth filled on sketchy pretences, and they've caused me trouble ever since. I learned, long after the fact, that the dentist who ran the surgery did this to lots of kids because it paid well. That dentist is living very well on a tax haven right now; I am not happy with that.

Lawyer. This is about protecting the next patient and the next one after that. There's a lot of whining about ambulance chasers and tort reform and whatnot, but that's the method by which you get redress, particularly in a system where you are paying cash money for treatment.
posted by holgate at 8:58 AM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Second point she made, kids get all sorts of teeth pulled for braces but she said it's very rarely baby teeth because getting those teeth out doesn't bring up the adult teeth any's just a way to make money.

Oh wow. I got tons of baby teeth yanked in 3rd grade to make room for braces in 4th grade. I think it was something like 13 baby teeth and 2 permanent ones. Most I ever had done in one shot was 5, and I still remember that horrible afternoon almost 30 years later.

So please, OP, stick up for your kid. I'll bet I wouldn't have had so many teeth out if my folks had questioned the dentist & the orthodontist.
posted by luckynerd at 9:33 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Kinetic: your friend may very well be correct but they have not examined this child nor have they seen every situation. I am a thirty year old woman who is about to have 7 baby teeth pulled. I do have all my adult teeth in my gums, but for some reason they haven't wanted to move without help. When I was a kid the doctors kept telling my parents and I to wait - that eventually they would come out on their own. I don't blame them - this is a rare situation - but looking back it clearly would have been better to pull them when I was a kid and not have a gaping mouth full of braces at 30. This kid is ten and had more than 4 baby teeth to lose - actually it sounds like he had at least 8 teeth to lose. I am guessing this makes this kid's teeth similarly slow to move. it is possible that this orthodontist has seen this before and decided to recommend proactive measures. Of course, it could also just be a total money grab, but there is a chance that there is more to his case than we know.

However, OP, that in no ways excuses what this dentist did to your son. Please see a lawyer, and get at least one second opinion from both a dentist and an orthodontist.
posted by imalaowai at 9:44 AM on May 3, 2013

Take the advice of all above. Stand up for your child. Get a second opinion, consult legal opinion, don't sign anything. You can't go back if you give in and sign a release, but you can decide on a deescalating course if you so desire after becoming fully informed of your options and any ramifications of the wrongdoing.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:46 AM on May 3, 2013


Sorry to be all shouty up there, but everyone is talking about lawyers, and well, I'd want to make sure that medically everything is OK, first.

What you need is settlement $$ such that you can afford an entirely different dentist to finish off future procedures.

I would not ever go back to this dentist.

And yes, I agree you should be talking to a lawyer, too.
posted by jbenben at 9:54 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

imalaowai, I asked my dentist friend that question and she said unless there was decay or the teeth were formed in such a way that prevented the adult teeth to come in properly, it would be "highly unusual to extract healthy four baby teeth from a ten-year-old for orthodontics especially because orthodontists need to see how the adult teeth come in before deciding to start braces. Sometimes the adult teeth come in pretty straight. If the kid was 15 and their baby teeth haven't come out, we might recommend extraction. But 10 is too young in my opinion. Nature hasn't taken its course yet."

I agree; we're doing this from the internet and without knowing the kid, his dentist, etc., but I think her point is 10 is too young to be pulling that many teeth unless those teeth were causing damage to the bone structure/adult teeth. etc.
posted by kinetic at 9:54 AM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

You say you want closure on this, and I agree, that's what's most important.

The best way to get closure is to make this a meaningful experience for your son, and for you. I don't think you're going to be able to make nice with the dentist; she just doesn't seem like that kind of person. If you let her off with a small gift, she'll breath a sigh of relief and go on with business as usual. And while your sign might enjoy a handshake, a smile, and a baseball glove, that doesn't make it a meaningful experience. To the contrary, it doesn't sufficiently recognize what your son went through. It undervalues and brushes over the abuse, which is exactly the wrong lesson.

Maybe you don't want this to be about money. How about making it about college? Go to a lawyer, as others have advised. But be clear in advance that any money you get will go in your child's college fund. Paying for college is a big deal. Having a few thousand dollars towards college will connect this awful event to the arc of your son's life story in a positive way; it will turn the terrible experience into something that helps build his life. It may even get through to the dentist by making it clear that you're not trying to cash in on a terrible mistake, but trying to do right by your son.
posted by alms at 10:01 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Plus, your son will have a great story to tell when he's in college.
posted by alms at 10:01 AM on May 3, 2013

On second thought-- and having read some further comments above-- I would also carefully consider whether you want to go forward with this orthodontist. Do they think what happened with this dentist is OK? Are they going to keep referring people there?
posted by BibiRose at 10:06 AM on May 3, 2013

This is definitely a situation where you want to call a lawyer immediately.
posted by Dansaman at 10:26 AM on May 3, 2013

Talk to a medical malpractice lawyer, get a second orthodontist's opinion, and get a new dentist, in that order.
posted by zippy at 10:28 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's pretty much all been said above but yeah, get a lawyer, it should cost you nothing other than about a third of any settlement received, don't expect to "sue them back to dental school" because damages are not all that severe. I would guess that you'd get a settlement offer and never see the inside of a courtroom. Don't be afraid to negotiate, but don't get greedy either. Oh, and don't back off if they try to defend it. If it does go to trial, the malpractice insurance company will have a representative there, and they can make a settlement offer at any point. Hopefully your kid ends up with a decent college fund out of it. Non-lawyer here, but I do know something about malpractice.
posted by LowellLarson at 10:51 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Before I even read the comments, I thought that you definitely need a second opinion from a different orthodontist. Dentists and orthodontists refer work back-and-forth to each other, so your orthodontist might not be the most impartial judge here. He's biased in favor of his colleague. He most certainly does not want to become embroiled in a lawsuit, even just as a witness. And if I am reading your post correctly - "... is going to eat the cost of the unanticipated orthodontic appliances now required ..." - this sounds like the nature of orthodontia required has changed due to the gross error on the part of the dentist. And additional teeth extracted - is your child going to be able to chew normally? This is pretty complicated. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, maybe your kid has not been harmed, but this doesn't sound very professional, does it?

It's also possible that the orders on the computer were fine, and she was just spacing out or something. It happens more than we would like to think in medicine or other professions, but sometimes people go into autopilot and don't think about what they are doing.

So, independent second opinions from orthodontists and dentists not tied to these ones in any way. You need to find out what's the best thing to do for your son's teeth going forward. This is more important than anything. You really don't want to let your kid think that it's ok to let medical professionals do whatever to them, you know? Also an important lesson in measure twice, cut once. (Sheesh.)

And, you absolutely should consult a lawyer. Consulting a medical malpractice attorney doesn't mean that you have to file a lawsuit. There are always a few steps in between talking to a lawyer and filing suit. A quality medical malpractice attorney will be able to guide you through the next steps (reporting to whatever state agency, etc) and secure a reasonable settlement for you. Your dentist has already "lawyered up" - they didn't draft that settlement and release of all claims on their own.

If it were my kid and there were no further complications due to this error, I'd like the dentist to pay for the changes to orthodontia, pay for future extractions (with a different dentist), write a letter of apology to my son, and make a nice cash donation to a charity that provides dental care to needy children.
posted by stowaway at 10:54 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would seek counsel for this, I would not sign a single thing, ever, and get it straight in my head what I wanted. Perhaps it's an apology and a charitable donation into a fund for the dental needs of poor children. Perhaps it's payment for orthodontia. Perhaps it is a direct and personal sit-down apology for your son, from the dentist.

Also, really, the first order of responsibility and need is the 10-year-old's and it's worth sitting down with him and talking about what happens when someone makes a serious mistake, what the real life effect is, how grown ups should act when they make a mistake and what it means for parents to protect him when crappy things happen.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:22 AM on May 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm not a litigious person, but I think you need a lawyer in this case. This dentist should not be practicing. There is no excuse for this mistake.

How is your son reacting? I normally think the "pain and suffering" part of a lawsuit is ridiculous, but having four teeth pulled incorrectly could be incredibly traumatic for kid. On top of that, it sounds like he'll have to go back for more extractions? How horrific.
posted by parakeetdog at 11:38 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I support tort reform, without scare quotes, and believe that people shouldn't be suing others when the issue is one of their own personal responsibility and choices.

Since in this case the personal responsibility of OP had no bearing on the bad acts by the dentist, that sort of tort reform isn't relevant. This was textbook malpractice. The dentist has insurance for this. Your lawyer should sue like the wind, and then he/she will work with the dentist's insurance company to get to a settlement.

I think you should change doctors, rather than accept any offers to complete the process, and take the cost of changing doctors into account when settlement time comes. I also think you should really let go any feelings you have towards actively punishing the dentist; his insurance rates will go up, and you can give him some bad publicity, and a note should be placed in his file at the licensing board in your state. But a single mistake (assuming that this is a single mistake in an otherwise error-free practice) isn't going to and shouldn't ruin him. A pattern of mistakes will and should, so make sure that if someone looks for a pattern, they'll find the record of this episode.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:26 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

One more voice saying you should consult an attorney. I'm looking at this from the perspective of wondering just how bad things in that office broke down so that this could have happened. You, as mentioned above, have tremendous leverage here. Not just leverage to try to get things made right here, but to make sure this does not happen to anyone else. I'm not a huge fan of using the courts or attorneys as cudgels, but case like this are exactly why we have a legal system. The dentist, by trying to get you to sign the release, isn't just trying to protect against lawsuits. They're trying to minimize exposure to the agencies in charge of licensing and oversight. Talk with an attorney and find out what your options are here. And definitely chocolate ice cream, because it's the best and your kid deserves it.
posted by azpenguin at 1:29 PM on May 3, 2013

Skipped a lot of the above so forgive me if I'm repeating, but my very first item of business would be to get a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th opinion with regard to permanent damage. You want to make sure the jaw will mature correctly, as well as be sure that there are no risks for decay.

And yeah, lawyer up. That doesn't mean you have to "stick it" to the dentist; it just means you want your end/expenses covered if any complications arise in the future with regard to your child's health. What if these extraction sites don't heal properly and in a month your child gets an infection that she has to be treated for? What if the infection somehow damages the mature teeth that are still growing, but you don't find out about it until they finally come in? You need to be covered for those contingencies.

I can't imagine that you or your wife can have an amicable, professional relationship with this dentist in the future. And I imagine it'd fucking traumatizing for your kid to have to go through extractions with them again. Just get another dentist.
posted by vignettist at 4:57 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Even while I was away from the computer I kept thinking about this question. Lawyer and second opinion stuff aside, because it seems well covered, I was thinking about this:

the dentist disappeared for a long while and then returned to tell me that all the teeth she had pulled so far had been the wrong teeth. The dentist explained that the mistake was the result of her dental office incorrectly entering the orthodontist's orders in the dental office computer.

Forgive me if someone mentioned this already, but all you know is that this is the version of events the dentist is telling you. It may or may not match up to reality. For all we know this is cover story they decided on while the dentist disappeared for a long while. Maybe this is not the only "mistake" to come out of this office lately. When you report this, it might complete a bigger picture for the dental board/insurance folks/whoever.

For the same reason you want someone else to look at your kid's mouth. They couldn't cover up taking out the wrong four teeth - but who knows if they have made other errors previously.
posted by mikepop at 6:18 PM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

So I read about your son's experience yesterday, and I figured the consensus was pretty clear: Consult a lawyer (and another dentist or orthodontist, if possible). So I didn't add that advice to the thread. But just to add an additional data point, after reading about this, I had a dream about pulling my OWN teeth last night. It was horrible. And I've never had a tooth pulled in my life!

I just wanted to let you know, apparently just reading about that experience left enough of an impression on me that I dreamed about it, so I can only imagine how your son is feeling right now. I hope you can get some recompense and justice for him!
posted by limeonaire at 7:43 AM on May 4, 2013

Note: the orthodontist has a generous and patrician outlook on life and is going to eat the cost of the unanticipated orthodontic appliances now required. Kinda weird

...and this detail has my hinky-meter red-lining.

Strongly urge you to take the advice upthread to see a new ortho. It's possible the ortho has motives other than generosity. I'm very curious about his role in all this...
posted by nacho fries at 9:31 AM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I somehow missed the line about the "generous and patrician outlook on life" ... I am very puzzled by why you are viewing the dentist in this way, and I am concerned that she has succeeded in pulling the wool over your eyes about this incident, to some extent.

"Patrician," I think, denotes aristocratic, noble, etc. What you've got here is a dentist who has fouled up her work in a big way, who has been, at least in your son's case, COMPLETELY incompetent, who not only isn't running her practice effectively but is running it dangerously ... and faced with an undeniable occurrence of malpractice she is offering free service in the fervent hope that you won't pursue her legally.

None of this suggests a patrician, noble, or generous outlook in the slightest. It suggests someone in hard-core self-protective mode (indeed she may very well have consulted with her own attorney already).

Your viewing her as a patrician, and suggesting a "small gift" as compensation suggests to me that you are dramatically undervaluing the nature of the harm here and the magnitude of the professional incompetence that needs to be brought to light not only to make you and your son whole, but also to protect the public from what truly is a menace with a dentistry license.

You are casting yourself here as a bit of a supplicant to this "patrician" dentist, and that's a very good reason you need a lawyer who can take charge of this without getting emotionally enmeshed and cowed as you seem to be, not to mention the legal knowledge and experience the lawyer will bring to the situation.
posted by Unified Theory at 11:52 AM on May 4, 2013

I am very puzzled by why you are viewing the dentist in this way

"Note: the orthodontist has a generous..."

(Which is not to suggest that I agree with that assessment)
posted by kmennie at 12:02 PM on May 4, 2013

Oh ... Ok ... thanks for that clarification.

It does in my view look to be a case of protecting a colleague rather than simply being a good person.
posted by Unified Theory at 12:05 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a terrible experience with a dentist (also in Portland - memail me if you want to compare notes; I really hope your son didn't see the same chop shop as me). The practice's negligence resulted in me losing three adult teeth and a year old jaw bone graft (and also being in the hospital for a week after oral surgery, because my jaw was so infected). Records say the dentists stopped treating me aggressively because they (falsely) attributed my sudden, fast-moving decay to meth use -- and they shared that opinion in violation of HIPPAA with the ENT surgeon I saw about jaw swelling. In the hospital, I had to have three teeth and part of my jaw removed. I was also diagnosed with Sjögren's, an autoimmune disorder that causes severe degradation of the teeth and eyes. It was an experience that made me feel like there was no justice either. You have my sympathy - I can't imagine watching an innocent child go through such pain.

Unfortunately, even with this much more serious situation, I did not find any personal injury lawyers willing to take my case - they were honest about the limits of dental malpractice. I was told because I did not have permanent facial pain and I had not lost the ability to taste or any segment of my tongue or had my speech affected, the likelihood of mounting a malpractice case were slim. It's worlds away from medical malpractice, from what attorneys I met with told me. I'm sorry there isn't more to do legally. Yelp them, citysearch them, google review them, angie's list them, etc. Google them and leave your story everywhere they show up. That's a pretty potent weapon - many people contacted me after I posted my reviews, thanking me and sharing their own experiences.
posted by sweltering at 3:09 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ask the lawyer what dentist AND ortho you should take your kid to so you and your lawyer will know what the current state of his mouth is.

You don't know what's happened here at all, you just have the story of someone who is trying to make nicey-nice so you don't sue. "No permanent damage"? Of course that's what they told you.

You sound like just the sort of nice person who doesn't want to make waves that someone would sweet-talk into signing something against their best interests. Even if there is no damage to the adult teeth (and who can say for sure now?), what will it do to his teeth as an adult if he avoids dentists for years due to such horrible experiences?
posted by yohko at 6:24 PM on May 4, 2013

Just a question - were you referred to the orthodontist by this dentist, or vice versa? I would describe orthodontists in many ways but 'patrician' and 'generous' aren't ones that go to the top of the list.

The first thing I thought here is that the dentist and ortho have a preexisting referral relationship and the ortho realizes the shit the dentist is in and is trying to smooth things over. Something to think about.
posted by amicamentis at 5:23 AM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

The first thing I thought here is that the dentist and ortho have a preexisting referral relationship and the ortho realizes the shit the dentist is in and is trying to smooth things over.

My dentist friend says orthos and denists absolutely have a symbiotic relationship where they refer patients to each other (also with endodontists, oral surgeons, etc.)

So this ortho is being helpful because she's trying to help out her colleague. It's also possible she's hoping you don't see another ortho (lawyer, dentist) because you may discover that her treatment plan sucks.

As another aside that I haven't mentioned previously, were you given a reason as to why your son wasn't referred to an oral surgeon instead of having the dentist do the extractions? According to my dentist friend, those are generally referred out because dentists don't do that many extractions.

Another reason to get a new ortho, as well. Not that the symbiotic relationship is bad, but she's protecting someone who made a huge mistake on your kid and is try to gloss it over.
posted by kinetic at 6:37 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Maybe this would come up if you saw a lawyer, but it's important that you contact appropriate regulatory boards about this, probably the State Board of Dentistry. You don't know what this dentist's history is like, it's important for them to know about things like this. If this is a once in a lifetime mistake, the dentist won't face serious consequences, but if its part of a larger pattern of malpractice, it's essential that it is dealt with.

I'm so sorry your child had to go through such unnecessary pain.
posted by mokin at 3:04 AM on May 10, 2013

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
We didn't sue.
The next dentist was worse.
We moved on.

Thank you so much for the helpful and caring thoughts.
posted by taz (staff) at 4:52 AM on December 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

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