Terrible experience with a new dentist. Report it or let it be?
June 12, 2014 12:48 AM   Subscribe

I was referred to an oral surgeon by my local clinic that caters to low income folks like me. I have a major infection in a tooth that is crumbling and dying. I made an appt. with the oral surgeon and chose to have a local anesthetic for the exrtaction.

( this is in the US btw)

I told the doc prior to the numbing that lidocaine doesn't really work on me and that other dentists have been really surprised at how many injections that I needed to get numb. I also told him that my my most recent experience at the low income clinic had been awesome because they used something similar to Lidocaine and it worked a charm.

Fast forward an hour and a half of sitting in the dental chair after 3 injections and he tries to pull my tooth out even though I told him that I wasn't numb. I yelled out in pain and he sent me to the reception area to wait for a nurse to give me instructions!!???

Well the nurse never came. I was in tears and in pain and went up to ask the receptionist what was going on and she told me to go back to the low income clinic. I replied that they don't do surgery there and could I just make a phone call to see if my parents could pay the additional expense of general aneshesia and she said no. That I needed to go back to the clinic and get another referral before they would see me again. I asked her if they would contact the clinic to send documentation of my visit and she said no and closed the glass partition.

I left in more pain than I had arrived with. I have alternating between sobbing and anger.

SORRY for the wall of text but I am at my wits end. Who do I report this to and is it worth it?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
It looks like the nurse dropped the ball here, or you didn't wait long enough for her (you didn't say how long you waited). It's not surprising that the dentist didn't take your medical advice on your anesthesia: you're only qualified to report symptoms and reactions.

Your referral to the oral surgeon was completed when he gave up after you didn't get numb. You are not his patient, and he's not going to treat you beyond the scope of the referral. Setting up payment and transferring records were not tasks that were part of the mission.

Complain to the clinic that made the referral. Get another referral, perhaps with notes on anesthesia that is effective for you, from one dentist to another.
posted by the Real Dan at 1:19 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I do not wholly agree with the previous answer. The specialist treated you (he accepted the referral, took a history, administered anesthetic, and began a procedure that was ultimately unsuccessful). The specialist has a legal obligation to ensure your care is safely completed or to transfer your care to another provider, and he is also obliged to provide documentation of your treatment to the referring dentist. You could report him to your state Dental Board.

It's also possible that failing to fulfill these obligations constitutes malpractice in your state. In that circumstance you might have a legal case. Or you might not - it depends not just on his negligence but on whether you were demonstrably harmed by his conduct (or the conduct of the people for whom he's professionally responsible). You can contact a lawyer - many lawyers who deal with medical and dental malpractice will provide the initial consult without charge.

Neither of these options will provide you safe or affordable care to fix your current painful dental situation. I agree with the Real Dan about that - to take care of your tooth, you need to go back to the low-income clinic and start again. Ask the dentist to mention the anesthesia issue in the referral letter.
posted by gingerest at 1:52 AM on June 12, 2014 [7 favorites]

Sounds like really crap communication - realistically if they couldn't numb you within 1.5hrs they would have to give up and reschedule (there would be other patients waiting, and as you probably know general anaesthesia takes time, they likely could not have fitted you in for an impromptu GA even if they had wanted to). Maybe there is some reason (presumably financial) why they can't just book you in for a GA at a later date but need a new referral.

I'm sure though that if they had treated you kindly and explained all of that politely, you would not be so upset. The receptionist slammed the glass window shut - wtf? They say they aren't sending a discharge letter to your team - wtf again (that part is probably not true, I imagine they need to submit at least some documentation to get paid). You are quite right to be angry about how you were treated, it is gobsmackingly rude.

I would definitely complain, but it is the awful way they treated you that I would complain about rather than the treatment failure (which does not seem to be their fault but just one of those things). I don't know the dental complaints structure in the US, but I would both follow their formal complaints procedure and also feed back to your clinic that this surgeon treats patient like something he found on his shoe. Maybe if he sees a drop in referrals he'll reconsider his attitude, and the attitude of his staff.

Hope you feel better soon.
posted by tinkletown at 2:45 AM on June 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

As someone currently seeing an oral surgeon for a bum tooth, I agree with tinkletown and gingerest: report the way you were treated to the state dental board. If it makes you feel better, I might send a copy of the letter to your local newspaper.

The fact that he accepts low-income patients should make him no different than any other oral surgeon - mine has at least two signs in the reception area reminding patients (presumably patients like me, who pay cash because they don't have dental insurance) that they can set up payment plans for services rendered. I might be wrong, but I assume that many patients face at least some obstacle to paying because dental work is so freaking expensive. My guess is that his bedside (chairside?) manner is bad regardless of income level, and that you might not be the first person to report that things hadn't gone well.

If it were me, I would focus on getting my tooth taken care of first - once you're out of immediate pain, it may feel easier to compose a letter or decide if you want to talk to a lawyer. In addition to whatever other steps you take, I hope you can go back to the clinic and say "I need another recommendation, because that oral surgeon was terrible." That may be some of the most important feedback you give; if they are referring a stream of patients his way, maybe they will think twice about doing so.

If you have access to a university dental school, that might be another option for care - my dentist suggested it to me when we talked about my tooth as a cheaper option if I was willing to wait, since the volume of patients is greater.

Good luck - I hope everything works out quickly and as painlessly as possible.
posted by deliriouscool at 5:02 AM on June 12, 2014

Well, the first place you start is yelp. I can't tell you how much pleasure I've gotten out of leaving terrible (thoughtfully written, policy, comprehensive and TERRIBLE) reviews of service providers who I've had awful experiences with over the years.

Does this rise to the level of "complain to the licensing board"? I'm not sure, I think you may have to make that decision yourself. But does it rise to the level of leaving a one star review on yelp and a thorough explanation of your experience? Absolutely.

It will make others think twice about accepting referrals to this dentist and also will very likely make you feel better.
posted by arnicae at 5:21 AM on June 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

Maybe I'm just a worrywart but....get the care you need before you hit Yelp, if you're in a smaller town/city. The number of oral surgeons who accept lower income patients is vanishingly small in most areas I know of, and I'd be worried about getting informally blacklisted--with plausible deniability, of course--at other practices (or that one, if you have a dental emergency in the future and no one else can see you quickly) as "that lower income ingrate who tries to destroy practices by leaving bad Yelp reviews." I say this because I've read accounts of patients who are on record as suing physicians who then have difficulty being seen by other doctors, regardless of (they say) the merits of their past case.
posted by blue suede stockings at 6:02 AM on June 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Agreeing with this: Maybe I'm just a worrywart but....get the care you need before you hit Yelp, if you're in a smaller town/city.

You said this: most recent experience at the low income clinic had been awesome because they used something similar to Lidocaine and it worked a charm. Can you find out from them the specific name of the drug. You need to know this yourself for the future, and this also should now be explicitly part of the referral from the clinic.

Also seconding seeing if there is a dental school in your area that could treat you. My friend went that route for extensive (and potentially expensive) dental issues and was treated well. Please get your tooth taken care of asap (infections are nothing to mess around with.)

If you get the mods to add in where you are located, people may have some better recommendations for you - both on who to report this to, if you want to pursue it, and on how to go about getting treatment now. (If you are in the DC area I could recommend someone to talk to at least.)
posted by gudrun at 6:57 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

The exact same thing happened to my sister. Her experience was that short of being able to hire a lawyer and go to court, she wasn't able to gain anything by complaining to anybody besides a patronizing, "I'm sorry you're upset." Professionals tend to stick together, even if they disagree in private.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:08 AM on June 12, 2014

I, personally, would report it. A similar situation happened to me many years ago during a gynecological exam. The gyn was verbally abusive. I reported it to the medical board. Turns out, I wasn't the only one she had treated that way. She ended up losing her license.
posted by htm at 9:47 AM on June 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

That's insane. Both my sister and I have issues with the typical local used in dentistry - it either doesn't work or takes WAY more than normal, despite our high level of pain tolerance. Often other anesthesia / painkillers are weird, too - they either react much less or much more than is expected.

I have NEVER had a doctor or dentist NOT LISTEN when I let them know that there may be issues with these or other meds (we also have some allergy challenges) - and for them to NOT LISTEN is to ignore your past medical history and that can be outright dangerous.
posted by stormyteal at 9:47 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would focus first on getting the tooth fixed, but afterward I would definitely report this incident, starting with the clinic that referred you. It sounds to me like maybe the surgeon didn't appreciate having your case being referred to him, for whatever his reasons may have been. The clinic should know that, so they can make an informed decision later when referring others. And even if nothing comes of it, you will feel better knowing that you stood up for yourself.

(Are you anywhere near the border with Mexico? My husband just went down there for dental work; his dentist is a graduate from a US university and the care was very good, but at 1/4 what we were quoted in Los Angeles).
posted by vignettist at 1:50 PM on June 12, 2014

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