How do I report this mistake?
May 7, 2008 5:28 PM   Subscribe

My oral surgeon took out the wrong tooth--now what?

In consultation, he said that of my four wisdom teeth, A, B, and C had to go, but D could stay in place. He said that C might be too difficult to reach at this stage of growth, and so we agreed on a plan where he would remove A, B, and, if possible, C. The morning of my appointment, I re-confirmed this plan with him.

Long story short, he took out A, B, and D. When I became aware of this mistake (that's the long part of the story, I can clarify if necessary), I spoke to him on the phone. He seemed surprised that I would object to being charged for the removal of that tooth, D. I reminded him of our consultation and of our conversation just moments before he put me under—my point was that we never, ever planned to remove D. He said he didn't have his notes from our consultation (despite supposedly having my file in front of him) and had seen a lot of patients since my surgery. He was rude, arrogant, and dismissive, implying that even if we hadn't planned on removing D, it was a legitimate charge since he had done the work. I didn't budge, so finally he relented and took the tooth off the bill.

I find this carelessness appalling. To be sure, the damage to me was minimal, but what about the next person? And while I understand that medical professionals risk opening themselves up for lawsuits by apologizing for mistakes, he was a real bully about it. I feel like there must be some procedure for reporting him to… what? A national association of some kind? A state board of oral surgery? A government agency? I'm in Illinois, and this was about four months ago if that matters.

I don't want to sue him, but I want this mistake to be recorded somehow. Any advice from people who have experienced similar mistakes or from medical/dental professionals would be great.
posted by Meg_Murry to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by ddaavviidd at 5:34 PM on May 7, 2008

You sue him.
This is not the kind of mistake that gets easily forgiven.
Liability is a given. The only issue will be damages. You don't have to be greedy or anything. If you really want to make it hurt, take a small damage award and do not agree to any confidentiality provisions in settlement.
posted by caddis at 5:57 PM on May 7, 2008

File a complaint with the CDS!
posted by miss lynnster at 5:59 PM on May 7, 2008

Sue his ass. Sorry for being crass.
posted by WaterSprite at 6:05 PM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

If a surgeon took out the wrong tumor (the benign cyst) and failed to take out the one he was supposed to (the malignant one) would that surgeon charge you for the removal of the benign cyst? Of course not.

Also, you usually sign a 'treatment plan' that the dentist has with him. Do you have a copy of the treatment plan? If you do - and removal of 'D' is not part of that plan - he can't possibly come up with a scenario where he can charge you for that.

Yes, there is too much litigation in our society. However, this kind of thing is just what lawsuits are for.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 6:14 PM on May 7, 2008

There's a physician I know. Before going into surgery, she actually used a magic marker on her body to make sure that the surgeons knew what not to take out. She had seen too many cases where doctors took out the wrong thing, and she wasn't going to take chances.

I am usually very skeptical of suing medical professionals, but this is a case where I think it's appropriate.
posted by jayder at 6:15 PM on May 7, 2008

Response by poster: OP following up--I didn't sign anything before the surgery, everything was verbal (I won't make that mistake again!). I've been assuming this would make a lawsuit difficult, if not impossible. Am I wrong?
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:20 PM on May 7, 2008

One thing you may want to do is file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. I know, I know, it probably sounds silly.

However, I could have benefited by checking the BBB's website before I sought dental attention for a chipped tooth. Having moved to a new town, I picked a dental office that was nearby and offered emergency services. I walked in, they did X-Rays, and long story short is that I now have a crown when really I probably didn't need one. After all was said and done, I checked the BBB website and found that the dental office I went to had had a suspicious amount of complaints lodged against it.

Had I known that, I would have avoided them and probably still have most of my tooth.
posted by Coyote at the Dog Show at 6:22 PM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lawyer up.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 6:38 PM on May 7, 2008

You stand to make a lot more money from this lost tooth than any you gave to the Tooth Fairy as a kid. This is legitimately malpractice.
posted by capcuervo at 6:40 PM on May 7, 2008

OP following up--I didn't sign anything before the surgery, everything was verbal (I won't make that mistake again!). I've been assuming this would make a lawsuit difficult, if not impossible. Am I wrong?

Your file at his office should confirm your story. Make the complaint to the regulating agency. The question of whether a lawsuit is difficult or not can best (actually: only) be answered by an attorney who's had a chance to talk with you for a while about it. Many will do an initial consultation for free.
posted by winston at 6:45 PM on May 7, 2008

You might want to complain to his license board, most likely. The Illinois Division of Professional Regulation, in this case.
posted by dilettante at 6:57 PM on May 7, 2008

OP following up--I didn't sign anything before the surgery, everything was verbal (I won't make that mistake again!). I've been assuming this would make a lawsuit difficult, if not impossible. Am I wrong?

There's a good chance you're wrong. Presumably, his belief that Tooth D could be left in place was based on a clinical evaluation of your teeth; i.e., he had a reason for thinking D could be left in place while the other three were removed, he wasn't just picking teeth randomly to remove. Whatever the reason was, it could be confirmed by x-rays taken before the removal that can be examined by other dentists.

Furthermore, I would expect him to have written down in your chart why the teeth needed to come out.
posted by jayder at 6:58 PM on May 7, 2008

Um, these are wisdom teeth. I was under the impression from the title that these were regular teeth, and that the loss of a good tooth on top of two or three other teeth would have left you with trouble chewing, and gaps in your smile and all sorts of other problems. But, we are talking about teeth that are usually more trouble than they are worth for most people and are usually removed four at a time.

Now, I do admit that it can be shocking and unsettling to find out that your doctor took the wrong teeth. But, on second thought, is the lack of a single wisdom tooth that important? I think that you have more cause to be concerned for the tooth that apparently still needs to come out. Have you thought about asking the dentist to take that one out free of charge if it still needs it?
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 7:38 PM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Get a lawyer. The same thing happened to me when I was 12. It was a lifetime before I saw the dentist again. Believe me, you should get a lawyer and make a complaint to your state's dentist licensing board. Put the doc out of business.
posted by parmanparman at 7:56 PM on May 7, 2008

This is my personal advice, IANAL, etc.

First, decide what you really want the outcome of any conflict to be. This will focus all your energies on your desired resolution. My suggestion would be to accept a waiver of charges for the accidental removal of tooth D and a waiver of future charges for the eventual removal of tooth C. Your dentist will concede to this, given leverage, because it is in his best interest to fix his mistake without the publicity of a lawsuit or the cost of a damages settlement. You shouldn't waste angst on the loss of tooth D because wisdom teeth really are useless.

Second, lawyer up for leverage. Tell your lawyer what happened, and what you have decided you want the outcome to be. Your lawyer will write a nastygram containing relevant facts and, unless the dentist is kind of sociopathic and doesn't mind exercising his malpractice insurance, he will say, aha! Meg_Murray wants something reasonable and my own lawyer is telling me to suck it up and concede.

Third, get C removed for free and then find a new dentist.

My feeling is that the posters tending towards You stand to make a lot more money are possibly correct but also are advising you to be greedy and that will suck for you in the long run.
posted by mindsound at 8:10 PM on May 7, 2008

Not defending the dentist because he did screw up, and you definitely should be compensated in some way. But your damages involve not being damaged in a lifetime of debilitation way. I don't know which tooth was supposed to be kept, upper or lower. Because if it was an upper tooth that was supposed to be kept, unless there is a lower wisdom tooth also on that side, you would have had a situation where the unopposed tooth over years keeps growing longer and longer, sometimes until they press against the tissue behind your last lower molar.

A lower wisdom tooth, OTOH, has a chance to make contact with the upper 2nd molar and can be kept in its place and be somewhat useful. But if it doesn't fully erupt, the surrounding tissue can be thick and come over the top of the tooth which can be a chronic irritation and source of infection.

I worked for a dentist who started cutting down a tooth for a crown, was working on the cheek side, he switched his chair position and started working on the tooth from the palate side, got one tooth away from the one he started on. He stopped right away, fessed up to the patient, both teeth did need crowns, but we were doing one and then the other within a couple of years. He did both for free. I always admired him for that, I thought he really manned up.

You are probably due something. You could ask for a peer review, through the licensing board.
posted by Jazz Hands at 8:24 PM on May 7, 2008

If C is a lower tooth, the reason it may be being left alone at this time, is that it can be dangerous sometimes to go that deep surgically. It is close to the bundle of nerves and blood vessels. Get another surgical opinion, and if the consensus is to leave it alone, then leave it alone. Don't get a free surgery just because it's free. (from someone who is already nervous about you possibly suing them).
posted by Jazz Hands at 8:29 PM on May 7, 2008

If this was paid for with company insurance, and if your company has one of those health advocacy groups as part of its benefits package, I would at least explain the situation to them. Which is not to say that lawyering up and/or reporting to professional regulators might not also be good ideas. It's just that I heard that the employers pay for these health advocacy groups but they often go under utilized because people forget they have that benefit.
posted by forthright at 9:14 PM on May 7, 2008

Sue his ass? What? It's a wisdom tooth. A wisdom tooth that may have had to come out eventually. He took it off the bill. So what if he had a bad attitude about it.

Don't go back to him. Don't refer him to your friends.

Try to give the dentist a break. Try to have a little understanding. He's human. What would you like to sue him for? Pain and suffering? He took out a wisdom tooth, not an essential tooth. Big whoop.
posted by LoriFLA at 9:47 PM on May 7, 2008

All I have to say is that I'm amazed that the guy didn't issue a complete refund for the entire surgery, let alone one tooth. That is if he is not disputing the story. What he has done amounts to malpractice. Granted this guy has insurance to protect him in just this type of situation, but the hassle and potential hit in business is large.

What an idiot.
posted by wfrgms at 9:54 PM on May 7, 2008

The guy is a hack and an asshole. Or maybe removing that extra tooth wasn't a mistake, but a trick to get more money from you. Either way, he's a bad guy. In your situation, I'd be furious.

I do think an official complaint is called for. If yours is the only complaint against him, it'll do him no harm -- but there may have been other complaints in the past, and there may be others in the future. Put the incident on record.

Don't sue him, because doing that will cost you money, and will keep this bad experience at the forefront for you until the lawsuit plays itself out. And since he didn't charge you for the removal of that wrong tooth, on what basis will you ask for damages? That wisdom tooth was of no use to you, and you didn't have any infection or other bad effects. If you do want money from him, have a lawyer send him a letter; stay out of court, though.
posted by wryly at 10:28 PM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

It seems to me that
a) you are healthy and fine
b) you are down some wisdom teeth, which from my experience, suck to have taken out.
c) we're talking about more or less useless teeth that you will never think about
d) your dentist is a jerk
e) sueing someone would probably take a long time and be really unpleasant.

mostly I'm thinking E. I don't have any personal experience but I do know that when I have a grudge against someone, it sort of takes over my life. It would make sense for the dentist to refund the entire surgery, perhaps you could push him to that. But is this really worth you attacking him full guns? In the general scheme of things it seems that you are ok. Would you rather forget about this and move on with life or stick with it?

My $.02. IANAL or a doctor.
posted by sully75 at 6:08 AM on May 8, 2008

I'm with mindsound., except, Don't have this guy remove tooth C.
posted by theora55 at 11:31 AM on May 8, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks all. I'd "best answer" a bunch of these responses, but that kind of defeats the definition of "best." So, instead: thanks to everyone who provided constructive suggestions, and thanks especially for the links and agency/organization names.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:16 PM on May 8, 2008

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