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January 7th 2013

Dental Negligence

Kim’s dental negligence story, the painful tr-ooth

Simon Wilson

Simon Wilson

Head of Inquest Services Group & Senior Solicitor

Kim’s dental negligence story, the painful tr-ooth

As a jolt of pain hit my mouth, my eyes flickered open. I lifted a hand from underneath the warm duvet and placed it on my cheek. ‘Ouch!’ I cried.

As a jolt of pain hit my mouth, my eyes flickered open. I lifted a hand from underneath the warm duvet and placed it on my cheek. ‘Ouch!’ I cried.

My husband, 45-year-old Russell, started to stir beside me. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked, rubbing his face awake. ‘It’s my tooth again,’ I winced.

The tooth, one of my bottom molars, had been playing up for a couple of years. I originally had a half root canal done and was given a temporary filling. The pain would come and go. It was nothing to worry about, but now it was getting worse, and it looked infected.

After booking an appointment at the ADP practice near my home in Wellington, Somerset, I turned up eager for help.

Walking into the dentist’s room, I was surprised to see that my usual dentist had left. In his place was a smiling young man. I had an X-ray before I hopped into the chair and tried to relax. After peering inside my mouth, Dr Justin George confirmed it was an infection and recommended I take antibiotics. ‘Thanks for your help,’ I said as I left, praying that pills would sort it out.

But they didn’t.

Within days the infection got worse. My mouth was throbbing and my face started to swell up.
‘What have you done to my mum?’ my 13-year-old son, Reece, joked one evening.
‘Cheeky thing!’ I replied, struggling to laugh through the discomfort.

Finally, on May 28th 2011, I went back to the dentist. Again, Dr George greeted me with smiles. After another rummage around he lowered his mask to speak.

‘I’m afraid we won’t be able to save the tooth. I’ll have to take it out,’ he explained. He said that because the infection was so bad he wasn’t sure if my mouth would numb properly. I didn’t really care though, I just wanted the pain to stop.

Minutes later he was leering over me with a needle clenched in his hands. ‘You should just feel a little sting,’ he said. After the injections I was sent back to the waiting area. The local anaesthetic needed to kick in before he did anything else. I must have been waiting for 20 minutes, tapping my toes impatiently on the floor. Then, while I was flicking through a magazine, I noticed one side of my mouth was completely numb. ‘Thank God it’s working!’ I thought. Just then, the dental nurse poked her head around the door. ‘Mrs Green, would you like to come back through?’ she said, exposing her straight set of teeth.

Back in the room, Dr George crept in close and started to remove the damaged tooth.

It was over in minutes. Very soon, with saliva sloshing around my still-numb mouth, I was back in my car for the short drive home.

With the kids, Kelly, 24, Karl, 23 and Reece out, I went for a lie down as my mouth was still uncomfortable. Barely an hour had passed when I woke up, needing the loo.

On my way to the bathroom, I stopped infront of a mirror. Staring at my reflection, I opened my mouth to check how the wound was healing. My eyes narrowed at what I saw. The bad tooth was still there! Then I noticed a big, gaping hole next to it. My blood started to boil. The dentist had taken out a perfectly healthy tooth instead of the rotten one! Shaking with shock, I bounded over to the house phone. ‘Hello?’ the dentist’s receptionist asked. ‘He’s taken out the wrong tooth!’ I
blurted out. It took her a moment to register what I was saying. ‘Oh,’ she finally replied. ‘No, it’s the right one.’ I argued my case – the proof was in my mouth! There was a stream of silence while she went to check with someone else. Then the dental nurse came to the phone. She’d spoken to Dr George.

‘We’ve made a mistake,’ she calmly said. ‘I’ve got the tooth. It’s here…’  She carried on talking and mentioned something about a bin, but the words didn’t register. I was in such a state. I was asked to go back to the dentist. Russell was due home soon and would have expected me around so I gave him a quick call. But there was no answer. Instead, I left an anxious message telling him what had happened.

At the dentists, I was taken straight to Dr George. As the door creaked open, his eyes looked up to meet mine. ‘Yes, I’ve made a terrible mistake,’ he confessed. ‘But it’s okay, I can put it right.’ He said he was going to sew the healthy tooth back in. ‘I do this all the time,’ he added. It sounded a little strange, but who was I to question him? Still numb from my previous injections, I shuffled back into the dentist’s chair where he started to tinker away. Once again I didn’t feel much. ‘There,’ he finally said. ‘I’ll leave that tooth in to support it.’ He was referring to my bad tooth, the one he was originally supposed to take out. ‘What happens now?’ I mumbled through a mouth full of cotton pads. Dr George told me to take painkillers and to call him the following week.

Russell had arrived by this point, his face flushed with frustration at what I’d been put through. But he soon calmed down. I was okay, and I thought my dental disaster was finally coming to an end. ‘How are you feeling?’ Russell asked back at home. ‘Okay at the moment. Let’s just see when the anaesthetic wears off!’ I joked. I wish it was a laughing matter though. As the feeling started to return to my mouth that evening it came bundled with the most excruciating pain.

Something didn’t feel right. It felt like the sewn-in tooth was repeatedly poking around the infected area, and once again my face started to swell up. I couldn’t go back to the dentist, though, as they were closed for the day. Panicking, Russell helped me to look for an out-of-hours doctor. ‘What painkillers do you have?’ one emergency GP asked over the phone. I explained I had codeine and oral morphine for a separate gall bladder condition and he said to try them. It was useless though, nothing would shift the pain.

Eventually, we found an out-of-hours centre at Taunton’s Munsgrove Park Hospital. I was quickly checked over, but no dental surgeons were available. Instead, I had to wait until the morning to visit the maxillofacial department. After a restless night, I was soon in the hands of a specialist. I went through everything with him, which helped to jog my memory about something…

When the nurse mentioned the bin on the phone she was saying my tooth had been put in one! ‘Let’s just hope they meant the waste paper bin,’ the specialist said. ‘Teeth usually go in a medical waste bin.’

My heart stopped.

‘I could be in serious trouble,’ I thought. ‘What he’s done is a terrible mistake,’ the specialist continued. ‘If you pull a tooth out you never replant it.’ He said he would be reporting Dr George to the local Health Authority and General Dental Council (GDC). I was whisked away and had both teeth removed. Then I was given a batch of antibiotics.

Later in the day I also had to go for a blood test and vaccinations for Hepatitis C. If the tooth was in a medical bin it would have been lying with bloodied tissues and needles used on other patients!

Luckily, everything came back clear. It was such a relief.

I was still in pain when I returned home, but I was so pleased to finally have the teeth out. It was painful for around a week, but then slowly started to get better.

A little while later I got a letter from the medical board. Justin George had been suspended pending a disciplinary hearing. ‘Right, it’s time to seek my own legal advice,’ I told Russell. I had been told dental repair work would cost around £4,000, but where was I going to get that from?

I got advice from Neil Hudgell Solicitors, experts in dental negligence. The more my lawyer Simon Wilson looked into my case, the stronger he thought it was.

I thought the whole legal process would be really daunting, but Simon and his colleagues at Neil Hudgell Solicitors were excellent and it was very straightforward: nothing compared to what I’d already been through.

We eventually settled out of court with the dentist’s insurance company.

The settlement was for £10,000. Most of it will go towards the future care of my teeth. I’ve had two implants and there will be two more in 10 or 15 years’ time.

Dr George later admitted that my tooth WAS put in a medical waste bin.

I’m so lucky I didn’t catch anything! The whole ordeal has left me petrified of dentists. My stomach is always in knots. And it’s safe to say that I’ve moved to a different dentist!

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