Wisdom Tooth Extraction Fatalities Remind of the Danger of Dental Malpractice


December 22, 2011

If you are like many other people, you may dread a visit to the dentist. One of the most painful and least welcome trips to the dentist involves having one’s wisdom teeth removed. This painful procedure is virtually a rite of passage because almost every young adult suffers through this procedure.

While in most cases the fear of the procedure is worse than the actual pain, wisdom tooth extraction surgery sometimes results in severe complications including fractures of the jaw, broken teeth, extensive bleeding, hypoxia (oxygen deprivation), infections of brain tissue and even fatalities resulting from the procedure.

Two recent tragedies serve as a reminder of the danger to patients when dental professionals fail to exercise the skill and competence of dental professionals with similar training and experience. The parents of a 17-year-old high school student are suing the dentist and anesthesiologist because their daughter died from complications following wisdom tooth extraction surgery. The lawsuit filed by the parents alleges that the oral surgeon and anesthesiologist were negligent in failing to implement appropriate emergency procedures when their daughter went into distress because her heart rate and oxygen level plummeted. The lawsuit focuses on the failure to provide prompt resuscitation, which may have prevented the tragedy. The girl ultimately died from oxygen deprivation to the brain (hypoxia) while she was under anesthesia.

While some parents may be tempted to dismiss this as a freak accident, another boy died December 8 after surgery to remove his wisdom teeth the prior day. It is important to remember that the most dangerous aspect of many surgeries is the use of general anesthesia. This makes oral surgery similar to other surgical procedures in terms of presenting a significant risk of injury where appropriate professional standards of care are not met. There are many types of injury that may be caused by negligent medical care including nerve damage which is suffered by 11,000 people per year.

The most disquieting aspect of the risk associated with wisdom tooth surgery is that many of the procedures may be unnecessary. There are approximately ten million wisdom teeth extractions annually that generate significant revenue for the dental industry. Most of these procedures are prophylactic and may not justify the medical risk. It has been estimated that at least 66 percent of these oral surgeries are not medically justified and result in unnecessary injury, extensive expense and a lifetime of disabilities and pain according to a journal article by Jay Friedman, a retired California dentist, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The justification for prophylactic removal of wisdom teeth is that impacted wisdom teeth may cause damage to adjacent teeth and nerves or cause infection which may travel to other parts of the body according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons website. However, medical evidence indicates that only 12 percent of impactions result in infection or damage to other teeth. This rate is comparable to the risk for appendicitis, but no medical association recommends prophylactic removal of the appendix. If you or someone you love suffers serious injury caused by dental malpractice, the experienced Atlanta dental malpractice lawyers at Montlick and Associates can evaluate your situation and may be able to pursue a claim for dental malpractice.

Our Atlanta dental malpractice lawyers are available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Posted by David Montlick

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Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied up as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.