Avoiding wrong tooth extraction can be prevented with the use of proper protocols, including confirmed communication with referring dentists and documentation of verbal discussions with patients.
The patient, a 45-year-old female, presented to her dentist with an extensive history of tooth decay and multiple tooth extractions. Her primary complaint was pain in the upper left molar. The dentist examined and x-rayed the tooth and determined it was untreatable. He provided the patient with a written referral to an oral surgeon for extraction of tooth #12. The patient was also given a copy of the x-ray to take to the oral surgeon.
The patient presented to the oral surgeon for extraction of the tooth, but she did not provide the dentist’s written referral or x-ray. She stated to the oral surgeon that “the last tooth on the upper left side needed to be pulled.” The oral surgeon repeatedly asked the patient to confirm that the tooth to be extracted was the same tooth recommended by the dentist. The oral surgeon did not call the patient’s dentist to confirm the tooth to be extracted, and he proceeded to pull the last tooth on the upper left side as the patient had indicated. As a result, tooth #14 was incorrectly extracted. The patient realized after the procedure that the oral surgeon had extracted the wrong tooth and demanded that he pull tooth #12 at no cost to her. The oral surgeon refused. The patient alleged she suffered needless pain due to the extraction of a relatively healthy tooth. The patient pursued a claim against the oral surgeon.
An allegation of wrong tooth extraction is a common issue in dental claims. In this case, the oral surgeon did not require the patient to provide the written referral and x-ray from the referring dentist. Contacting the referring dentist prior to the procedure would have confirmed the recommended treatment for the correct tooth. The oral surgeon relied on the patient’s representation of the tooth, resulting in extraction of the wrong tooth.
The American Dental Association (ADA) has supported efforts to decrease the risk of wrong site surgeries to eliminate wrong site surgery, including wrong tooth extractions. However, the ADA acknowledges that there does not appear to be a reliable method to actually mark the teeth intended for extraction.
The following strategies can help dentists avoid wrong tooth extraction:
Contact the Department of Patient Safety and Risk Management for guidance and assistance in addressing any patient safety or risk management concerns.
The guidelines suggested here are not rules, do not constitute legal advice, and do not ensure a successful outcome. The ultimate decision regarding the appropriateness of any treatment must be made by each healthcare provider considering the circumstances of the individual situation and in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which the care is rendered.