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Dentist breaks patient's jaw while pulling wisdom tooth

Patient also left with permanent mouth and tongue numbness from nerve damage

Our client—we’ll call her Sydney Kaye—is a Houston woman in her 30s who was referred to a general dentist to have a wisdom tooth pulled. 

Sydney Kaye remembers the dentist being in a hurry. She remembers getting two or three injections of anesthesia and then the dentist starting pulling the tooth while she could still feel everything going on. She remembers going home and being in excruciating pain once the anesthesia wore off.

She went back to the office the same day, and they did a panorex x-ray and discovered the shocking diagnosis–her lower jaw (mandible) was broken. According to the peer-reviewed dental and medical literature, a mandibular fracture following a wisdom tooth extraction is exceedingly rare, happening in only 0.0033% to 0.0075% of cases. Most oral surgeons would never see a fractured jaw during their whole career.

After diagnosing Sydney Kaye’s broken jaw, the orthodontic staff rushed her off to see an oral surgeon, who did a temporary fix to stabilize her fractured jaw. She faced more surgeries that required wiring her jaw shut and placing plates and screws.

General dentists and wisdom teeth

General dentists aren’t the same as oral surgeons. One way to look at it is that all oral surgeons are dentists, but not all dentists are oral surgeons.

Like other areas of healthcare, dentistry is specialized. Most general dentists have training to handle preventative care, cleaning, oral cancer screening, simple tooth extractions, filling cavities, and placing caps. Oral surgeons (also called oral and maxillofacial surgeons) are dentists with additional dental and medical surgical training in complex surgeries of the face, mouth, and jaw.

Wisdom teeth have deep roots and are usually more complex and difficult to pull than other teeth. That’s why many dental experts feel that they should be handled by oral surgeons, rather than general dentists.

When general dentists choose to handle wisdom tooth extractions as part of their regular practice, they should inform patients that they are not oral surgeons as part of the informed consent process. Additionally, even though they are only general dentists, when performing oral surgeries, they are held to the same standard of care as oral surgeons.

Nerve injuries with wisdom tooth extraction

Unfortunately, Sydney Kaye’s broken jaw wasn’t the only problem she had because of the general dentist pulling her wisdom tooth. After the anesthesia wore off, she never regained feeling in her tongue and mouth. Imagine being left with that uncomfortable sensation for the rest of your life!

Sydney Kaye hired Painter Law Firm to pursue a dental malpractice case against the general dentist who pulled her wisdom tooth. We hired an oral surgery expert who reviewed the records and radiology images. The expert noted that the pre-operative imaging showed that Sydney Kaye had two long wisdom tooth roots in close proximity to the inferior alveolar sensory nerve. That’s the nerve that gives sensation to the mouth and tongue.

Because those roots were so close to the nerve, the expert explained that the standard of care required referral to an oral surgeon to handle the wisdom tooth extraction. An oral surgeon would have performed a specialized procedure called a coronectomy, rather than pulling the whole tooth. A coronectomy requires a lot less force on the jaw and would also have spared the nerve from damage.

The oral surgery expert wrote a report critical of the general dentist’s excessive use of force in extracting the wisdom tooth which broke Sydney Kaye’s jaw and left her with a dreaded permanent nerve injury.

We filed the dental malpractice case last week, which is pending in a Harris County district court.

We are here to help

If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor dental or wisdom tooth care in Texas, contact a top rated, experienced Texas dental and medical malpractice lawyer for a free consultation about your potential case.

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.


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