Dental procedures are riskier than you may think

As Texas medical malpractice lawyer, I have represented clients who have suffered serious injuries at the hands of dentists.

Let’s face it. No one enjoys going to the dentist. For most people, though, that is because a trip to a dental office is viewed as an inconvenient time of discomfort, rather than a risky undertaking that could result in permanent injury, or worse.

There are two major types of injuries that I have seen from dental or oral surgery treatment. I think you should be aware of both types.

Anesthesia complications

Houston Channel 2 recently reported on the horrifying story of Don Gressett, who watched his only son, Marc, die in a dentist’s chair. Marc was 39 years old when  his dentist gave him anesthesia to do a root canal. What a tragic death.

Marc’s story reminded me of how my young daughter recently needed a baby teeth capped because of a cavity. Her pediatric dentist recommended a fast-acting general anesthetic called Propofol, which would keep her perfectly still and calm so the procedure could be done quickly.

Propofol is the same anesthetic that was involved in the deaths of Michael Jackson and Joan Rivers. As a medical negligence attorney, I have represented families who have lost loved ones in the hospital during minor procedures, when they went into respiratory and cardiac arrest after being given Propofol.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with Propofol, per se. As I have told clients, it works well until it doesn’t—and when a patient stops breathing, you want him or her to be in a place that has emergency equipment and trained staff on-hand and immediately available to save a life that is on the line.

Some hospitals allow certified nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) to give Propofol and other general anesthetics without an anesthesiologist in the room. (This is the subject of another article that I wrote, which you can read here). That is what happened in two death cases that I recently handled.

Knowing that this type of deadly Propofol complication could happen with care being provided by CRNAs in a hospital, there is no way that I would consent to have my daughter being put under general anesthesia, with Propofol or any other anesthetic, in a dentist’s office.

I told the dentist “no way” and we went with another method, oral sedation combined with laughing gas. I stayed with my daughter in the room and it was a peaceful, successful procedure.

By the way, the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners investigated the dentist who treated Marc Gressett, when he died during a root canal. The Board found that the dentist’s office did not have lifesaving equipment needed to save his patient’s life.

Sadly, Marc Gressett’s case is not unique. Channel 2 reported on another patient, Nevaeh Hall, a healthy child who was given anesthesia by her dentist. While under anesthesia, she had a seizure and developed severe brain damage. She now is confined to a wheelchair.

Nerve injuries

There is a surprising number of nerves that run through the mouth, meaning the areas where a dentist works. Three of the most frequently injured nerves are the lingual nerve, inferior alveolar nerve, and trigeminal nerve.

You could potentially have a nerve injury if you experience lasting numbness, tingling, or burning pain in the gums, lips, or chin after a dental procedure. Other symptoms to be aware of include difficulty speaking, drooling, and change or loss of taste.

What can you do to have a safer dental experience?

From my experience in handling medical and dental malpractice cases, my primary recommendation is that you should be an actively-engaged patient who asks questions and makes informed decisions. Here are some specific thoughts about dental care.

First, if a dentist recommends general anesthesia for a procedure, make sure you to have a thorough discussion about it with your dentist. Ask if general anesthesia is necessary or some form of sedation might be an acceptable substitute. If general anesthesia is essential, then ask who will be administering and monitoring the anesthetic.

I believe that the safest way to receive anesthesia care is with a board certified anesthesiologist in the room the entire time. Nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) try to convince patients and the public that they are just as qualified and have the same results as anesthesiologist doctors. In my experience, neither is true.

Second, if your general dentist recommends major dental work, like a root canal, then you may want to consider seeing a specialist. Endodontists are dentists with additional training to handle root canals. In my view, that additional training and experience can be valuable to avoid nerve damage. After all, there are nerves that pass dangerously close to your tooth roots. At a minimum, you should have a conversation with your general dentist about his or her experience and outcomes the recommended procedure.

We are here to help

If you or someone you care for has been injured as a result of dental care, call 281-580-8800 for a free consultation with Painter Law Firm’s experienced medical and dental malpractice lawyers.


Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys 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 for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.