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An Alternative to Suing Your Dentist: Peer Review

United States Supreme CourtHave you ever had a toothache or other major inconvenience that was caused by your dentist?  Sometimes dentists do make serious mistakes.  When they do, they should be open and honest with their patients.  However, not all dentists do tell their patients when they mess up.

While most dentists are pretty reasonable if you take the time to talk to them about it, some are not.  Certain dentists not only think that they are perfect and never make mistakes, but they also think that they are always right.

It is those kinds of dentists that many people may feel the urge to take legal action so that they can make the dentist pay for the wrong that was committed.

Legal Action Can Be Complicated

Many times, however, legal action is too time-consuming and money-consuming to warrant taking any legal action.  For example, on the Free Advice forums, a woman told the story of how a dentist may have drilled too close to the pulp tissue in her daughter's tooth.  Her daughter subsequently needed a root canal treatment and a crown.

Unfortunately, she doesn't share all of the details of her story, but you have to wonder whether or not she tried to get the dentist to give her a free root canal treatment with a crown.

Before attempting to bring legal action against a dentist, it is important to ask yourself if the dentist was truly careless and negligent or if the dentist simply didn't fulfill your expectations.

If you believe that the dentist truly was negligent, then you have two options:

  1. You can bring legal action toward the dentist (arbitration, lawsuits, etc.)
  2. You can go through peer review.

It would be nearly pointless to sue the dentist over a procedure that would only cost $1500 as the legal fees could end up being more than that.  This is where peer review can come in handy.

What is Peer Review?

Jerry Taintor, in his book The Complete Guide to Better Dental Care, defines dental peer review as follows:

A review of a case by a special committee of volunteer dentists from the local dental society, usually at a patient's request.  The purpose of the review is to resolve disputes between a dentist and a patient regarding the quality and/or appropriateness of the dental care provided.

Peer review is a simple process that allows patients a quick, simple, free way to discover whether or not negligence occurred by having experienced volunteer dentists review their case.  The dentists that serve on the peer review board will examine the patient's file that the dentist has on record as well as any x-rays.  They may even wish to examine the patient to get a better idea of what exactly what happened during the course of dental treatment.

How to Get Started with Peer Review

If you are interested in peer review, you will need to get in contact with your local dental society.  Every U.S. state and territory has a dental society.  You can find a list of the dental societies as well as their websites and contact information at this page of dental societies on the American Dental Association's website.

What Dentists Have to Say About the Peer Review Process

A North Carolina prosthodontist (a specialist in crowns, bridges, dentures, and other types of prosthetic teeth) had the following to say about the peer review process:

As a peer reviewer, I have seen colleagues who have truly committed malpractice however they are unwilling to admit their errors to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict with their patient. They would rather force the patient into litigation on the chance that the patient would not have the financial means to sue them. What ever happened to 'do no harm' and keeping the best interest of the patient in site?

Interestingly enough, it seems that most of the dental professionals that are unhappy with the peer review process are general dentists that may not be too experienced.  A general dentist that practices in Nevada even gave the following unprofessional and immature statement about the dental professionals that voluntarily serve on peer review boards:

The weenies that are anal enough to be on most peer review committees are so frightened to confront the combative patient that they typically ALWAYS side with the patient no matter how ridiculous the situation.

Of course peer review does have its disadvantages.  There may be potential conflicts of interest if the patient or dentist is a friend of one of the dentists serving on the peer review board.  However, as one endodontist stated, peer review is far better than getting involved in our complex judicial system.

Transparency is the Best Policy

I have read about many dental malpractice lawsuits and wrongdoings.  I think that this has been very beneficial to me as a dental student and a future dentist.

In two years, when I become a dentist, I will strive to fully explain each procedure to my patients as well as the risks and benefits associated with each treatment option.  If I make a mistake, I will make it right.  I believe that having satisfied patients contributes to the success of a dentist more than anything else.

I believe that if health professionals were to communicate better with their patients and develop a relationship of trust and understanding, that we would see a dramatic decline in the number of health-related lawsuits.

What Do You Think?

Do you wish your dentist was more up-front about a certain procedure?  Have you been involved in peer review or a lawsuit?

Please leave any comments you may have below!


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29 Comments |  Leave A Comment

  1. I have just gone through a dental review and it is a great big joke. The dentist that was assigned to my case pratices in the same town as the dentist that I had a complaint against. I was complete honest with him when he first contacted me to say he would be handling my review. I asked him if he feels he could not be biased based on the fact that they pratice in the same town then I would like another dentist. He assured my he would deliver an unbiased opionion. The dentist in question charges over $26,000 for dental work for implants and crowns that are now falling out my mouth. When the dental review dentist called back he said he had examined the medical record and x-ray and could prove no neglience on the dentist part. He said that I grind my teeth too much and that is why the teeth are coming out.

    • I am sorry about your experience with the peer review system, Potenza. I have never personally been involved in it. It seems like it would be better if they had more volunteer dentists to offer their opinions.

      It's tough to spend so much money for dental work that doesn't function. Did the dentist offer to give any of the money back?

      Did your dentist know that you grind your teeth before he placed the implants? It isn't a good idea to insert implants when a patient grinds because the implant teeth are hooked solid into bone and don't have any elastic rebound like a natural tooth with its associated periodontal ligament.

      Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

    • An Inside Perspective....
      As the wife of a Dentist who was on Peer-Review and a former Dental Professional myself, the community is small and most of them socialize with one another continuously.

      I have to agree with Potenza except the statement its a small town, small town, large town, major metropolis it is the local dental society that makes every place a small dental community.

      From the inside: It is impossible for these guys to impartially review their peers !!!!!!

    • I have just completed three months of my life with unethical peer review process. The dentist knew all the people on the peer review committee. During an appeal I presented a letter from my current treating dentist which outlined and fully documented his findings and the condition of the work he is replacing. The peer review was abusive in that the chairman attacked my treating dentist as though he were some paid, ambulance-chasing expert witness. I had prepared for a hearing. The evening was not a hearing but rather a 'telling.' The had absolutely no interest in quality of care. This process is a disgrace and needs to be brought before the public so that patient's don't waste their time. I really resent the waste of my time on a false promise of impartial hearing more than the $12,000 I have lost in substandard, dishonestly represented patient care. This is a huge potential problem for future patients. With improvements in dental technology and increase in older population the consumer is a great risk. Everyone and his brother has a shingle out saying they are cosmetic dentists when, in fact, many have only taken a weekend course. The consumer has very few recourses available.

  2. While I absolutely agree that transparency is the best policy, I just can't get around to enjoying peer review. Its costly and time consuming. But I suppose there are a few benefits.

  3. Thanks for the helpful information, because peer reviews is something that's new to me. It sounds pretty good as an alternate to legal actions against dental offices, because dentist do make mistakes. They are human.

    Keep the great article post coming - very different type of topic

  4. Peer review is a great idea. We should have it for all professionals.

    • Nonsense! The purpose of them is to defuse the situation and tell people they don't have a case and watch over their colleague's backs.

  5. There is no such thing as dental peer review. It is an internet hoax. When you go to a dentist you are putting your life, your health and your bank account at incredible risk. I lost thousands and thousands of dollars to dental scam artists, and I now know what I should have done. Here is my tip: study the online court records of your county and all surrounding counties that a negligence case would have been filed. You will find that the bad dentists have very long negligence cases which were ended by the Plaintiff before a trial because the Plaintiff ran out of money and patience. You will probably also find that they did the same thing to their spouse in a divorce proceeding. Do NOT go that office. Period.

  6. Hi Tom:
    I recently went through the dental peer review board and I must say,that they have restored my faith in humanity. It wasn't quick,and you must follow through,but they were fair,honest and proved to me that even in these crazy times when you feel nobody remembers the meaning of integrity and accountability they made sure,that I was treated fairly and ordered the Dentist to reimburse me the entire amount for poor dental work. It sounds to me like Potenza didn't go through the peer review board. If she had, she would have been given the opportunity to have their dentist examine her teeth. No decisions are made over the phone. As far as the dentist's on the board living in the same county as her dentist.This is how the system is set up. I intend on writing the peer review board and thanking them for their fairness and professionalism in the way they handled my case.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Julia. I think that most dentists who volunteer to be on peer review boards are honest and have the objective of restoring the public's faith in the profession of dentistry. I'm glad you got your money back, nobody should have to pay for poor dental work. I hope your next dental experience turns out a lot better!

  7. Thanks for sharing your experience on this website. I agree that transparency is the best policy.

  8. I went through a peer review due to bridge work not being properly seated, after continually complaining to the dentist and he refused to listen, I consulted other dentist to examine my mouth , each one said that the bridge work needed to be completely replaced. I was told about the peer board and I did meet with them, each Doctor was in agreement that the Dentist should refund all of my money , he still refused , he only offered $1000 out of $7000 , presently we are in a malpractice law suit and he is being investigated by the board.

    • HI Dianne - Thanks for sharing your experience with the peer review system. That is unfortunate that the dentist didn't agree to refund the money. Hopefully everything will work out and you'll get the quality bridge that you deserve. Thanks for your comment, Dianne!

  9. Hi Diane:
    If your dentist is legit and is a member of the American Dental Association,he or she has signed an agreement,that what ever the findings of the peer review board, in disputes with patients, that they will comply with their decision. If they don't,they can be penalized and charges brought including their loss of membership within the Association. The peer reviews findings in the patients favor,carries weight if you do have to file a suit.The board will not suggest you take less than what you payed for.Best of luck to you.

  10. Recently I had a wisdom tooth pulled and several fillings. On my second visit to the dentist and during the shot to numb my jaw, I immediately felt that something wasn't right. Initially I though the numbness needed time to wear off. A few days later I phoned the dentist to let them know I was in pain, my jaw wasn't opening normally. I knew I would have to wait a while before things would be back to normal but I was feeling like my jaw was out of aignment, I had a bitter taste in my jaw and I couldn't open my mouth the way I was able to prior to getting the shot. Almost two months later, I still have problems opening my mouth. For more than a month I called the dentist office trying to get an appointment. The staff kept telling me they didn't have an opening. I felt like they really didn't care about my discomfort. Finally, I went without an appointment, they still didn't want to have the dentist examine me to see what the problem was. Only after I threatened to get an attorney did they see me. Is it normal to not be able to open your mouth after fillings or an extracted wisdom tooth? Do you think I have a case? janissuggs@hotmail.com

  11. Hi im 15 years old and im really pissed off at my dentist.
    About a month ago, I noticed I had a bump on my gum and whn i pushed it pus and blood came out.
    Last week I had a dental cleaning because I just had my braces taken off and the hygeinist said I was ready to leave. But she didnt see the bump on my gum. So when I told her she said I probably have an infection and to come back next week to see the doc.
    so today, i went to see the doc. I showed him my gum and he looked at my x-ray from DECEMBER.
    It turns out my xray had shown something was wrong in my gums, but the dentist wasnt ENTIRELY SURE whether it was an infection or sonething else with my nerves BACK IN DECEMBER.
    problem is, they didnt check up with my gum after that even though they spotted a potential infection.
    So now that the infection has continued it was more apparent that I had an infection because now I have pus coming out of my gums.

    THE PROBLEM
    -IN DECEMBER THEY SPOTTED A POTENTIAL INFECTION FROM AN XRAY (IT WAS NOTED DOWN ON MY FILE) BUT IT WAS NOT FOLLOWED UP ON AFTER.
    -LAST WEEK, THE HYGIENIST DID NOT SEE THE INFECTION EVEN AFTER CLEANING MY TEETH UNTIL I TOLD HER.

    SO, theoritically, if I had not told the hygeinist myself that I thought something was wrong ith my gum, the infection would be left there, and eventually, my tooth would be lost forever. Thank god I told them myself before it was too late, I can still save my tooth by having a root canal next week.
    But im still very angry, I feel the dentist was negligent. any advice on what to do? Do you think I could get a free root canal?

  12. 4 months ago I got a few fillings done. 1 filling was a little achy and I told the dentist the next time I went in so he did a little adjustment. Not too long after that I started getting Migraines every day all day and I developed Globus in my throat and very stressed jaw and throat muscles. I went to multiple doctors and specialists. I had a ct scan and an MRI and tons of different medication. Noone could truly figure it out. After researching online about my symptoms I saw that I should contact my dentist. So I did that and saw a different dentist rather than the one who did my fillings. He looked at my fillings and was quite upset with the work that was done. He told me that my fillings were set too high making my teeth clang together causing me to bruise the ligaments which made my nervouse system around my jaw and throat to go crazy. He fixed them and put me on some mess and I feel much better. Should I take action against the other dentist for all the medical bills and pain and discomfort I went through? Thoughts anyone?

  13. Dear Tom,
    I took my 2 year old daughter to the dentist to get her teeth cleaned and checked out. I noticed her teeth looking like she grinded them in her sleep, I also caught her doing so. The dentist office I went to looked at her teeth and agreed she did grind her teeth, but were not degading yet. So they sent us home and about a month or so later I notice them decading and my poor daughter complaining about them hurting. I took her back to the dentist they decided to put caps on her teeth the next day. I wanted them to put white on her, well they said they couldnt do white because her teeth were too small, so they did silver. In this whole process they didnt put my 2 year old daughter under they just shot her one time in the gums, knowing that it dont just take one time. They started drilling my daughters teeth with her sruggling to get away, then the doctor would walk away, leaving the room constaintly and coming back. Now with in three weeks my daughter has a bacterial infection in her throat to where she cant eat or drink and has these bumps on her lip and tounge. Its so painful for her that her regular doctor put her on a loratap. Next week they are saying if its not better they are hospitalizing her, can you please help me to figure out what I need to do. For my daughters sake.
    Thanks Evelyn

    • Hello evelyn,

      I think your daughter has an infection, could be viral or bacteria. You should take her to see the doctor/dentist.

  14. I recently had some work done at a clinic that involved a root canal. Now I do not enjoy needles in my mouth and I was really anxious about a root canal so I brought my headphones. Throughout the procedure I could hear the dentist speaking and would at time pause my music to see if he was talking to me-and he wasn't-but he knew I had my headphones on so I figured if he was talking to me he would tap on my arm or something. Anyways, the procedure sucked because the hygienist or assistant did not rinse my mouth very well and i ended up getting cuts in the back of me mouth from filling pieces that had been stuck back there during the hour long ordeal. On top of that they didn't complete it and I was under the impression that I was returning for the crown etc. It ended up being over a month until my next appointment. I ended up not going back to that office due to lapse of coverage and opted to go to a dentist closer to home. He informed me that I had a file in my canal. The original dentist did not tell me this. I went to an endodontist who confirmed the file, completed the root canal and informed me that I need a PA surgery to get to the end of the canal that is blocked by the file. I went after the original dentist simply to get the second RC and the PA paid for-but in my chart it says he informed me of the complication. Now, I don't know about anyone else, but if my dentist says the word complication I am going to ask questions. He also wrote in my chart that the success depended on my timely return-again something he never said and I had even tried to get in sooner but there were no spots available (unless I was in extreme pain, then I had to come in before office hours and it is first come first serve) anyways, he did not note that I asked what things I needed to do or avoid and how I was told not to floss. I am so angry about this. This has been dragged out since April of this year and I don't know what I can do. The chart says he told me but I never heard that because I would have asked a lot of questions. So either he is lying and didn't tell me or he told me when I had my headphones on. What kind of dentist doesn't explain the complication anyway? Am I screwed because the notes says he told me?

  15. Dear Tom, I went to a dentist had some work done. Well I new something was wrong when I had a filling done on my eye tooth. I keep feeling pain a week later, three weeks later. So I go back to the office to speak with him. His assistant takes an x-ray goes in the room he's in and whispers Todd is here. Then he comes in the told looks at my tooth and says I didn't do that! I told him this was the last thong you did on my mouth and he also worked on my daughter and son. I told him how dare you I out my life and my children's hand and you can't own up to what you've done. His assistant said Todd I called the cops. Can you believe this guy and his office. I haven't been to any other dentist for work and my insurance shows this, so my question is who did the work and why is my tooth falling out. I currently do not have insurance I recently lost my job, so I do not have insurance anymore. I don't have money to pay for it out if pocket and he doesn't have any ethical or moral responsibility. I haven't been able to eat properly cause if the pain and not to mention I have to interview with this tooth that is hanging longer than my two front teeth.I .mean these are my front teeth. Please help!

  16. ok so i had 8 tooth extractions as a child followed by braces. i suffered phyical and mental injuries. my parents signed the agreement. basically waived all my rights making my ortho have no liability for my injury. so i have to do arbitration or peer review? which is better? also i'll need experts opinion so who should i choose orthodontist or prosthodontist. prosthos rely on scientific evidence, orthos dont.

  17. Hi,

    Due to dentist's "below standard of care", I lost a tooth. I filed a lawsuit; however, it is becoming extremely expensive. If I dismiss the case, can i file for a review or is it too late?

    Thank you so much

  18. On December 20, 2011, I made a down payment of $1500.00 to get Clear Corrects and it was September 2012 I never received my first set of Clear Corrects. After several months of me calling to see when my first set of Clear Corrects would be in I finally said to the dentist please cancel the process and refund me my money. At first he tried to apologize, saying it was his fault that he had not been following through online like he should have and he had three other patients in my same position no Clear Corrects yet. Oh my I was upset that he told me three others were waiting and to give him time to get my first set in, I am saying to myself it has been since December 2011 when the process started with payment, then March 2012 when you took the first set of pictures, impressions and I had to come back in April 2012 because the pictures were not correct so now the dentist wants more time. I said give me sometime to think and I will get back with you, needless to say I called back the next day and said cancel the clear corrects and refund my money, mind you I left a message and sent an email and received a response in about two days that I would receive a refund, the message was left on my voicemail on a Thursday and of course he is closed on Friday so I call that Monday to ask how much was my refund going to be and when to expect it. Well his secretary called the next day or so to inform me it would about two weeks when I would receive my refund and I said it well be better to mail me a check and she assured me it would be in check form. Two weeks went by I am checking the mailbox everyday no refund so I called Monday morning of the following week left a message and email that I have not received my refund that I want it put on my visa check card by October 2, 2012 or overnight it because the dentist had broken a breach of trust. This got his attention so he called me that Tuesday morning to say do not put me on blast like that and his secretary sent me a receipt showing a refund of $700. I email back for the dentist to call me, I was not happy with the refund I want explanation and my other $800. No response yet, am I right in asking for a full refund?say how much

  19. i have an untrust feeling with my current dentis, where i have been doing by braces for 8 month.
    and i think the way he has been doing is againts the laws such as he let another guy, who isnt a doctor does my theeth and he only take cash(i think for hiding taxes). im not quite sure cause i dont know about the laws.
    so id like to have anyone to tell me where can i call to tell about this clinic and ask them to go to check.
    i tried to go to peer review but i couldnt. if anyone can give me the link or give me some advices about what to do with this, that would be appreciated.

    thank you

  20. Beware of Dr. Jefferson Sims,8801 JM Keynes,Charlotte,NC. This dentist surgical error caused an infection which resulted in 4 days in the hospital with strongest antibiotic cintinually flowing until discharge. Sims was instructed by hospital physicians to remove remaining diseased particles he neglected to remove at time of initial surgery;physicians/nurses also questioned why dentist did not prescribe any antibiotics prior to initial surgery as well. Though Sims admitted to surgical error after being presented with hospital records and actual cat scan; he in fact lied to insurance adjuster and they proceeded to point the finger of blame on me...how in the hell can a patient leave teeth in their own mouth after extraction surgery?????????? he also neglected/refused to complete services he received $7000 to do so. According to an out of state dentist the dental peer review board basically sides with dentist regardless so I have to resort to other actions to receive justice...BEWARE OF THIS DECEIVING SMILING FACE AND HIS STAFF

  21. I e had two peer reviews and won both cases. One was for $58,000 and the other $2700. It works if you go to honest, high quallity dentists who dont want to look bad to their peers by stating unethical findings. Make sure you only go to expensive dental offices.

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Tom, Creator of Oral AnswersHi, I'm Tom. I recently graduated from dental school and am now a dentist in Bridgewater, Virginia. I started this blog to help people take better care of their teeth. You can learn more about me or ask me a question.

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