Air Abrasion Tool Strikes Salivary Gland, Pushing Air into Cheek – Results in $8,000 Verdict

The plaintiff, a seventeen-year-old female, went to the defendant dentist to have some cavities filled. The defendant performed the work on the right side without incident. While working on a cavity on the left side, the plaintiff claimed that she felt the left side of her face go numb and abruptly swell up “like an inflated balloon”. She also claimed that she briefly blacked out. The plaintiff claimed that this occurred while the defendant was using an air abrasion tool and that he looked away from her toward other people in the room while he was talking with them. When the plaintiff regained consciousness, she was dripping in a cold sweat and the defendant asked her to rinse her mouth. The plaintiff had difficulty standing and had to support herself by holding on to the sink with both hands while she rinsed. The defendant left the room and upon his return he explained that the abrasion tool had hit her salivary gland, pushing air and particles into her face, causing her cheek to inflate. The defendant tried to massage the air out of the cheek unsuccessfully. The defendant then gave the plaintiff a prescription for an antibiotic and told her that the swelling would go down in a couple of days.

The plaintiff drove herself home, although she was crying, had blurry vision, and felt dizzy. The plaintiff then called her mother, who left work and came home right away. The plaintiff was unable to go to a new job she was supposed to start that day. The plaintiff’s mother took her to an emergency room. She was admitted to the hospital due to concerns that her air passage might close up due to the trapped air in her face and neck. The swelling did eventually go down. The plaintiff started her job ten days later.

However, following the incident the plaintiff began to have jaw problems. She was told by another practitioner that the problems were due to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ or TMD) and could be related to injuries to her jaw muscles. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging that the defendant’s negligence caused her pain and suffering related to the facial swelling, the costs associated with her hospital stay, and ultimately TMJ or TMD.

The defendant denied that the incident caused any TMJ or TMD. The trial court ultimately granted the defendant summary judgment on that issue. However, the jury returned a $3,000 verdict for the plaintiff for lost wages and pain and suffering, and awarded her mother over $5,000 for the costs associated with the plaintiff’s hospital stay.

With permission from Medical Malpractice Verdicts, Settlements & Experts; Lewis Laska, Editor, 901 Church St., Nashville, TN 37203-3411, 1-800-298-6288.