Failure to Fully Investigate Lesion and Diagnose Odontogenic Myxoma in Teenager's Mouth

The plaintiff, in her mid-teens, went to the defendant dentist in November. The defendant dentist took a full mouth set of 18 periapical x-rays. The plaintiff then saw the defendant dentist’s associate dentist in May for a tooth build up and crown, which was unsuccessful. The associate dentist did not review any of the x-rays that day.

In June, the defendant dentist then treated tooth #19 with root canal therapy and a crown. At that time the defendant dentist noted that tooth #18 had evidence of an endodontic lesion and tooth mobility. He prescribed antibiotics and scheduled a return visit for July. The plaintiff did not return until the next January.

During that time, the plaintiff and her family and friends had noticed an obvious facial swelling and she had been encouraged to seek medical assistance. When the plaintiff returned to the defendant dentist in January, tooth #18 had fallen out and the swelling was interfering with the plaintiff’s eating. The defendant dentist recommended an oral surgeon, but the plaintiff’s mother refused to go to the oral surgeon. The mother sought additional second opinions before finally agreeing to take the plaintiff to the oral surgeon the defendant dentist had recommended.

The plaintiff was seen by the oral surgeon in late February, but the plaintiff falsely claimed that she was pregnant in order to avoid treatment at that time. After a negative pregnancy test, a biopsy was finally done in April. The pathology revealed pyogenic granuloma, an infection. The diagnosis, however, was inconclusive because the tissue taken in the biopsy was not complete. The oral surgeon advised the defendant dentist that he would follow-up with the plaintiff regarding her infection. In June a second biopsy was performed and the plaintiff was diagnosed with odontogenic myxoma, a slow-growing benign tumor. The oral surgeon ultimately removed the tumor, along with a portion of the plaintiff’s surrounding jaw.

The plaintiff alleged negligence by the defendant dentist and his practice in failing to detect the tumor from the x-rays which he took. The plaintiff stated that she suffers numbness to the left side of her lips and lower left jaw. Her face is disfigured and asymmetrical, and she suffers from depression and emotional distress from the events. The plaintiff also claimed that she would require several surgeries in the future for further treatment.

The defendant dentist claimed that the plaintiff was treated properly, that there were no signs or symptoms of a tumor. The defendant dentist also claimed that the plaintiff’s mother sought opinions from six doctors, including four oral surgeons and two medical doctors before taking the plaintiff to the recommended oral surgeon. The defendant contended that all of these doctors told the mother that the tumor was serious and removal of the tumor and surrounding jaw were necessary. The defendant dentist additionally claimed that the plaintiff did not suffer from depression and saw her psychologist only periodically.

When the matter was first tried, it resulted in a hung jury. A second trial found the defendant dentist fifty percent at fault, the mother thirty percent at fault and the oral surgeon twenty percent at fault. A total of $500,000 was awarded for future medical expense, future lost earnings and future pain and suffering. The amount was reduced to $475,000 based on application of comparative fault to the future pain and suffering award.

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