Do we really have to get the lawyers involved?

What happens when your healthy, happy and energetic 3 year old daughter goes into a routine dental appointment and winds up at Children’s Hospital with a life-threatening infection?

Unfortunately, we found out when our daughter had a premolar cavity filled by a dentist specializing in pediatrics on April 11, 2011.  Within hours of the appointment, our daughter’s cheek swelled and it began to look as if she had a golf ball in her mouth.  I placed a phone call to the dentist and she assured me that some swelling is normal and it would go away.  I went to teach a class that night and the dentist spoke with my husband.  The dentist again assured him that this was normal and that if we were very concerned in the morning, I should bring our daughter in first thing in the morning.  She was unable to sleep due to the pain and was up most of the night.  That morning, our daughter’s swelling had increased, her cheek was red, hot to the touch and she was unable to eat or speak clearly.

When we entered at the dentist’s office, the staff was shocked by our daughter’s appearance.  The dentist was so alarmed that she called in her husband, an oral surgeon, to consult because “he knows more about this type of thing.”  He too was surprised by just how swollen our daughter was.  He tried to look inside her mouth, but the area was so tender and the swelling was so severe, he decided not to aggravate things further by an invasive exam.  Instead both dentists struggled to get an accurate read of our daughter’s temperature.  After a few minutes, they determined that she did have a fever of 101.

Both dentists were visibly and admittedly at a loss as to what the next course of action should be given that our daughter was allergic to traditional antibiotics and neither was sure what to prescribe.  When they told me this, I suggested that  we go right to her pediatrician for proper treatment.  Both expressed their concern verbally for the severity of the infection and they readily agreed that the pediatrician should be our next stop.  The oral surgeon wrote out a detailed note for our pediatrician explaining that this swelling was a result of the previous day’s dental procedure and gave us his personal cell phone number in case we or the pediatrician needed additional information from him.

Our daughter’s pediatrician was extremely concerned by her condition when we arrived.  The pediatrician said she’d never seen such a fast moving infection.  After careful consideration and collaboration with her colleagues, the pediatrician prescribed oral Cleocin.  She advised us to give her a call that evening to let her know how our daughter was tolerating the medicine and to let her know about the swelling.  That night, we spoke with the pediatrician and let her know that our daughter was taking the medication, was still in pain and we hadn’t noticed any change in the swelling.  We continued to monitor her closely. The dentist called our home that evening to check on our daughter and offered to see her again.  My husband and I updated her on the treatment prescribed by the pediatrician and declined another visit to her office since our daughter was now having an extremely difficult time opening her mouth.  The situation had clearly escalated and was beyond the dentists’ capabilities.

The next morning, our daughter’s swelling had progressed to include her neck and just under her eye.  This was so serious that the pediatrician asked us to bring her in immediately.  We did and she advised us that if she should run a fever, we were to take her directly to the emergency room.  When our daughter’s fever reached 101, we went to Children’s Hospital.  She was admitted, given IV morphine for the pain, IV fluids (since she was unable to eat or drink due to the swelling) and a stronger dose of antibiotics via IV.

The swelling was so severe that even the doctor’s ultrasound of daughter’s cheek and neck was difficult to read.  Our daughter was checked hourly by Children’s Hospital doctors and nurses throughout our time there and was diagnosed with Cellulitis.  Each physician and nurse we met asked the same question: “What happened at that dentist’s office?” When the dentist’s assistant called to ask if we would be bringing our daughter in for a check, I returned the call told the receptionist we would not since our daughter had been admitted to Children’s Hospital.  Slowly, she began to respond to the medication and the swelling began to decrease gradually while her speech remained impaired. The morphine helped with the pain and she began to be able to drink and eat small amounts of juice and pudding.

After more than two days of hospitalization at Children’s Hospital and the careful hourly monitoring of her condition by a team of doctors and experts in pediatric infections, our daughter was released and advised to take a new dosage of oral antibiotics.  Children’s Hospital’s pediatrician advised us not to return to the dentist’s office upon release since our daughter’s visit there was the cause of Cellulitis.  Cellulitis is a dangerous life threatening infection.  Instead, she told us to follow up with our pediatrician in two days.  We did so and our daughter continued to respond to the antibiotics.  It took nearly a full month for her swelling to go away completely.

The quantifiable damages resulting in the work done by the dentist exceeded our insurance coverage and we are unwilling to absorb the costs.  Our daughter endured great pain from this traumatic experience.  Our entire family was impacted.  The time and stress associated with our attempts to settle this matter with the dentist continue to build.  At the very least, the dentist must pay the expenses not covered by our insurance which exceed $3,000.

Our attempts to resolve this matter directly with the dentist have proved unsuccessful.  How unrealistic is it that I expect the dentist to do the right thing without being forced to by a legal team?


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