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Pediatric dentist didn’t find an advanced cavity

By April 9, 2018July 23rd, 2018Pediatric Dentist

We have had a very long ordeal with our pediatric dentist. My five-year-old really struggles in the dental chair and won’t sit still for long. He isn’t bad. He just wiggles a lot and makes treatment a little more challenging. We started going to this practice a little over a year ago and had two visits. During the second visit, they couldn’t get x-rays completed, so they just did a visual exam and cleaning, then sent us on our way.

I assumed everything was fine. Well, about a week ago, my son woke up in the middle of the night crying and holding his mouth. He said his tooth hurt, but I couldn’t see anything wrong with it, so I gave him some Tylenol, brought him to bed with me, and called the pediatric dentist’s office the next morning. Apparently, they’re closed on Friday, so I called our family doctor who thankfully agreed to see him right away. They actually managed to get an x-ray of the tooth and the poor little guy had a bad infection. Apparently, he had a cavity brewing for quite some time and the pediatric dentist missed it. It had not only progressed to the point where he was in serious pain, but when I took him back to the dentist, they couldn’t save his tooth. My son is only five years old and he had to have a molar pulled, so that means he’s going to be without a tooth back there for several years. The office gave him a little nitrous oxide and worked with him to keep him calm and steady, then did the extraction then and there.

I am so incredibly grateful that my doctor’s office was able to identify the problem. But I’m also really mad at the pediatric dentist. I asked a lot of questions about the timeline to see if the pediatric dentist was at fault for not catching it, but my doctor wouldn’t say much, only that, “These things take some time to grow to this point.” So, he’s not saying the dentist is at fault, but he kind of is. It makes me twice as mad that they weren’t there when we needed them most. What recourse do we have on this? Thanks, Simonia

Dear Simonia,

We are sorry to hear your little one had such a tough time, but kudos to you for following your intuition and getting him squared away quickly. Kids don’t always recognize what’s happening with their teeth, so they don’t always display obvious symptoms and a big issue can seemingly appear out of nowhere.

However, as your doctor noted, it takes time for a severe cavity to progress to the point where it causes such severe pain and results in extraction. How much time it takes varies based on the child, genetics, his health, and his habits. It’s very unlikely this cavity developed after his last visit, but there are no x-rays to prove it.

Should You Take Action Against the Pediatric Dentist?

Before you take any action, consider the following:

  • You could theoretically take this to a dental board, but it would be challenging to prove the pediatric dentist missed something or did anything unethical.
  • It’s somewhat common to forego x-rays when a small child doesn’t make taking them easy. In these cases, the office will likely make note of it and try again at the next visit.
  • Kids normally are more cooperative around age 5 or 6 and become active participants in their care.
  • Unless children in a high-risk group (such as those who use bottles for an extended period of time or eat high-sugar diets), developing cavities is somewhat uncommon. So getting x-rays is not often forced with a challenging patient.
  • If your son was squirming or clamping down during the exam, it would be difficult to complete the images.
  • In hindsight, it might be easy to suggest that your son should have been sedated given a full exam and x-rays, but the pediatric had to make a judgment call about what was in his best interests and what would be less traumatic for him. It sounds like the dentist made the wrong decision, but that can only be surmised because we know the end result.

It’s highly unlikely that if you follow up with this through any legal action or authority, that you’ll get the results you want because nobody can prove anything about this particular case. You can, and should, mention it to the pediatric dentist though so hopefully another child doesn’t have the same issues your son.


This blog is sponsored by NDS Care; offering Naperville pediatric dentist services as well as comprehensive dentistry for the whole family.


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