Putting the Bite on Dentists

You know the routine. You visit your doctor and dentist for your yearly check ups. Well, the following “routine” check up was anything but routine.
A healthy 52-year-old woman went to her dentist for a check up. During the exam, the dentist noticed a small, dark pigmented spot on the roof of her mouth. He sent her for a biopsy and it was removed and was reported as a benign, non-cancerous lesion. Sounds good. End of story? Not quite.

Removed Spot … Returns

About a year and a half later, at another routine dental exam, the dental hygienist noticed the previously removed spot had returned to its original location. When this was brought to the dentist’s attention, he said not to worry about it, since it had been biopsied and found to be benign.

Wrong Advice Turns Deadly

Unhappy with her original dentist, within the next year, this woman switched to
another dentist, who also noticed the lesion on the roof of her mouth. When the patient told him about the earlier biopsy results, he also said not to worry about it.
No removal. No biopsy. No worries. Since this was the second time she had heard this advice, she followed it … again.
About five years later, the woman moved to another state and thus sought a new dentist. Without hesitation, he immediately sent her for a biopsy of this pigmented lesion. Unfortunately, this biopsy (approximately 7 years after the first one) showed she had a malignant melanoma on the roof of her mouth.
Clearly, this woman was given wrong advice from her previous two dentists. Further tests indicated the cancer had already metastasized to her lungs and brain.
Over the next year, the patient received chemotherapy and radiation to halt the spread of this terrible disease. After a heroic struggle, she succumbed to cancer at age 59.


Pigmented spot noted
Biopsied, removed, reported non-cancerous lesion.

18 months later
Previously removed spot returns to original location.
No medical action recommended.

One year later
Spot noted … again.
No medical action recommended.

Five years later
Malignant melanoma on roof of mouth. Cancer spread to lungs and brain.

One year later
Patient dies.

Oncologist Encouraged Sons to Seek Legal Help

A prominent oncologist (who treated this woman) encouraged her adult sons to pursue a legal case against the dentists—not one, but two—who had advised her NOT to get the lesion re-biopsied after it appeared a second time.
After meeting with the sons and their mom’s treating physician, we accepted the case and filed suit in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.

Overcame Difficult Legal Issues

The case had some rather novel and difficult legal issues. Some of the facts crucial to our case—that a previously removed non-cancerous lesion had returned to its original spot—were NOT reported in the dentists’ records. This information came from the decedent when she told her treating cancer physicians what transpired in the dentists’ offices.
We had a challenge in getting this evidence admitted at trial, because we would be faced with a “hearsay” objection.

No Details Noted in Medical Records

Another “interesting” evidentiary issue concerned the second treating dentist. While he recalled in great detail conversations with the decedent about her lesion, not one detail was ever noted in his office charts. These conversations were self-serving and slanted in favor of the
defendant—the second dentist.
We retained an independent liability expert, a professor of dentistry practicing in Florida, who was prepared to testify as our primary witness against these defendants at trial.
Approximately a week before trial, the judge held a settlement conference in the hope of reaching an amicable, out-of-court resolution. When this didn’t happen, the judge brought back all of the parties a second, and then a third time.
Ultimately, the case was settled immediately before the beginning of the trial for a substantial confidential figure. Both dentists’ insurance carriers contributed to the settlement.
Routine check up? Hardly. Routine legal case? Certainly!