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Dental Complaints: From Lodging To Resolving

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Even in the best dentist-patient relationship, disputes often occur. Patients complain about their dental care for a variety of reasons; some result from misunderstandings about services while others have to do with poor outcomes. Usually, however, dental complaints can always be boiled down to be in one of three categories:

          • Higher Than Expected Dental Fees
          • Worse Than Expected Dental Results
          • Improper Dental Work/Treatment

One way you can prevent disputes involving "higher than expected fees" is to know the cause of the different dental procedures you plan on having done beforehand. Usually this means asking your dentist's office what they charge for a given procedure under your particular dental coverage plan. However, if you are uninsured you can always use the Internet to do research on the average retail price for dental procedures in your area. Two excellent sources for this information is our Typical Dental Costs page as well as

STEP #1: Tell Your Dentist

The first and probably best course of action for you to take is to discuss the problem with your dentist. If you do not wish to discuss the dispute or "confront" the dentist, send your complaint in writing as well as by certified mail as this will guarantee receipt. In your letter, remember to include the date-of-service (treatment date), the issue you are disputing and an outcome that will make you happy. By contacting the dentist with your issue before going through other grievance processes, you will more than likely resolve your dispute quickly.

STEP #2: Dental Societies

If you could not resolve your problem with your dental provider one-on-one, your next step is to register a complaint with your Local Dental Society. These societies usually have a "Peer Review" committee. Peer Review is a process by which the dental profession reviews and attempts to resolve dental treatment problems and misunderstandings through mediation. The peer review committee meets with the dentist and patient. They listen to both sides in order to get a complete picture of the problem. They discuss the case and may examine clinical records. When they feel it is warranted, they may arrange for a clinical examination of the patient. Then a recommendation is made for resolving the dispute.

With their knowledge of dental procedure fees, dental societies can evaluate whether the fees are reasonable. They have the expertise to explain to the patient why a particular course of treatment was followed. They can also inform a dentist that he/she is being unreasonable or inappropriate. It is important to keep in mind that a dental procedure can have an unexpected or bad result. This does not necessarily mean the treatment was planned or done poorly. Since we are dealing with human beings, results are not always predictable.

Dental societies want patients to be treated fairly so as to keep up the standards of the dental profession. They are very conscious of their public image. Most patients who have dealt with peer-review committees or had a dispute arbitrated feel that the outcome was fair.

STEP #3: State Licensing Boards

If the peer review committee finds evidence of malpractice or a patient feels that his or her dental care did not meet professional standards, the committee will complain to the their State Dental Licensing Board or advise the patient to do so.

State Licensing Boards are charged with maintaining high standards in the professions. However, its impossible for a board to review the activities of each dentist on a regular basis. In most states, the boards are prohibited from investigating a dentist unless a written complaint has been submitted. When a complaint is made, the board is required to investigate. The rules are in your state's dental practice act.

If the investigation results in charges of professional misconduct, there is a trial before either a review committee or an administrative law judge, depending on state law. Witnesses may be called just as in any trial. If found guilty, the dentist may be sanctioned by the licensing board. Sanctions can include suspension, temporary suspension, limitation of practice, supervision of practice, and revocation of license. In addition, the dental practitioner may be ordered to refund fees to the patient, pay a fine and even take additional education.

STEP #4: Malpractice Litigation

If you believe that you suffered quantifiable damages as a result of negligence by a dentist, you may have grounds for a malpractice lawsuit. The best person to consult is an attorney who specializes in personal liability cases, and particularly in dental malpractice. The attorney can evaluate your claim and see whether you have a valid case against the practitioner.

Because the damages in dental malpractice cases tend to be relatively "small" and the cost of a trial may exceed potential payments from a successful lawsuit, attorneys will often advise settlement or peer review. Some cases, however, do involve substantial damages.

Note that any lawsuit must be brought within a period of time set by state law. This time period, which is called the "statute of limitations," can be as short as one year after treatment ends. A local attorney can advise on the length of these time periods. Thus, if you feel that a lawsuit may be appropriate, you should not delay discussion with an attorney even if you have complained elsewhere.

STEP #5: Tell Other People

Often overlooked, this step helps to bring closure to a problem that you've had resolved is to let other people know about it. Often times problems can be minimized if not avoided altogether if you can see how other people handled a particular dispute that you are now involved in.

Thankfully, the Internet has made it easy to tell others about your dental complaints. Forums, blogs, chat rooms and special "rantings" web sites make it easy to let others know about other a positive or negative experience you've had with a particular dentist or dental provider. The web sites DR.Oogle Complaints as well as Doctor Scorecard are two such "rantings" sites that enable you to share your dental experiences -either positive or negative ones- with others as well as to guide them towards a good dentist or away from a bad one.

In Fact, Tell Us About It!
We would love to hear about any dental horror stories you may have had over the years. Send Your Dental Complaints Here, and we will even print them on DiscountDental4U if you give us your permission. So let 'er rip!

Featured Dental Complaint (MAY 2012)
This dental complaint against my dentist brand name of Shawnee, OK; both Jennifer and Cory Chambers were the dentists involved.

First Jennifer tried to pull the incorrect tooth then once (she started working) on the correct tooth, (she) destroyed my crown next to the tooth she was trying to pull out! (Her) lack of professionalism abandoned the procedure leaving Cory to finnish the extraction. I had to come back after geting the perscription filled to have them put on a filler that didn't even last a month on the destroyed tooth.

I'm just glad I didn't die from a tooth infection and that the tooth next to the one that had to be removed can be repaired by a professional. - Anonymous (

Tips On Complaining Effectively

Complaints should always be in writing and be clear and concise. Every fact need not be put into the initial letter, and it is best to avoid strong emotion or recommendations. The complaint should specify the facts (who, why, when, where, and what), request an investigation, and, if possible, point out specific violations of the dental practice act. Include information on how and when you can be reached if additional information is needed.

It is advisable to keep a record that the complaint was filed, so send it by certified mail. Boards may receive many complaints over a period of time and must investigate each. It may take some time before your complaint is addressed. Boards are not in the business of dispute resolution, so do not expect them to "get your money back," Peer-review committees are the proper forum for this activity. Boards exist to enforce their own regulations. Ultimately, all they might be able to do is remove someone's license to practice or sanction the practitioner in other ways.

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