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Gilberto Tostado E, DDS, MS, FICD, FPFA

Calle 2 y 3, Av 6 #255, Centro,
84200 Agua Prieta, Son., Mexico
Family Dental

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Failed dental crown: Is my dentist responsible?

Posted by haleighmpk

One of my back teeth has had a silver filling in it for years and it recently developed a large crack. My dentist said I should get it crowned, and I agreed to treatment. But placing the crown turned out to be a very painful experience since I couldn’t get numb no matter how much novocain my dentist gave me. And when he finished placing the crown, I could tell something wasn’t right. My tooth kept hurting even though my dentist said it was normal to have some sensitivity and that my tooth would feel better soon.

A few months later, I had to come in to get another tooth crowned, but I wanted my dentist to look at the painful tooth that he had crowned last time. It was still so painful that I couldn’t bite on it. He made some adjustments to my crown, but it was still sensitive no matter what we tried. The dentist kept pushing me to get that second crown, but I didn’t want to move forward with any new treatment until I got relief from the pain.

The office scheduled me for another appointment to try adjusting the crown again, but it got postponed a few times due to the pandemic. When they finally were able to see me the other day, I learned that my tooth now has a periapical abscess. I plan to get it pulled, but my dentist wants to charge me for the extraction on top of what I already paid for the failed crown.

This whole experience has been so frustrating and painful. If I knew how severe the damage was, I would have opted to pull that tooth months ago. I feel like my dentist owes me a refund for this failed crown and for the pain I’ve had to endure for months.

Is this my dentist’s fault? Why didn’t they tell me at the start that I would need a root canal or extraction? I’d like to know if I could get a refund.

— Tammy

Hello Tammy,

Based on what you’ve told us, we can understand just how frustrating your experience has been.

Your situation is a tricky one. There are signs that the dentist who placed your crown was a bit careless, but you may not have enough proof to allege malpractice or justify a refund.

Without reviewing your X-rays and dental records and hearing your dentist’s perspective, we can only guess at his rationale for crowning your cracked tooth.

Most dentists wouldn’t put a cap on a tooth that had sensitivity and showed signs of needing root canal treatment. And an ethical dentist wouldn’t ignore your pain in order to push the placement of a new crown.

It isn’t unusual for teeth to unexpectedly flare up and take a turn for the worse after being crowned. This is something that happens to even the most well-intentioned dentists, on occasion. So it’s possible that your dentist genuinely did not anticipate that your tooth would have such a severe reaction after being crowned.

It’s also possible that your dentist felt that urgent treatment was necessary to protect the second tooth from more serious damage. That could explain why it seemed your dentist was “pushing” you to get another crown, even though you weren’t yet happy with the first one.

All of this is to say that you may have a hard time proving that your dentist did anything wrong.

But this doesn’t mean that your feelings about the situation are wrong.

In fact, we can point out a few red flags worth noting:

  • Your dentist, indeed, should have told you right from the start that there was a possibility you would need a root canal. The fact that he did not is concerning.
  • Your dentist should not have dismissed your post-crown discomfort. A little temporary sensitivity to temperature changes is normal; pain while biting on your crown is not normal.
  • When you returned months later with your first crowned tooth still causing you pain, your dentist should not have ignored that to move forward with placing a new crown. This suggests that the dentist could have been putting income ahead of patient concerns.

So in a nutshell, it appears that your dentist may have made some mistakes in judgment in your treatment, but you might have a difficult time getting compensated for that. You can try using some leverage to negotiate with your dentist for a refund on your failed crown. For example, you can complain to your state dental board or threaten to leave a negative review online. These tactics may only get you so far, however.

The best thing you can do at this point is to start looking for a new dentist.

The right dentist will take the time to answer your questions, will prioritize your comfort and concerns, and will carefully explain all of your treatment options before moving ahead with any procedure. Your new dentist can also help you weigh the pros and cons of treating a tooth with a root canal versus extracting it and replacing it with dental implants.

This post has been published on behalf of Dr. Gilberto Tostado, a dentist near Douglas, AZ.