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Always best to err on the side of caution

11 July 2014
As this case demonstrates, second-guessing the urgency of a situation isn’t always advisable...

A mother telephoned an emergency on-call dentist late one Sunday evening. She explained that while removing her daughter’s T-shirt the previous (Saturday) morning, she had managed to pull out one of her front teeth that had engaged with the fabric.

Realising the child’s age, the dentist explained that this was probably a baby tooth and therefore nothing to worry about. The mother was quite insistent, however, and following a long discussion as to the size, shape and length of the tooth, the dentist agreed it could be an adult tooth although such an incident was highly unusual.

As the telephone conversation continued, it also became apparent that the child suffered from osteoporosis and was hyperactive. Immediately prior to the incident she had been jumping up and down on the bed and may possibly have hit her face. Given the length of time since the incident occurred, and the fact that the tooth had been left to dry out in the kitchen, the dentist explained that it was highly unlikely that re-implantation would be successful.

Demand refused

The child’s mother was not at all pleased and demanded that the child should be seen immediately and provided with treatment. The dentist, not wishing to re-open the surgery for something he could do nothing about, stood his ground, saying that given the time period involved, no treatment was possible.

He felt it would perhaps be best if the child sought an appointment with her own general dental practitioner the following day, when some sort of prosthetic replacement could be arranged. Once again the child’s mother was not happy and demanded that if the treatment was not undertaken and completed that day, she would report the matter to the dentist’s registration body and to her lawyer.

Advice sought

The dentist called Dental Protection to ask for advice. The adviser suggested that the incident should be fully recorded within the records and that contact should be made with the child’s general dental practitioner and the incident explained. 

In hindsight it was agreed that given the concern indicated by the mother’s insistence it might have been better to see this child, if only for reassurance. Thankfully nothing further was heard of the incident.

Learning point:
When receiving an out-of-hours emergency call, it is best to err on the side of caution when deciding on the urgency of the request. In any event, keep a good record of the conversation in case you have to justify your decision.
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These case studies are based on real events and provided here as guidance. They do not constitute legal advice but are published to help members better understand how they might deal with certain situations. This is just one of the many benefits dental members enjoy as part of their subscription. 
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