Final Verdict: Dental Error Not Severe Enough
Dental malpractice cases can be difficult to prove. Not only does a dental malpractice attorney like Cohen & Cohen need to show that the patient suffered serious injuries, but he or she must also show that the dentist or oral surgeon made critical errors that directly caused those injuries. Any oral or dental procedure, no matter how slight, carries some risk.
In April 2019, a Howard County jury spent thirty hours in deliberation before determining that dental work performed in Maryland by Patrick Gochar was within the ordinary standards of care expected among dentists. The verdict was a disappointment to plaintiff Marleen Beck, who felt her life had been forever altered by a poorly-constructed dental bridge.
Dentists have two primary ways of repairing a missing tooth: implants and bridges. An implant drives a metal post deep into the jaw bone, giving a hard point on which to affix a ceramic replacement tooth. This is a permanent, long-term solution and usually gives the patient full use of the tooth, but requires a healthy jaw with plenty of bone tissue in the gap. A bridge, in contrast, involves a fake tooth “suspended” between the adjoining teeth. The teeth on either side are shaved down to nubs and given crowns, with the fake tooth cemented to the crowns on either side.
Dental bridges can be used when there isn’t enough bone tissue for an implant or a faster solution is requested, but they involve damage to the surrounding teeth and are more difficult to adjust in the future. In some cases, a bridge may cover two, three, or even more missing teeth.
Patrick Gochar, the dentist in this case, encouraged Marleen to choose a dental bridge rather than implants to cover 11 upper teeth. The work began on June 2013, with several dozen visits and considerable payments to the dentist. The bridge did not fit well, but Gochar cemented it in place permanently about a year after work had begun, in June 2014.
Marleen felt that the bridge did not fit correctly, causing her pain and stiffness in her temporomandibular joint. The bridge caused her to misbite, regularly cutting her tongue and cheek. The constant pain and pressure made her depressed, and she gained weight. She went back to Gochar and asked him to fix or replace the bridge.
Despite Marleen’s problems, Gochar refused to replace the bridge for free, and ultimately told her not to come back to his practice. She went to other dentists and orthodontists, but ran out of money to have further work done.
Although Marleen was certain her pain had resulted from Gochar’s work, his experts testified that the bridge was constructed within the standard of care required from dentists. Marleen argued that she hadn’t given Gochar permission to cement the bridge and that he had done so before it fit correctly. After three days of trial, the jury spent thirty hours deliberating. Ultimately, they determined that although Gochar’s work wasn’t necessarily perfect, Marleen hadn’t been able to prove that it was negligent, and gave the verdict to the defense.