Rice & Bloomfield Dec. 26, 2006

Dentists routinely pull wisdom teeth without telling patients about the risk of serious injury if the procedure is not done carefully, especially to the lingual nerve. The lingual nerve provides sensation and taste to one-half of the tongue and it is at risk of being cut or damaged every time a lower wisdom tooth is removed.

Unless a patient is in pain or the wisdom teeth are likely to cause injury to other structures in the mouth or to other teeth, there is no justification for extracting third molars, aka, wisdom teeth. The procedure is unnecessary and puts the patient at risk for permanent injury.

It is impossible to estimate the number of unnecessary wisdom teeth that are pulled every year – not to benefit the patient, but to financially benefit the dentist who does the surgery. What is known is that, if the dentist is not careful, cutting the lingual nerve can cause a patient to have permanent loss of taste and sensation to one-half of the tongue. In rare cases of extreme carelessness by the dentist, a patient can permanently lose the ability to feel or taste anything.

We have successfully litigated and settled many lingual nerve cases. Most recently, Todd J. Bloomfield won a $655,000 verdict in Lancaster, California, for a young man with this type of permanent injury. Unfortunately, because of a state law, known as MICRA – the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act passed in 1975 – the jury’s verdict was reduced by the judge to $250,000, the maximum amount allowed for pain and suffering caused by a doctor.

Before you agree to have your wisdom teeth pulled, ask the doctor why it is necessary and, if you are not satisfied with the answer, consider getting a second opinion. If the surgery is necessary, ask your dentist how many times he has cut the lingual nerve when extracting a lower third molar. Dentists who are routinely careful are unlikely ever to have experienced this complication and should assure you that it cannot happen unless the doctor doing the extraction is careless.

Having a tongue that is permanently numb on one side is a very serious and life-changing injury. Should it happen to someone you know, explain that, in most cases, this cannot happen unless the doctor was negligent. If legal advice is needed, we hope you will consider having him or her call us. We will be happy to help if we can.