Thirty-year-old country singer LeAnn Rimes has recently filed a lawsuit against her former dentist seeking damages from what she claims was shoddy dentistry. What started out as smile enhancement turned into gum inflammation, severe tooth pain, bone grafting, a temporary bridge, TMJ issues and chronic bleeding gums. She has had nine root canals, eight veneers and has undergone physical therapy for jaw problems. She has had to cancel concerts due to dental pain which resulted in lost income and is seeking an undisclosed amount in damages for that lost income. She claims irreparable damage has been done to her career and is seeking restitution for future lost income. Her lawsuit states she has suffered both physical and emotional damage because of the dental problems and now suffers “permanent cosmetic deficiency.”
Does she have a valid claim? We talked with a LeAnn Rimes fan who noticed early in her career that her dental work made her teeth look too big for her mouth and seemed to affect her speech. But whether or not that is grounds for a malpractice claim – that is the question.
All dental treatment comes with risks. It will have to be determined whether she was informed of these risks and consented to treatment knowing these risks and the limitations of her treatment. It will also be determined whether her dentist provided an acceptable standard of care. Did he make reasonable decisions similar to those another dentist would have made in the same situation? Does he have accurate records documenting her treatment? Did he follow proper protocols in informing the patient of risks and limitations and does he have signed informed consent from the patient?
Her claim for “permanent cosmetic deficiency” will be interesting to watch. There is no separate recognized specialty of cosmetic dentistry, and so courts have generally held cosmetic dental work to the standard of care for general dentistry. Claims that cosmetic dentistry simply doesn’t look good enough have not, as a rule, held up in court, because the work has to meet only the basic standard of care of good general dentistry, which focuses on the function and fit of the work. But maybe, in the case of a country music star, the court will consider a higher standard.
If indeed there were faulty root canal treatments that caused her unnecessary pain, that could justify a claim against the dentist. However, some pain associated with root canal treatment is normal and can be considered within the standard of care. Chronic bleeding gums could be from faulty dental work but could also be from faulty home care. TMJ issues are complex and their cause could be difficult to prove. Experts could be assembled on both sides that could give contradictory testimony.
Maybe the dentist was in over his head on the case. There are many excellent dentists who simply don’t have the training or artistic inclination to do major rehabilitative work or cosmetic dentistry. Maybe, since she undertook this work early in her career, she simply went to her trusted family dentist who thought he could do this for her when he should have referred her to a dentist with more extensive experience with major work like this. I’m saying this entirely out of speculation, but it is based on experience with similar cases of poor cosmetic dentistry. In this case, however, the unfortunate patient was a rising star with a promising music career.
My professional guess is that the dentist and the dentist’s malpractice insurance carrier will settle for a sizeable sum. Her claims seem to have some credibility, and I have often seen this type of situation with general dentists attempting major cosmetic work.
Maybe LeAnn’s next big hit will be “I’m Shedding Tears over Bad Veneers.”
This post submitted on behalf of Dr. Arthur Chal, a past president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He has experience as a dental expert witness for cosmetic dentistry and TMJ issues. www.chaldentistry.comand www.topdentalexpertwitness.com.