Legal Options if Your Dentist Pulls the Wrong Tooth

Jon Topolewski
By: Jon Topolewski
PublishedSep 13, 2023
5 minute read

Welcome to your nightmare. First, persistent tooth pain weakened your resolve until you had to seek relief. Next, your dentist or oral surgeon suggested and then performed an extraction. However, as the numbness faded, the old familiar agony returned — but with a horrifying realization: They pulled the wrong tooth!

While extractions are typically safe, complications can arise. Removing the wrong tooth is one of the more common issues. Not only is the mistake inexcusable, it might lead to further problems and long-term suffering. Fortunately, you have legal options if your dentist pulls the wrong tooth.

Pulling the wrong tooth is an inexcusable, potentially serious mistake by a dentist. Fortunately, you have legal options if your dentist pulls the wrong tooth.

How Does a Dentist Pull the Wrong Tooth? 

While most dental and orthodontal procedures are handled professionally and with great care, having the wrong tooth pulled happens more often than you might think. Of all possible mishaps that can lead to a dental malpractice lawsuit, this one is not rare.

What Prompts a Dentist to Pull the Wrong Tooth? 

There’s no acceptable excuse to be honest. However, there are situations where an inattentive dentist can mistakenly:

  • Extract a healthy tooth next to the problematic one.
  • Remove a tooth that a different patient is complaining about.
  • Extract an impacted molar scheduled for a future appointment.
  • Pull the wrong temporary crown instead of the adjacent permanent one.

The likelihood of a mishap increases when extracting similar teeth; for example, when teeth look identical or when there are dentures, crowns, bridges, or implants. These fixes improve oral health and appearance, but they can complicate identifying the defective tooth when one must be extracted.

Again, there’s no defense for your dentist extracting the wrong tooth. It’s a clear example of dental malpractice.

Understanding Dental Malpractice

Dental malpractice occurs when a dentist or oral surgeon fails to meet the standard of care, resulting in harm to the patient. Proving a dental malpractice case in Colorado requires establishing the following elements:

  • Duty of Care: Your dentist has a duty of care to their patients.
  • Breach of Duty: Your dentist failed to meet the standard of care.
  • Damages: As the patient, you suffered injury.
  • Causation: Your dentist’s failure to meet the duty of care caused your damages and injuries.
The ‘Never Event’ 

When your dentist pulls the wrong tooth, it’s called a ‘never event.’  In other words, it can happen only when the dentist fails to meet their standard of care. That standard is determined by how any professional dentist would treat a patient in similar circumstances.

The thing is, there’s never a good excuse for pulling the wrong tooth.

Possible Damage After Pulling the Wrong Tooth

Removing a bad tooth is supposed to be a relatively risk-free procedure. The surgery should alleviate pain and minimize the risk of further infection. Most people put off getting a tooth pulled until they’re miserable from the discomfort. So when your dentist  or oral surgeon clamps the forceps on the wrong tooth and wrenches it out, the damage can be significant.

Consequences of extracting the wrong tooth during a dental procedure include:

  • Pain and Discomfort: You may feel pain and discomfort at the site of the incorrect tooth extraction. This can be especially distressing if the original problem tooth remains untreated.
  • More Dental Work: Extracting the wrong tooth may require additional procedures, like dental implants or bridges, to fix the problem. Which means …
  • Additional Financial Costs: Corrective dental procedures can be expensive. These include the cost of extracting the correct tooth, necessary restorations, and replacing the wrongly extracted tooth.
  • Loss of Income: You’ll likely have to miss more work for the corrective procedure and required recovery time.
  • Emotional Distress: You could experience emotional distress due to the error. You might experience considerable anxiety before and during future dental visits.
  • Functional Problems: Losing the wrong tooth can impact your bite, causing problems with chewing, speaking, and oral hygiene. Some extractions result in a fractured jaw.
  • Cosmetic Issues: The extraction of a healthy tooth can affect your smile and overall facial aesthetics. This may lead to problems with self-confidence.
  • Infection and Complications: The space left by the pulling of the wrong tooth could become infected, leading to more problems, such as swelling, dry socket, sinus perforations, or dental sepsis.
Preventing and Treating the ‘Never Event’

A professional dentist/orthodontist/oral surgeon should take preventative measures before a ‘never event’ can happen. This includes:

  • Careful examination
  • Consultation, and
  • Communication with the patient.

If your dentist/orthodontist/oral surgeont asks multiple times which tooth is bothering you, he or she is doing their job. However, if they still end up pulling the wrong tooth, they should take these steps:

  1. Promptly acknowledge their mistake,
  2. Inform you (the patient) of their mistake, and
  3. Begin to take appropriate steps to rectify the matter.
Dental Malpractice and the Colorado Candor Act

The Colorado Candor Act enables medical professionals, including those in the dental arts, to have open and confidential discussions with patients who’ve experienced bad outcomes. They can also compensate patients in out-of-court settlements.

Here is how it works: Your dentist must contact you and initiate an honest discussion detailing:

  1. What happened,
  2. Why it happened, and
  3. How they intend to fix the problem moving forward.

This discussion must occur within 180 days (6 months) of the adverse incident, or the pulling of the wrong tooth. Your dentist/orthodontist/oral surgeon can discuss compensation with you. For example, they can:

  • waive the cost of the botched procedure,
  • provide corrective surgery/implants for free, and/or
  • pay a certain sum for your suffering/inconvenience.

If you accept your dentist/orthodontist/oral surgeon’s apology and compensation offer, then the matter is closed. The dentist does not have to report the incident to any state board or practitioner database. In other words, the mishap never shows up on their professional record. This is why most medical professionals prefer this solution to litigation.

However …

You Still Need a Lawyer 

As attractive as a prompt, out-of-court solution can appear, you should not do this process alone. Quick settlements are not guaranteed. Also, you might discover too late that you fell for a lowball offer.

Always consult an experienced medical malpractice attorney to protect your rights and represent you — even in Candor Act negotiations.

Filing a Dental Malpractice Lawsuit

What if one side is not willing to seek an out-of-court settlement? As the wronged patient, you might be too angry and injured to trust that dentist/orthodontist/oral surgeont again. Perhaps the dentist/orthodontist/oral surgeont knows they pulled the wrong tooth, but he or she believes they might prevail in litigation. At this impasse, it is time to consider filing a lawsuit.

Obstacles to Consider

I’ve already said there’s no excuse for your dentist/orthodontist/oral surgeon pulling the wrong tooth. It’s a never event. In other words, there’s really no defense for such a mistake if the case gets to trial.

Unfortunately, the medical and insurance establishment has devised ways to keep these lawsuits from going to trial. These include:


Here, you still get to present your case. However, one person, a neutral arbitrator, not a jury, hears both sides of the case and makes a ruling.

This can seem fair enough, that is, until you consider that dentists prefer arbitration to litigation for a reason.

Contributory Negligence
Here, the argument will be that you didn’t fulfill your patient responsibilities to prevent the incorrect tooth extraction. You maintained poor oral hygiene. Therefore, you had more than one obvious problem tooth. The dentist’s attorneys will argue that you were partly at fault for the mishap and/or aggravated the injury afterward.
Why Contributory Negligence Matters

In Colorado, you and your dentist can be assigned percentages of blame based on the facts of your case. For example, if the wrong tooth is pulled, the court might attribute only 75% of the blame to the dentist. This slices away 25 percent of your potential damages award.

Damages Recovered for Dental Malpractice

Nine out of 10 dental malpractice lawsuits end up settling out of court. It might be hard to imagine a wrong tooth extraction case going all the way to trial. However, it can and does happen.

Colorado puts limits on the amount a plaintiff may recover from a malpractice lawsuit. Nevertheless, the damages available to a successful litigant run the full gamut:

  • Economic Damages, including compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and other concrete expenses incurred or anticipated.
  • Non-economic Damages, including payment for physical and mental pain, suffering, and loss of the ability to enjoy life. These are capped at $300,000.
  • Punitive Damages, which are capped at the total amount of actual damages. Actual damages are the sum total of economic and non-economic damages.

Overall, total damages in medical malpractice suits are capped at $1 million.

Statute of Limitations

You have a narrow window of time to pursue legal action against a dentist/orthodontist/oral surgeon for pulling the wrong tooth. The typical statute of limitations is two years from the date you became aware of the mistake.

Take a Bite Out of Bad Dentistry 

Your dentist pulled the wrong tooth. The worst you can do in response is contact the wrong lawyer — or no lawyer at all. Our dental malpractice attorneys can review your case and help you decide if a lawsuit is worth pursuing. If it is, our team is savvy enough to get you the compensation you deserve. If you’re negotiating an out-of-court settlement, our lawyers can ensure you’re treated fairly. Bare your legal teeth. Call 303-688-0944 for your case assessment.

More Than Just Lawyers. Lawyers for Your Life.

Learn more about our law firm’s philosophy and values.