Man Suing Orthodontist After 11 Years In Braces Got Him Straight But Rotten Teeth

Nothing like a nice straight smile after spending years in braces — oh but, it should go without saying that said straight smile shouldn’t be made up of a mouthful of rotten teeth. An Oregon man is suing his orthodontist after spending 11 years in braces, because he says many of his teeth have suffered serious decay.

Usually orthodontists recommend two years in braces, but the man was locked in from age 7 to 18. He’s filed a lawsuit seeking $185,100 in damages, claiming that the years spent with his teeth covered have resulted in awful rotting and periodontal disease.

“What I’m told by the experts is, ‘You can’t do this. You can’t keep them on that long. It’s just not done,” his attorney told The Oregonian.

From the sound of it, this guy is in for some serious dental bills in addition to the $35,000 he’s already racked up. Some teeth will be pulled and replaced, but in some parts of his mouth, the teeth have rotted clear through to the jaw.

He claimed he began visiting the orthodontist in August 1997 after another doctor had installed his braces. He visited periodically until he says he got a frantic call in 2008 from the orthodontist’s office saying the braces had to come off immediately.

However, the orthodontist in question says he couldn’t even dealt with the man’s braces until 2002, because that’s when he became a licensed orthodontist.

“We have the utmost respect for them and empathy, and treat them — everybody — with the best quality care as we possibly can,” he said.

As someone who spent two horrible years as a metalmouth, 11 years in braces sounds like the most torturous thing a person could go through. Didn’t anyone else question why it was taking so long, or detect the tooth decay along the way? Shudder.

Rotten teeth, after 11 years in braces, lead Oregon man to sue for $185,100 [The Oregonian]


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  1. Stickdude says:

    How common is it to put braces on a 7-year-old? I thought they had to at least wait until all the baby teeth fell out.

    • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

      Some kids lose their baby teeth a lot younger than others. My daughter just turned 5. 2 teeth gone, 2 more are lose. My wife lost all her teeth really early and got braces pretty early (might not have been 7 years old – but maybe 9?)

      It doesn’t seem particularly common, though (I had never heard of this before I met my wife). The receptionist at the dentist’s office assumed we were wrong and that trauma had caused my daughter’s teeth to come out (not the case – the new ones are coming in).

    • RedOryx says:

      From the linked article:

      “The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children first visit an orthodontist by age 7. And in recent years, an increasing number of children have been getting braces at younger and younger ages.”

    • Laura Northrup says:

      Kids I know have been getting their braces around age 8, or at least they begin palate expander treatment around then. 20 years ago, at least where I live, they’d just yank a bunch of teeth if you had too many for the size of your mouth.

    • tofupuppy says:

      I got my braces at 7. Only on my front 2 teeth (one of them was turned sideways). As more adult teeth came in, they had brackets added. I was stuck in braces for 6 years, getting them off just before my 13th birthday. It was awful but I was so glad to be done with them before high school!

    • iesika says:

      A lot of orthodontists seem to push for earlier and earlier braces. I had mine put on at 8, when I was way too young to properly take care of them or understand the consequences of not doing so. The same (pediatric) orthodontist wanted my brother in braces at six, to “set up” his mouth for his adult teeth. I’ve seen a lot more kids in elementary school with braces since then – I was the only one at mine.

      I’m pretty sure it was some kind of money grab strategy, since I had, like…one slightly crooked tooth. And guess what? I still have that one slightly crooked tooth!

  2. Blueskylaw says:

    “However, the orthodontist in question says he couldn’t even dealt with the man’s braces until 2002, because that’s when he became a licensed orthodontist”

    And I couldn’t have drank at the age of 15 because I wasn’t 21 yet.

  3. Dustbunny says:

    I dunno, this story sounds fishy. The guy’s mother is a doctor and she didn’t think it was unusual her son had to wear braces for 11 years?? Presumably she was paying the orthodontist bills and knew what was going on.

    • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

      Shouldn’t be too hard to prove one way or another. Unless they paid cash, there should be a paper trail of insurance records.

    • longdvsn says:

      “(He) visited periodically, although probably not as often as he should have” according to the lawyer for the plaintiff.

      …periodically being every 2 or 3 years???
      The orthodontist called frantically one day because they were probably cleaning out patient charts and realized this guy hadn’t been in for the last 4 years and still had braces on.

      Anyway – that’s the only possible explanation I can think of. If he actually visited fairly regularly – my mistake on blaming the OP – the orthodontist should lose his license (and more).

      • ash says:

        I agree that this is the most likely scenario.

      • Smiling says:

        I agree. Did he have a treatment plan, and did he follow it? If not, then it sounds like he may not have a case. Braces must be tended to on a very regular basis. If they aren’t, then either the patient or doctor is at fault. That shouldn’t be too hard to prove for the non-negligent party.

    • ash says:

      I don’t think it’s odd for a physician to not know the recommended duration of dental braces. They aren’t taught a significant amount about teeth in medical school; that’s left up to dentistry school.

      • RedOryx says:

        While that’s true, wouldn’t you think a physician would be better about making sure her son went to the orthodontist on a regular basis? I had braces for two years and I was in that chair every two months.

    • 808 says:

      It may vary by state and provider but in our family’s experience, the longest duration of payment plan available was 2 years; dental insurance made its contribution almost immediately. That said, the orthodontist’s office would/should have a chart that would show visits even after payments were completed. And if the family is saying it made more frequent visits than the office tracked, perhaps the family kept contemporaneous records and/or submitted mileage and/or parking receipts for FSA reimbursement. Can I say my teeth hurt just thinking about all this?

  4. StarKillerX says:

    Wait, this person’s mother is a MD and never questioned her kid being in braces for that long?

    Also did he never see a dentist during this time?

    • msbaskx2 says:

      That’s my question. If you have braces, don’t you still go to the regular dentist for cleanings, fillings, exams, etc?

      • viriiman says:

        In my experience, yes, I still had to go to the dentist. The orthodontist *only* dealt with my braces.

  5. keepher says:

    Would love to see a follow up on this because something stinks about this story.

  6. RedOryx says:

    Something is rotten in the state of Denmark….

  7. PragmaticGuy says:

    Obviously this guy didn’t take care of his teeth that well. I’m not saying he’s totally at fault but when one wears braces they have to be extra careful to brush in every crevice and especially use a water pik or some other device to make sure that they get under the gum line.

    • Sarek says:

      If the braces are cemented on, there’s no way to brush underneath them.

      As a former tinsel tooth, though, there seems to be more to this story.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      And yet, portions of every tooth are literally inaccessible.

    • P=mv says:

      That is not neccessarily true. My sister had braces for a little over a year. She was neurotic about taking care of them. She brushed 3-4 times a day, used mouthwash each time, and even flossed with those plastic pick things. That was on top of regular dental cleanings. She has now holes in some teeth where they rotted under the teeth and when the braces originally came off those holes where black in color.

      Turns out, she had thin to no enamel. It is a genetic thing. Anyways, 11 years in braces could indeed cause that much tooth decay. Braces hold food particles like you wouldn’t believe and it is incredibly difficult to clean around them.

      With that said, anyone who puts their child in braces for 11 years needs their head examined.

    • poco says:

      I’ve had 3 cavities in my 32 years of life. All three were discovered the day I got my braces removed. Enough said.

  8. do-it-myself says:

    What? At age 7??? I didn’t get mine till 12 and had them for 4 years. I knew someone who had them for 9. It’s impossible to have teeth so bad that they are needed for a decade.

    You have to take extra care of your teeth when you have braces because of all the stuff that could get stuck. I admit, I was extremely lazy (and lucky!) because I rarely flossed and didn’t brush most nights. I made a promise to myself that I would take better care as soon as my teeth were free. I’ve had them off for 10 years and never go more than 2 days without flossing.

    In the future I may get invisalign to fix a small gap between two teeth, but it’s purely cosmetic.

  9. galaxirose says:

    Braces. I had braces for 8 years total. I had two of those giant silver bands on my top molars for 6 of those years. At age 17 I realized that I had had absolutely enough mouth torture and correcting my supposed overbite wasn’t high priority for me. I had to beg for months before they finally removed them “against recommendations” because I was refusing to wear the extra bands that I “needed” to fix my teeth.

    My next dental x-ray showed two giant, identical cavities which had developed under the bands. Despite some people’s beliefs, there’s no brush or nozzle that can get under those bands. So then, my hack dentist (who incidentally recommended my hack orthodontist) drilled away 3/4 of each tooth and gave me fillings which hurt for another 6 years. Until finally I had a job, insurance, and enough sense to make educated decisions about my dental care.

    At age 25, I eventually had to have root canals in both of them, bringing it to a whopping out-of-pocket total of around $4,000 bucks. I think I cried when the dentist told me how much it was going to be. (“Sorry, your insurance only covers 2k per year… aaaaand we’re not a preferred provider.”)

    I guess my point is, there are some fucked up dentists/orthodontists out there. And when you get started in something like that at a young age, no one will listen to you when you say you want out, and ultimately you’re supposed to just trust the grownups with medical degrees. Or, I guess remove the hardware yourself. Because that would end well.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Should have been going to a preferred vendor.

    • richcreamerybutter says:

      I am so sorry you had to go through this. Now I’m fortunate enough to have a decent dentist (they do exist), but I’ve had some horrible “mouth professionals” over the years.

      I had braces from about 1987-89. The patient area was one giant room of chairs, and most of the work was done by assistants with too much jewelry on their fingers (no gloves!), and when I periodically opened my eyes the woman’s head was not facing my mouth filled with wires, but toward another assistant while gossiping.

      After the braces were removed, the orthodontist said he was going to schedule a “new” procedure in two parts. The purpose was to sever a nerve and prevent the teeth from falling back. For part one, they used an instrument that resembled a hybrid of an exacto knife and tattoo needle on my numbed top gum. They inserted it into the back of my gum in two places and a searing pain I’ll never forget caused me to scream.

      In the waiting room my mom wondered what had happened, and when the receptionist tried to schedule the procedure for the bottom gum, I said to both of them through tears, “I’m NOT doing that again! Neither of you can force me to!!” or whatever a defiant teenager says in a panic. At that point the orthodontist was present, and obviously amused by the scene. I didn’t complete the procedure, and I still curse his soul.

      That incident quickly turned me into a severe dental phobic. I neglected to go for even regular dental checkups for 4 years, because I’d have a panic attack and almost faint at the sounds and smells of a waiting room. It led to some expensive procedures later.

      Although I’ve had a couple of great dentists, I still wish they were more consistent and less protective of their own. They do prescribe Valium, but to this day not one has offered me nitrous to ease my nerves. I like but don’t completely trust the one I have now, since she did everything she could to not say, “your last dentist didn’t apply the crown properly.” She kept using a disclaimer, “that’s not the way I would have done it.” A friend who also had the same recent questionable dentist went to another, and his comment was something along the lines of, “she did unorthodox work.” Yet if you even mention the idea of getting a dental implant in Brazil, they will do everything to convince you that Brazilian dentists lack any skills whatsoever.

      • richcreamerybutter says:

        I forgot to mention that every time I’ve mentioned the orthodontic nerve-severing procedure to a dentist, he or she says, “I’ve never heard of that!”

        • galaxirose says:

          That sounds completely insane, and makes my experience seem almost joyful (although I think we had the same assistants… by the mid 90s they were wearing gloves, but mine always had so many rings on that the gloves would constantly rip and consequently she had to replace her gloves multiple times during a session).

          I do actually have dentist fear as well, probably from the terrible experiences, and it took me a long time to trust my current (and amazing) dentist. I will never again go somewhere that I don’t get a stellar, personal recommendation from someone I trust. And man is going in even to her ever a test of wills… *don’t pass out don’t pass out don’t pass out*

        • MamaCatfish says:

          I had a tendon/ligament severed in a procedure like you describe to stop my teeth from reverting back to where they were, but it sure as hell wasn’t a nerve! And they froze me first!

        • Coleoptera Girl says:

          I can’t imagine that severing a nerve will do anything to keep your teeth in place, unless you’re aiming to paralyze a certain muscle. That orthodontist was insane, plain and simple.

  10. Costner says:

    Invisalign… I wore them for 18 months but could take them off to eat and for certain other activities that involve the opposite sex. Now I just wear them at night every now and then as retainers.

    I realize not all conditions can be treated with Invisalign, but if my child ever needs braces that is the way I would go. The majority of cosmetic conditions can be treated with them, so unless they have severe jaw alignment issues it seems like a much better solution.

  11. Ilovegnomes says:

    I feel for this guy. I had braces for 6 years and when I finally got them off, the orthodontist left the cement on my two front teeth. He said my dentist should remove it. My dentist said that my orthodontist should remove it. I ping ponged back and forth about 4 times between the two offices before I got fed up (and teased… I was 16) with having large yellow squares on my two front teeth. I finally had to make a huge stink and refuse to get out of my orthodontist’s chair until he removed it. He said he had previously refused because they hadn’t used that cement in so long, he forgot how to remove it. I told him that maybe if I refused to get out of his chair and blocked his other patients from getting to their appointment would jog his memory. It did.

    • pandroid says:

      At least they told you what the cement was. They lied to me and told me it was damage to my tooth enamel on all my front teeth. A decade later, when I went to a dentist that knew what he was doing, I finally found out that those squares weren’t my fault. He wasn’t afraid to take on a little bit of cement, sanded it off for me and my teeth looked a million times better.

  12. dee23 says:

    a somewhat similar thing happened to me. my parents took me to an orthodontist who did not know what he was doing….he used really outdated gear on my teeth for 3 years during which i had the worst pain in my life (are your front teeth really supposed to go from having quarter-inch gaps between them to absolutely nothing overnight?? i lost serious weight from not being able to eat for weeks). when i was nowhere near better after 3 years, my parents finally brought me to a legit orthodontist who was completely horrified by the gear the old ortho used. he said something like “No one uses this setup anymore!!” By the time all the old gear was removed, I had over 10 cavities that was hidden under all the extraneous metal and all of my teeth were seriously weakened. I spent 2 more years under the care of the new ortho and was all good after that.

  13. chizu says:

    Genuine question here. When I was growing up, it seems like almost everyone around me had braces at one point. Aside for medical reasons — do you REALLY need braces? Everyone tells me it’s because their teeth are not perfectly straight — do you really need them perfectly straight? Getting braces is extremely expensive and it seemed like I was the only person in my middle school who didn’t acquire them. I can’t imagine that everyone in school had horribly grown crooked teeth that was going to ruin their life — or is it primarily because people want the “perfect” look?

    • Michael Belisle says:

      I would hazard that absolutely needing them (or you’ll die or loose your teeth or have some other sort of serious problem) is probably rare, which is why cosmetic dentistry generally isn’t covered by insurance or exists as an add-on or a more expensive plan.

      But I see nothing wrong with wanting a perfect, aligned, symmetrical look. In my life, my teeth were coming in crooked when I was a youngster, and I was all afraid that I was going to need braces. They sort of straightened out, so Yay! No braces for this champ!

      But now 20 years later, they’re really not perfectly straight. They’re not horribly out of alignment, but the back of one tooth is kind of hard to brush and only regular visits to the dentist keeps it clean. I also have some nervous habits associated with the teeth that arent straight. I sort of wish I hadn’t been so anti-braces and am thinking about going after invisialign.

      My point is, what’s wrong with wanting straight teeth? It’s one of those things that are standard desires in middle class America, along with 20/20 vision, no unsightly moles, good digestion, a full head of hair, etc. Sure, your life isn’t over if you don’t get all of those or can’t fix them before you grow old and they become the least of your health and appearance problems, but they’re still nice to have.

      • missminimonster says:

        Wanting 20/20 vision isn’t like wanting good teeth or a full head of hair.

      • iesika says:

        My mom got braces at 40. It’s never too late!

        I think cosmetic dentistry should probably have to wait until the patient is old enough for informed consent. Jaw alignment is one thing – but no one would listen to me as a kid that I would rather have one crooked tooth than years of torture.

    • catskyfire says:

      My parents pointed out that it would help in the future. Not for the ‘how you look in a job’, but in the “someday you may need fancy dental work, and it’s easier if the teeth are straighter’.

    • galaxirose says:

      As a nice append to my horror story above, I *did* actually need braces. My teeth were all jacked up on top of each other to the point where I couldn’t pronounce “breakfast” correctly. Small mouth, big teeth I’ve been told. By everyone who’s ever looked in my mouth.

      That being said, all the non-cosmetic problems were fixed in 2 years… the extra 6 were just… bonus? In the end I had to really evaluate if a perfectly cookie-cutter smile was worth the seemingly endless torture.

      Today, my jaw doesn’t hurt from my terrrrrible overbite like they ensured me it would, and I just have to floss my slightly overlapping bottom teeth from multiple angles to make sure they’re clean.

      And that’s how I learned that while some people can apparently achieve tooth perfection, I was going to have to suck it up and be the proud owner of some quirky teeth. Some expensive, quirky teeth.

    • nolitt242 says:

      Very few people needs braces, but if you suffered with a terrible overbite or underbite…it’s well worth it IMO.

  14. dreams305 says:

    Similar story was posted on SomethingAwful in 2002. The orthodontist kept waving off taking the braces (speculation was that he would keep getting more money) and by the time the braces came off the teeth were completely ruined. He gentleman in question had them on from 5th grade all the way through high school.

    A quote from the braces removal: “as the assistant removed each bracket, chunks of tooth came with it. 7 years of being covered by a non-hermetic seal had weakened my teeth to the point of breaking off with the brackets”

    I don’t know the follow up, but I do know the gentleman was trying to sue. Hopefully the Oregon man gets some compensation to at least fix his teeth.

  15. Press1forDialTone says:

    I asked my dentist about this (had to call to rechedule an appointment) and
    he chuckled and said those doctors better get out their checkbooks or take
    a second mortgage or win the lottery STAT.

  16. SoCalGNX says:

    There are a lot of things wrong with this story. A seven year old might have a retainer to encourage the jaws to grow but probably not full braces. An orthodontist would not see someone intermittently because that is not how treatment works. It sounds like the patient did what he pleased with no regard to treatment plans. Additionally, while teeth can and do get decay under braces, regular checkups would have caught at least some of this. Additionally periodontal disease is on him alone. As to the teeth rotting thru to the jaw and he can’t get implants? Noooooo that is not how implants work. They are inserted into the jaw where there are missing teeth. This guy should get zero, nada, zilch.

    • birdieblue says:

      The mistake you’re making is assuming all orthodontists are good at what they do. I had an orthodontist who, similar to another commenter upthread, simply refused to schedule appointments with me after he removed some parts of my braces. Yes, that’s right – just some of the metal/cement. The rest he simply “left on for now, because I don’t want to deal with that” and when I tried to schedule another appointment to have them removed, I was told that the office “didn’t do that anymore”. I had to wait until I found another dentist in the state where I went to college to remove the last bits of cement, metal, and bite shelf (a large chunk of cement behind the front teeth) about 1.5 years later. That dentist was absolutely appalled by what had happened.

      And no, there’s nothing else about the story. Insurance was paying just fine, and even if it wasn’t, I had the money to pay out of pocket for another appointment. Nothing strange happened at the orthodontist’s office that would warrant me being turned away as a patient. Sometimes even doctors are just freaking idiots who ignore you when they can’t get more money out of you.

  17. 808 says:

    I wore metal braces with about a 6-month brief reprieve from 2nd grade until the summer after 10th grade. Headgear at nights, as well, for about 5 years. My orthodontist didn’t have/use palate expanders, so the first few years were to deal with crowding issues caused by early extraction of several baby teeth.

    Yes, I had some caries where the bands were, but I also went to the dentist for checkups/cleaning 2-3 times a year. AND I made sure that our kids got palate expanders and glue-on brackets, as well as composite fillings. We ate a lot of beans and saimin to do this, but it was worthwhile. FWIW, I think the “silver fillings” I got then and after can be more an issue than the long duration of the braces … think root canals after the fillings leak.

  18. dush says:

    Poor Brace-face

  19. PeriMedic says:

    Why do many people criticize those who get cosmetic surgery to feel better about their appearance, but not blink an eye at the massive teeth-straightening industry? I can see that there may be cases where it is medically necessary to have braces, but overall it seems it is just for appearances sake.

    Full-disclosure: Never had braces; had a tummy-tuck.

    • Captain Spock says:

      I had a super honest dentist. He told us point blank that it was purely cosmetic and that I didn’t NEED braces. I am happy with my crooked teeth.

    • iesika says:

      I think the issue is that sometimes, braces etc. are necessary to make someone’s mouth and jaws work correctly or stop pain. Probably not in most cases… but often enough to color the discussion.

  20. Ben A. says:

    I only had mine on for about 5 years before they had to come off. Turns out some of the orthodontal cement under the bands had worn off, and the bands were just holding food particles against my tooth. When they removed it I had a cavity underneath one bad enough it was on the edge of requiring the molar to be pulled.

    That’s after 5 years, after 11 years I can completely understand the teeth rotting out underneath the braces, I’m pretty sure the cement isn’t designed for that sort of duration.
    Also some orthodontists are incredibly and I mean incredibly timid when it comes to actually using the braces to apply force. Of the five years I wore mine, most of the movement came during the last year, when repeated heckling from my father got the orthodontist to move up his schedule. If he’d kept going as he had been, I can imagine it having taken 11 years.

    Here’s the funny thing: after 5 years (and a couple more prior to age 5 with a pallet spreader), my teeth still weren’t straight. Did finally correct the under-bite at least.

  21. MarkFL says:

    Coming soon:

    “The doctor will see you in a few minutes. In the meantime, please fill out this medical history and a waiver of your right to sue for malpractice…any disputes you have over medical care will be resoved through binding arbitration by an arbitration service chosen by the doctor.”

  22. dks64 says:

    I blame the parents for letting their kid get braces that early AND for not being proactive about their child’s health.