SACRAMENTO – A Grass Valley woman filed a complaint against her dentist after a tooth extraction allegedly left her with mental and physical pain.
In the complaint, which was filed in the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of California, Stacy Vargas alleges that a March 2015 procedure left her with some permanent disability. Dr. Nicole Shanklin, who performed the extraction, is a practitioner at Chapa-De Indian Health.
According to the claim, the extraction left Vargas with fractures in the lateral margin of the maxillary bone. The maxillary bone refers to the upper jawbone and is the bone that holds the upper teeth in place.
When it comes to tooth extractions, “not much has changed over the years," Dr. Alan Kaye, former president of the State Dental Board and current president of the California Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, told the Northern California Record. "It’s a very mechanical procedure. When you’re taking out a tooth, the secret is to basically tear or damage the ligament that’s holding the tooth in.”
In the case of most tooth extractions, the crucial ligament to damage is the periodontal ligament.
“(Think) of the periodontal ligament as double-sided sticky tape," Kaye said. "The ligament attaches to the tooth on one side and to the jawbone on the other side. During a tooth extraction, the surgeon disrupts the periodontal ligament and expands the bone to remove the tooth and take it out of the socket.”
Kaye also suggests that there’s no single rule or guideline that determines how long these procedures can take or how risky they will be. It's up to the dentist to asses a patient’s situation and inform the patient of each unique, potential risk.
“It’s on a scale from 1 to 5 million,” Kaye said. “If it’s a relatively straightforward, uncomplicated extraction, it can take only a minute or so. If it’s more complicated, it could take 10 to 15 minutes or it could take over an hour.”
If the patient has an impacted tooth, existing tooth infections or sinus infections, for example, tooth extraction procedures can be more difficult. Each tooth also comes with its own set of challenges based on where it sits in the mouth, as anyone who has ever had wisdom teeth removed can confirm.
“I always tell a patient, the minute I put my hands on you, anything can happen," Kaye said. "You have to understand there are risks to everything. Most of the time, risks are nominal, but we give you informed consent.”
Kaye said there's one word dentists should avoid.
“The worst word you can ever use with a patient is 'simple,'” Kaye said. “Nothing in life is simple.”
Vargas is represented by Joseph A. Androvich, a personal injury attorney at Poswall, White & Brelsford, a Sacramento-based firm.