Judge: Aspen dentist not negligent in tooth case
A part-time Aspen resident’s small claims lawsuit against a local dentist he said pulled the wrong tooth was frivolous and groundless, a judge ruled late Monday.
Neil Siegel, the patient, was fully advised by Dr. Andrew Turchin which tooth was to be extracted and consented to having it done both before and during the procedure, according to the ruling by Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely.
“Therefore, Dr. Andrew Turchin was not negligent and proceeded with good dental practices,” Fernandez-Ely said in a written opinion.
Turchin, a New York City native who’s practiced in Aspen for four years, was awarded attorney’s fees and court costs in the case. A message left for him Tuesday seeking comment was not returned.
Siegel, a retired patent attorney who also lives in Stamford, Conn., testified that his tooth troubles began in early December after biting down on something hard during a dinner party. Whatever it was caused “severe pain,” and he went to see his two regular dentists in Connecticut, he testified.
A tooth with a crown on it in his lower jaw was the source of the pain, Siegel said, though the dentists said it wasn’t fractured though it might have been infected. Siegel was heading for Aspen, then leaving for a trip to Southeast Asia a month later and the dentists told him to check with his Aspen dentist if the pain came back, he said.
Sure enough, the pain flared up again in early January, and Siegel said he went to see Turchin, who recommended pulling the problem tooth. Siegel said he had “great reservations,” but consented to having the tooth pulled because he was leaving for Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam in a week and didn’t want to have to deal with dental issues in those countries.
The next day, Siegel was in the dental chair and Turchin was prepping the tooth when the dentist made a comment about Siegel losing the gold inlay on the tooth. Siegel said his mouth was full of dental implements, but he raised his hand to protest because the gold inlay tooth was next to the tooth with the crown on it he wanted pulled.
“You’re pulling the wrong tooth,” Siegel said he told Turchin.
Turchin immediately stopped, pulled up the x-ray and told him, “Neil, this tooth’s a goner,” Siegel said. The procedure then continued, he said.
Turchin said he spoke with Siegel, tested the teeth in the problem area and diagnosed the tooth he ended up pulling as being fractured before the extraction.
“The tooth probably fractured when he bit on something,” Turchin testified.
When Siegel stopped him before he pulled the tooth, he had just begun the procedure, he said. Turchin said they again discussed what was going to happen, pulled up the x-ray and Siegel said it was OK to proceed.
Siegel went to Southeast Asia, took a course of antibiotics prescribed by Turchin and the pain in his tooth subsided, he testified. The tooth remains in his mouth to this day and causes no discomfort, he said. Turchin later said he was proud to have saved the tooth Siegel wanted pulled.
Dr. James Berwick, a Colorado Springs oral surgeon, testified as an expert witness for Turchin and said the dentist was not negligent. He said that based on his study of the x-rays and other documents, the tooth Turchin pulled had “extremely serious problems.”
“Any reasonable dentist would have looked at (the tooth that was pulled) more than (the tooth that wasn’t pulled),” Berwick said, adding that the tooth Siegel wanted pulled did not need to be extracted.
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