Judge to decide Aspen tooth dispute
Part-time local resident Neil Siegel believes an Aspen dentist negligently pulled the wrong tooth from his mouth in January.
The dentist, however, testified Wednesday in Pitkin County Small Claims Court that he not only pulled the right tooth but did Siegel a favor because the tooth he wanted pulled is no longer problematic and remains in his mouth.
“I’m extremely proud of the decision process we made and that we were able to save that tooth,” said Dr. Andrew Turchin, noting that Siegel would now need two implants rather than one if he’d pulled the tooth Siegel wanted pulled.
Now it’s up to Pitkin County Court Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely to decide the case. The judge said she’d issue a decision in writing.
Siegel, a retired patent attorney who also lives in Stamford, Connecticut, 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.
“To say I was upset (afterward) was an understatement,” Siegel said.
He did go to Southeast Asia, where he had to baby the tooth, he said. However, he took a 10-day course of antibiotics and the pain in his mouth subsided, Siegel testified.
In April, Siegel said his Connecticut dentists told him the tooth did not need to be pulled. At the same time, he had a root canal procedure on the tooth he thought should have been pulled. That tooth remains in his mouth and doesn’t bother him anymore, he said.
Turchin, who began his practice in New York City 17 years ago and has been in Aspen for four years, said he spoke with Siegel, tested the teeth in the problem area and diagnosed the tooth he ended up pulling as being fractured.
“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.
“I’m shocked and dismayed this misunderstanding is happening,” Turchin said. “We spent a lot of time talking (about it).”
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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Carrie Besnette Hauser considers her position as president of Colorado Mountain College to be a dream job.