Australian dentist sued for doing too many root canals

2009 11 18 10 18 09 377 Gavel 70

An Australian dentist who left a patient a "dental cripple" after performing unnecessary root canals on all 28 of the man's teeth has been fined $345,000 ($309,000 U.S.) and may lose his license.

Tree-trimmer Todd Dean was working near Sydney in December 2001 when he was hit on the chin by a small log. He rinsed his mouth with salt water, "spat out a few chips of teeth," and returned to work but later complained to his boss about persistent mouth and tooth pain, according to court records.

He was sent to Dr. Mark Phung, who treated Dean on several occasions in 2002 and 2003 and charged his employer's insurance company $73,640 ($66,000 U.S.) to perform root canals on all 28 teeth. In one bill alone, Dr. Phung charged the insurer $28,740 ($26,000 U.S.) for work performed on two occasions.

A consulting prosthodontist, Dr. Neil Peppitt, testified that Dean suffered "permanent disability" to his mouth, leaving him a "dental cripple" who will need maintenance the rest of his life. He called it a "worst-case treatment scenario," noting that Dean had "every nerve, artery, and vein within every tooth in his head amputated."

“The treatment was obviously unnecessary and improper.”
— Dr. Andrew Howe

Expert witnesses appalled

Dr. Andrew Howe, a consulting dentist who reviewed Dean's mouth, testified that the work was "a complete case of fraud," noting that it was so poorly done that all the endodontic treatment and crowns will need to be replaced. Dr. Phung's treatment was "inexcusably bad and completely outside the bounds of what any reputable dental practitioner might prescribe or perform," Dr. Howe told the court. "The treatment was obviously unnecessary and improper, and it is the nature of a gratuitous aggravation of any existing injury."

The judge, Justice Peter Hall, determined that Dean only needed three root canals and that the other 25 root canals were excessive and unnecessary.

Dean's employer, Advanced Arbor Services, sued Dr. Phung in the Supreme Court of New South Wales, claiming it was ''unjust, unfair, and unconscionable'' for him to retain the money after performing "largely destructive" dental work.

In his December 2 judgment, Justice Hall ordered Dr. Phung to pay more than $345,000 in compensation and interest to rectify the ''largely destructive'' treatment, ruling that his actions were ''a clear case of unjust enrichment'' and that he had been ''misleading and deceptive'' by claiming to be a competent dentist.

Justice Hall determined that Dr. Phung's work ''fell so far below proper professional standards as to be grossly negligent.''

Dr. Phung chose not to testify during the hearing and did not respond to requests for comment from

A spokesperson for the Dental Board of New South Wales said it was ''probable'' that the case would be referred to the Health Care Complaints Commission to determine if Dr. Phung's license should be revoked.

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