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Dental patients get $35M over unneeded root canals
A judge on Wednesday awarded $35 million to 29 clients of a former dentist who performed thousands of unnecessary root canals for nearly 30 years.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A judge Wednesday awarded a total $35 million to 29 former patients of a retired Shoreline dentist who is accused of performing thousands of unnecessary root canals.
The judge found Henri Duyzend was negligent, failed to obtain informed consent from patients, committed fraud and violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act. The verdict is believed to be one of the largest in state history for dental negligence.
Duyzend performed nearly 2,200 root canals on about 500 patients in the five years before he retired in 2007, according to the sworn affidavit of Dr. David To, who purchased Duyzend’s practice. A typical patient has fewer than two root canals in his or her lifetime, he said.
The state Department of Health has received 76 complaints against Duyzend, according to spokesman Donn Moyer.
Calls to Duyzend and his lawyer were not returned Wednesday. However, in 2012 he denied all wrongdoing and wrote that the injuries to his former patients were caused by a third party, according to court documents.
The suit was filed by patients in King County Superior Court, but Wednesday’s ruling came during an arbitration proceeding.
Duyzend started practicing dentistry in Shoreline in 1977, according to the Department of Health. He made patients feel comfortable, said Laurel Stuart, who was Duyzend’s patient from when he first started.
“We thought he was fabulous,” the Shoreline woman said Wednesday. “He was great with visiting with you.”
At her first appointment, however, Stuart said Duyzend told her he wanted to give her a crown because she had good insurance. She started questioning his work about 15 years ago, she said, because “of all the root canals.”
“I was afraid to tell him anything was wrong with my teeth, because I was afraid he would say I needed a root canal,” said Stuart, who will receive $98,000.
The year after Duyzend retired and To bought his practice, the new dentist noticed a high number of patients coming in with pain from failing root canals and failing crowns, according to his sworn affidavit. Many had infections from root canals that were missed, unfilled or not packed properly after the root was removed.
To found that in five years, the average patient had had four root canals from Duyzend.
That was true for Stuart, who had four root canals and “lots of crowns” and had to go to a specialist to have implants when she lost four teeth.
Root canals are not uncommon, according to Dr. Fred Quarnstrom, a Seattle dentist in practice for almost 50 years.
He looked at records of Duyzend’s former patients and sat in on testimony earlier this month.
A tooth can die at any time, particularly if there is deep decay or a crown already on the tooth. However, Quarnstrom said, a patient with four root canals is unusual.
“I can’t remember a patient of mine with four root canals,” Quarnstrom said. “If they did, it’s because they were in some accident where they took a significant blow to the face.”
Stuart said her new dentist was horrified when he examined her teeth. Duyzend didn’t have a lot of new technology, but the new dentist’s equipment showed Stuart what her teeth looked like underneath her crowns.
“It was just rotten teeth,” Stuart said. “Black, rotten teeth.”
Duyzend surrendered his license in 2010 after negotiations, according to Moyer. He agreed to never practice dentistry in the state again.
Duyzend and his insurer will be expected to pay the $35 million amount.
The individual damages amounts awarded Wednesday range from $440,000 to $2.09 million.
Stuart and her husband will use their money to pay for their dental bills, which have cost “thousands and thousands,” she said.
She said that won’t erase the feeling of being betrayed by Duyzend.
“You trust your dentist, because you are not an expert,” Stuart said. “And you end up with a big mess in your mouth because you trusted somebody.”
Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2517 or firstname.lastname@example.org