Friday, June 17, 2005

On Boar's Teeth

Or tusks, which is what really at issue, not teeth. It's hen's teeth I was thinking of.

Where was I?

Oh, right. Via, How(ard) Appealing, a link to the Seattle Times' report of an ugly little three-sided dispute, with a dentist, his former assistant who was traumatized by a practical joke he played on her by photographing her with little artificial tusks in her mouth he placed while she was anesthetized for another procedure, and, of course, the Insurance Company.

The article by Maureen O'Hagan is titled Appeals court rules against dentist and has the sentence:

"[N]o conceivably legitimate course of dental treatment includes boar tusks," the court said.

Now, without in any way denigrating Ms. O'Hagan's excellent reading, writing, and analytical skills, I disagree with the sentence; therefore it's the Washington State Court of Appeals I have a beef (not pork) with.

While I sympathize with their desire to punish the naughty dentist (again) and protect the relatively innocent insurer, the statement above is just too broad. It just can't be true, as a matter of law, that no conceiveably legitimate course of dental treatment could etc. I mean, what about boar dentistry? What about cosmetic surgeries? Does dental treatment per se not involve unusual-looking teeth?

Ever heard of folks who wish to get vampire teeth implanted? Gold ones? Diamond-studded ones? What about whitening procedures, caps, crowns, reshaping, implanting? See where I'm going with this?

Dental treatment is whatever the customer wants and is willing to pay for that doesn't violate, you know, state or federal law, or the canons of medical ethics, etc. If people want cosmetic alterations, then the provision of those services probably is the practice of dentistry.

That said, the placement of fake teeth plus malicious/prankish photography of unwilling victims violates any number of laws, regulations, and ethical rules. So what the Court of Appeals could have written was,

Any idiot can tell from these facts that when the dentist put aside the requested tools, artificial teeth, and procedure and took up his stupid joke and pig-teeth, that he had wandered far from the normal practice of dentistry. Insurance is for mistakes, not for protecting those who intentionally play practical jokes and wish to avoid paying for the resulting trauma. There's no such thing as practical joke insurance, and for good reason.

So while there may, under circumstances we do not care to consider or discuss, be a need for pig-teeth in the practice of dentistry, this case does not present them. Judgment for the dentist is reversed, an appropriate order follows.

"And that's the way it is."

Do I have to beg for comments, here?