Can an Emergency Dentist Treat My Dad Without My Permission?

can a ward have emergency dental treatment without guardian

My father is 65 and has dementia. About four years ago, I went through the court system and was granted legal guardianship of him. I took care of him at home for as long as I could. Then, about two years ago, we made the hard decision to have him checked into a residence. This particular place has been good to him, and there are lots of different specialists who will visit him on-site, so he doesn’t have to travel. One of them is an Elgin emergency dentist.

This past week, the emergency dentist was visiting the residence for another patient and my dad approached him and asked him about a tooth that was bothering him. An exam was performed, and the doctor apparently offered to pull a tooth on the spot.

My dad called me in tears that night, asking me to bring him some pain medication. I was shocked. I wasn’t even told he was seeing a doctor, let alone having a tooth pulled. I thought my dad was just having one of his “moments,” so I went down there fully expecting to have to try to explain to him that he still had all his teeth. Nope. I got there and my dad was a real mess. He was bleeding and crying. He kept holding his mouth. Nobody at the residence knew anything about this- at least not the nighttime staff- and I had no clue who had seen him. I ended up calling his general practitioner and he prescribed some pain medicine to help get him through.

It wasn’t until the next day that I finally tracked down the emergency dentist who had done it, and explained what was going on with the level of pain, as well as what his situation was with me being my dad’s guardian. They wouldn’t talk to me until they had proof of guardianship, and I lost an entire day just getting them the paperwork. By the next day, my dad was even worse off. He was literally shaking from the pain and it looked like the socket was infected. I called the office back again and they said they wouldn’t prescribe over the phone, and that it would be a week before the emergency dentist could come out again. A week! Thankfully, my dad’s primary care got him squared away with antibiotics and more pain medicine, but I’m at a total loss here. The office obviously doesn’t care about my dad’s well being, and I’m afraid they treat everyone this way, but it’s even worse because people like my dad are particularly vulnerable. When I told them they didn’t have the right to treat him without my permission, they said they did because it was an urgent need. Now, I think I have the grounds to go after them for their poor care, but I’m also curious to know, did they even have the legal right to treat him?

Thank you,


Dear Lance,

Sorry to hear your dad had such a terrible experience with the emergency dentist. For the record, though, it sounds more like you’re dealing with a mobile dentist rather than an emergency dentist.

You’re right to be concerned about the level of care your dad got. The treating physician should have followed up and should have been involved in the care after.

As far as the legality of treatment goes, that’s a tough one that you’ll probably want to run by a lawyer. The short version is that your father would have had to have been able to give “informed consent” for treatment. Given that you’re his guardian, a court probably deemed him “mentally incompetent,” which means he can’t give informed consent. If the doctor knew his status, he shouldn’t have provided treatment without getting that consent from you. The problem is, you may have to prove the doctor knew your father was incapable of giving informed consent. Again, though, this is an area you should talk to a lawyer about.

The other thing you didn’t mention was the residence’s response to this. They were responsible for him, especially if he is in a higher level of care, such as memory care. The fact that he had oral surgery without the staff catching on or asking questions should be setting off alarm bells in your mind.

It sounds like you have a lot to unravel here. Start by having your dad checked out by a reputable local dentist to make sure everything is healing ok now and go from there. Best of luck to you both.

This blog is sponsored by Elgin dentist, Dr. Steve Sirin.

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