Is an orthodontist legally or ethically responsible to remove braces if they are causing harm to a former patient’s mouth?

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Is an orthodontist legally or ethically responsible to remove braces if they are causing harm to a former patient’s mouth?

My son had braces put on 4 years ago. I ran into financial trouble and could not continue treatment. The work is far from done yet the orthodontist will not remove his braces until he is paid in full. I refuse to pay for services my son did not receive. He is joining the US Marines but cannot leave for boot camp until the braces are removed.

Asked on May 12, 2011 under Malpractice Law, Michigan

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

The situation you describe, at least from what you write, is not one where the braces are causing harm to a former patient's mouth, in the sense of the braces being defective, having been put in improperly, etc. Rather, it is seemingly a case where the braces were fine, but the patient (or patient's parent) discontinued paying for the service, and now the patient needs the braces removed due to non-medical reasons (e.g. to be accepted for boot camp). An orthodontist is not obligated to perform work for free; if there was a problem with the braces themselves (again, they were not put in correctly or should not have been put in, etc.), it might well be the case where the orthodontist would have to absorb the cost of correcting the issue, but if the braces were fine as installed and would have been fine had the course of treatment been continued, the orthodontist is most likely not required to subsidize their removal.


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