Mum’s anger at dentist after son died on 21st birthday

Sam Smith, of Corby Glen, who died in June.
Sam Smith, of Corby Glen, who died in June.

The mother of a man who died on his 21st birthday has hit out at the dentist she claims failed her son after he was diagnosed with mouth cancer.

Sara Smith, of Corby Glen, says her son, Sam, could have been given a better chance of life with an earlier diagnosis.

It was discovered Sam had mouth cancer in 2013, several months after he first complained about severe pain at the back of his mouth.

On a visit to Anthony Smith, who was then based in Avenue Road but now runs his practice in Dysart Road, Sam was given an X-ray and told he had an impacted wisdom tooth. He was given the antibiotic amoxicillin.

Mrs Smith said that in the following weeks Sam’s symptoms worsened and he saw Mr Smith again at a routine appointment that had been made six months before.

He referred Sam to the hospital with the view of a maxillofacial consultant extracting the tooth and Sam was given another course of amoxicillin.

Sam’s mum chased the hospital appointment and in mid-May received a letter from Lincoln County Hospital for an appointment on July 16. Sam and his mother went back to the dentist to ask him if he could speed up the process.

In June, Mr Smith said Sam did need to be seen as quickly as possible and an appointment was arranged for June 14 when Sam saw the maxillofacial consultant who said it was serious. Sam had an X-ray, biopsy and blood tests that same day.

Mrs Smith said: “He was 18 at the time. They mentioned cancer. We were just reeling. The consultant said he was pretty sure it was a tumour. We came home in a blur.”

Mrs Smith added: “Less than a week later we had a call from the practice manager who rang to see how Sam had got on. They said Mr Smith had wanted the referral sent off urgently, but from that day I never heard another whisper from them.

“He had been seeing Sam almost from birth. But we have had nothing from them, not one iota.”

Sam had an operation to remove the tumour at the end of July 2013 and had chemotherapy and radiotherapy for the rest of the year. Surgeons removed part of his mouth and replaced it with tissue from his arm.

Following the operation, Sam seemed to be making a recovery but in February last year he complained of pain in his shoulder. A scan later revealed that cancer had spread to his lungs. He died on his 21st birthday on June 4.

Before his death, Liverpool fan Sam was able to travel to Bordeaux and Madrid to watch football matches and enjoyed a trip to Amsterdam.

Mrs Smith said that while an earlier diagnosis would not have guaranteed Sam would still be alive today, it may have given him a better chance of life. She said: “I think for Sam and our peace of mind I have to put this to bed. Sam suffered horribly. It was awful to see.”

Mrs Smith complained to the General Dental Council (GDC) but described their investigation as a ‘shambles’.

The council said that Mr Smith had already taken action to improve procedures at his practice as a result from another unrelated complaint.

In a summary of the investigation outcome sent to Mrs Smith, the body stated: “To dispose of this matter without action would, however, fail to indicate to the registrant the seriousness of the matters alleged, which the committee considers stand a real prospect of being established before a Practice Committee. While not requiring a referral to the Professional Conduct Committee, the alleged deficiencies are a departure from acceptable standards.”

The statement continued: “Having again taken into account the low likelihood of repetition, the committee is satisfied that it is both sufficient and proportionate to close this case with advice to ensure future compliance with GDC standards and to identify where the registrant needs to reflect upon his future conduct.”

In response to Mrs Smith’s comments, Anthony Smith told the Journal: “I would like to say how sorry I am about Mr Smith’s death and pass on my sincere sympathies to Mrs Smith and her family.

“However, I cannot comment further because of my duty of patient confidentiality.”