Dental Malpractice

Authored by , LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

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What Is Dental Malpractice?

As with any healthcare provider, dentists must use a professional standard of care when working in and around a person's mouth.  Teeth cleaning and repair requires the use of precise diamond-tipped instruments in very sensitive areas of the mouth. However, dentists have made the voluntary choice to go through years of training in order to help people and their teeth.  Therefore, they have a legal duty to their patients to concentrate on what they are doing at all times.  One small slip of the wrist could spell disaster.

For example, an Illinois woman sued her dentist for a botched root canal, where it is alleged the dentist left some of the root in.  This led to infection, which forced her to get a dental implant to replace the tooth.  Her lawsuit sought recovery for her pain and suffering, dental expenses, lost wages, and attorney fees.

How Do I Recover For Dental Malpractice?

In dental malpractice, there needs to be an actual injury that causes long-term pain.  The pain associated with a root canal is usually not enough to sue over.  It is usually pain from the infected root that brings the patient in to the dentist’s office to begin with.  A normal amount of pain, such as when the anesthetic needle penetrates the gum, is an unavoidable element of a root canal. In a normal root canal, the dentist does not do anything wrong.

However, injury alone does not win a dental malpractice case. Dental malpractice, like other malpractice cases, must involve negligence on the part of the dentist. In other words, the dentist must be responsible, either through action or inaction, for the injuries his or her patient received. The dentist must also be acting outside the normal professional standard of care. A dentist’s conduct is compared to the conduct of other dentists to determine if he or she was insufficiently incompetent.

What Problems Could Indicate Dental Malpractice?

Lawsuits involving dental malpractice usually lead to smaller recoveries compared to other medical malpractice claims.  This is because there is generally less that can go fatally wrong in a dental procedure.  However, people do die from dental procedures, mainly through mistakes in administering anesthesia. Anesthesiology is a difficult area of medicine; there can be allergic and unanticipated reactions. 

A dentist needs to thoroughly check the patient’s background before initiating any dental surgery. Dentists should also inform the patient about any major procedures necessary and have the patient’s consent prior to beginning the procedure. Other grounds for dental malpractice can include the use of defective dental products, improper sterilization of utensils, or injury to the bone and tissue of the oral cavity.

Are There Any Defenses To A Dental Malpractice Claim?

Dental malpractice, as a form of medical malpractice, follows the same set of legal principles. As such, the same defenses to a medical malpractice claim can be applied to a dental malpractice suit. The first defense is to minimize or deny the perceived injury. The root canal example provided earlier is a model of this type of defense. Where there is no injury, there is no malpractice.

The next legal defense is that the dentist is not the one responsible for the injury. For example, if it is confirmed that the root canal is a serious injury, it may still be possible to argue that the injury was a result of prior dental work or the patient’s own conduct. In addition, the dentist’s conduct must be unreasonable compared to the conduct of other dentists. If a dentist, for example, fails to diagnose a condition, the dentist cannot be held negligent if other dentists cannot be expected to diagnose the condition as well.

Do I Need A Lawyer For My Dental Malpractice Case?

If you or a loved one has suffered from dental malpractice, an experienced personal injury attorney can help you recover for the pain received.  

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Last Modified: 08-08-2012 02:13 PM PDT

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