Traditional medical malpractice suits usually arise from botched surgery, or the administration of harmful medications. However, most injuries resulting from dental malpractice can easily be corrected. What this means is that, generally speaking, dental injuries are not considered substantial enough to constitute filing a lawsuit.

Dentists must maintain a professional standard of care when working in and around a person’s mouth. They have made the voluntary choice to go through years of training in order to help people and their teeth. As such, dentists have a legal duty to their patients to concentrate on what they are doing at all times, and ensure they are working within their scope of practice. Failure to do so could lead to an instance of dental malpractice. 

An example of this would be how an Illinois woman sued her dentist for a botched root canal, and alleged that the dentist left some of the root in. Leaving the root in led to infection, which forced the patient 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.

What Do I Have to Prove in a Lawsuit against a Dentist?

Suing a dentist for medical malpractice will likely utilize the same legal principles as personal injury torts. The injured party (known as the plaintiff) must prove the following elements in order to be successful in a lawsuit against the dentist (known as the defendant):

  • Duty: The dentist must owe a duty to you. What this means is that the person suing is a patient of the dentist. The dentist must have accepted the plaintiff as a patient, and agreed to treat them;
  • Standard of Care Breach: The plaintiff will need to prove that the dentist acted below the applicable standard of care. A dentist must act in a way that other dentists would act under similar circumstances, who have basically the same education and knowledge. Additionally, they must have a similar type of practice, and practice in a similar geographical area. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, this first test can be difficult to prove because it generally can only be established through expert testimony. An example of this would be another dentist testifying that the dentist who injured the plaintiff acted below the standard of care for their industry;
  • Causation: The plaintiff will need to establish that the dentist’s negligent act was the cause of injury. The dentist could argue that the injury was something the patient would have sustained, even if the dentist was not negligent. They may also argue that the patient should have reasonably expected the pain from the procedure. As such, the dentist may successfully defend the case because they actually did not cause the harm. They could also argue that even if they did cause the harm, they did not make it any worse than it would have been under ordinary circumstances. If the plaintiff can show that the dentist made a mistake, they still may not win their claim unless they can prove that there was additional harm caused by the mistake; and
  • Damages: The plaintiff must prove that they actually incurred some type of damage. This could mean having to pay for additional dental services to fix the mistake, or missed time from work because of the injury. Damages usually come in the form of some type of monetary loss and must generally be quantifiable. Even if the dentist was blatantly negligent, they may not be sued for dental malpractice if the dental patient did not actually suffer any harm.

What Are Some Reasons to Sue a Dentist?

Dental malpractice may also be referred to as dental negligence. Dentists can be sued for a variety of incidents so long as those incidents result in injury from the dental work. Examples of reasons to sue a dentist include, but are not limited to:

  • Failure to detect or diagnose periodontal diseases;
  • Failing to properly examine a patient for specific dental disorders, such as oral cancer;
  • Exceeding the scope of consent for treatment;
  • Improper use of dental instruments, or improper administration of anesthesia;
  • Improper or unnecessary treatment;
  • Severe oral infections; 
  • Misdiagnosis; and/or
  • Unnecessary surgery.

It is possible to sue a dentist for nerve damage. Severe nerve damage to the face, lips, jaw, or tongue may constitute a lawsuit against a dental provider.

What Are the Steps to Take to Sue a Dentist?

If you are seeking to sue your dentist, you should consult with an attorney. They will be able to assess whether you actually have a case, and how best to proceed. The process for filing a lawsuit against a dentist can quickly become complicated and could vary from state to state. This would depend on each state’s laws regarding personal injury, and malpractice and negligence.

The appropriate court with which to file the lawsuit could also vary. Suing a dentist in small claims court may prove more successful for those cases involving injuries such as an inadequate crown, or botched root canal. If you would like to pursue a dental malpractice claim in small claims court, you must first obtain a report from another dentist. This report should clarify why the initial dental work could be considered negligent, as well as an estimate of how much it would cost to repair that negligent dental work.

When Is a Dental Malpractice Lawsuit Difficult to Win?

Dentists may successfully raise dental malpractice defenses in a lawsuit. One of the most common examples would be comparative negligence. If the defendant can prove that the plaintiff contributed to their own injuries in some way, the jury will likely assign each party a percentage of fault. Depending on the laws of each specific state, the plaintiff’s recovery will either be reduced or barred completely. 

Another common defense would invoke the state’s statute of limitations. Dental malpractice claims must be brought to the court within a certain period of time. This time frame varies from state to state, and the statute of limitations bars recovery for personal injury claims commenced after a certain period of time.

It may be difficult to win a lawsuit for pulling the wrong tooth. Although pain is experienced, it is usually not considered to be enough of an injury to sue for. This is because the injury can usually be easily corrected. The dentist could provide the patient with two implants free of charge. If the dentist actually believed that they pulled out a tooth that was causing your pain, and then later determined that the tooth was not the cause of the pain, a patient may only sue if the dentist should have known it was the wrong tooth.

“Doing bad work” may not be a successful claim. Expert testimony will be required in order to determine whether this is simply the patient’s opinion, whether that opinion is reasonable, and whether the dentist’s conduct fell below the standard of care. Additionally, the court will consider whether the injury can be easily corrected.

Should I Seek the Advice of a Lawyer?

As previously mentioned, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer if you are considering suing your dentist. An experienced personal injury attorney will be knowledgeable about your state’s laws regarding the matter, and will assess your case to determine whether you have a claim. 

An attorney can also help you gather evidence and expert testimony. Finally, an attorney will represent you in court and work to get you an appropriate damages award.