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.
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.
To prove dental malpractice, you must be able to prove the following factors:
- Duty – The dentist must owe a duty to you. This means that he must have accepted you as a patient and agreed to treat you.
- Breach – You must show that the dentist breached his duty by falling below the standard of care. The standard of care is measured against other reasonable dentists of average skill. You may need to bring in other dentists to offer expert testimony about what the reasonable level of care is.
- Causation – You must be able to show that the dentist’s breach of duty caused you harm. If your harm was not the direct cause of the dentist’s breach of duty, you cannot sue him for dental malpractice.
- Damages – You must show that you suffered some sort of harm as a result of the breach. Even if the dentist was blatantly negligent, you cannot sue him for dental malpractice if you didn’t suffer any harm
Dental malpractice encompasses a wide range of incidents resulting in injury from dental work. These incidents may include:
- Failure to detect or diagnose periodontal diseases
- Failure to properly examine a patient for certain dental disorders
- Exceeding the scope of consent for treatment
- Improper use of dental instruments
- Improper administration of anesthesia
- Improper or unnecessary treatment
- Severe nerve damage to face, lips, jaw, or tongue
- Severe oral infects
- Unnecessary surgery
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.
Proving dental malpractice can be difficult. Establishing the standard of care, and that the breach caused the injury, is challenging. However, even if you are able to prove that there was obvious dental malpractice, dentists still have defenses, including:
- Injury: In order for a plaintiff to win on a malpractice claim, the plaintiff must show that the plaintiff suffered injury because of the dentist negligence and that the dentist did not use the standard of care that a reasonable and prudent dentist would exercise in the same situation.
- Dentist Not Responsible for 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.
- Statute of Limitations: Dental malpractice claims must be brought within a certain period of time. If you wait to long you will not be able to bring a suit no matter how badly the dentist breached his duty. Statute of limitation periods varies from state to state.
If you or a loved one has suffered from dental malpractice, an experienced personal injury attorney can help you recover for the pain received.