As with any other healthcare provider, a dentist must use a professional standard of care when caring for patients and working in and around an individual’s mouth. In dentistry, teeth cleaning and repair requires the use of precise diamond tipped instruments in very sensitive areas of an individual’s mouth.

A dentist has made the voluntary decision to go through many years of training in order to help individuals with their mouth issues and teeth. Therefore, dentists have a legal duty to their patients to focus and concentrate on what they are doing at all times. One small slip of the hand could spell disaster in someone’s mouth.

For example, in Illinois, a woman sued a dentist for a root canal that was incorrectly performed, alleging the dentist left some of the root in her mouth which caused tooth pain after a root canal. This also led to an infection, which forced the woman to get a dental implant in order to replace the tooth. In her lawsuit, she sought recovery for her pain and suffering, dental expenses, lost wages, as well as attorney’s fees.

What Problems Could Indicate Dental Malpractice?

A lawsuit involving dental malpractice usually leads to smaller recoveries as compared to other medical malpractice claims. This is due to the fact that there is generally less which can go fatally wrong in a dental procedure.

However, in some cases, individuals do die as a result of a dental procedure, typically due to a mistake in the administration of anesthesia. Anesthesiology is a complex and exact area of medicine and may include issues such as allergic reactions or other unanticipated reactions to the anesthesia.

Prior to initiating any dental surgery, a dentist should thoroughly check the patient’s background. A dentist should also inform the patient regarding any major procedures which may be necessary as well as obtain their consent prior to beginning the procedure.

Other grounds for dental malpractice may include:

  • The use of defective dental products;
  • Presence of expired medications;
  • Dangerous disregard for proper procedure;
  • Failure to devote professional attention to their practice;
  • Root canal mistakes;
  • Improper sterilization of utensils; or
  • Injury to the tissue and bone of the oral cavity.

What Do I Have to Show to Prove Dental Malpractice?

In order to prove dental malpractice, an individual must be able to prove the following elements:

  • Duty: The dentist must have owed a duty to the individual. This means that the dentist must have accepted them as a patient and agreed to treat them;
  • Breach: The individual must show that the dentist breached their duty by falling below the standard of care. The standard of care is measured against other dentists of average skill. An individual may need to bring in other dentists to offer expert testimony regarding what the reasonable level of care is;
  • Causation: The individual must be able to show that the dentist’s breach of duty caused them harm. If the harm was not the direct result of the dentist’s breach of duty, the individual cannot sue for dental malpractice; and
  • Damages: The individual must show that they suffered some sort of harm as a result of the breach. Even if the dentist was blatantly negligent, an individual cannot sue for dental malpractice if the individual did not suffer any harm.

What Are Common Forms of Dental Malpractice?

Dental malpractice may encompass a wide range of incidents which result in injury from dental work. Dental malpractice examples may include:

  • Failure to detect or diagnose periodontal diseases;
  • Failure to properly examine the patient for 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 the:
    • face;
    • lips;
    • jaw; or
    • tongue;
  • Severe oral infects; and
  • Unnecessary surgery.

How Do I Recover Damages for Dental Malpractice?

In order to recover for dental malpractice, the individual must satisfy the requirements listed above. In order to recover damages, there must be an injury which causes long-term pain.

In most cases, the pain associated with a root canal is not enough to sue over. It is typically pain from an infected root which brings the patient into the dentist’s office for the procedure. There will be a normal, or baseline, amount of pain which is an unavoidable element of any root canal.

It is important to note that injury alone does not make a successful dental malpractice case. Dental malpractice cases, similar to other malpractice cases, must involve negligence on the part of the dentist.

In other words, the dentist must be responsible, either through inaction or action, for the injuries the patient received. The dentist must also have acted outside the professional standard of care. The dentist’s conduct will be compared to the conduct of other dentists to determine if they were insufficiently incompetent.

Are There Any Defenses to a Dental Malpractice Claim?

Yes, there may be some defenses available to a dental malpractice claim. It is often difficult to prove dental malpractice.

It is challenging to establish the standard of care and the breach which caused the injury. Even if the individual is able to demonstrate that there was obvious dental malpractice, the dentist may still have some available 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 negligence of the dentist and that the dentist did not exercise the standard of care that a reasonable and prudent dentist would exercise in the same situation;
  • The dentist is not responsible for the injury: For example, an injury may be the result of prior dental work or the patient’s own conduct. In addition, the conduct of the dentist must be unreasonable compared to the conduct of other dentists. If a dentist, for example, fails to diagnose a condition, the dentist cannot be found negligent if other dentists cannot be expected to diagnose the condition as well; and
  • The statute of limitations has expired: Dental malpractice claims must be brought within a specific period of time. If an individual waits too long, they will not be able to bring their claim no matter how badly they were injured. The statute of limitation period for dental malpractice claims varies by state.

How Do Damages Work in a Dental Malpractice Case?

Injuries in a dental malpractice case may be physical, financial, or non-economic. In personal injury cases, plaintiffs are awarded compensatory damages, or financial compensation, to attempt to compensate them for injuries they suffered.

Factors which are used to calculate dental malpractice damages may include:

  • The seriousness of the dental error or injury which occurred;
  • Whether the dentist can correct the injury or error;
  • Whether the patient suffered physical pain;
  • Whether the injury will affect the patient’s abilities in the future, including, for example, the ability to chew or speak;
  • Comparisons with similar cases in that particular field of practice;
  • The background of the dentist or dental professional being held liable; and
  • Whether the injury was an aggravation of a patient’s preexisting condition.

Should I Consult a Lawyer about My Dental Malpractice Issues?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of a liability lawyer for any dental malpractice issues you may be facing. It is important to contact a dental malpractice lawyer as soon as possible to ensure the statute of limitations does not lapse for your claim. If you have suffered from dental malpractice, your lawyer can help you recover for the pain you endured.