Dental malpractice lawsuits are not as common as other forms of medical malpractice, with only one of every seven medical malpractice claims involving a dental professional.
However, this does not mean that dental malpractice does not occur, or that it can’t result in severe injuries or even permanent damage to the patient. In order to legally be considered malpractice, the dental treatment you received needs to have been below the acceptable standard of care in the field of dentistry and needs to have caused you serious personal injury.
Dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants are all responsible for providing a high level of care to their patients. If they are negligent in carrying out their duties, their mistakes can result in dental malpractice lawsuits like the following common examples.
Complications from tooth extractions make up the majority of dental malpractice cases. Your dentist needs to receive your informed consent before performing any kind of procedure, including a tooth extraction. Failure to obtain the patient’s informed consent, or carelessness on the dentist’s part, can result in the incorrect tooth being pulled or unnecessary extractions of healthy teeth.
Wrongful tooth extractions are quite serious, as teeth are vital for chewing and speaking, and replacing missing teeth typically involves costly and invasive reconstructive surgeries. And if the extracted teeth are not replaced, further complications like tooth decay and jawbone deterioration can ensue.
Most of the dental malpractice cases in this category involve patients contracting infections after getting teeth extracted. These infections can lead to further oral health complications, hospitalizations, and even brain damage and death in severe cases. Other injuries that can result from tooth extractions and are seen in malpractice lawsuits include fractured jaws, nerve or gum damage, and sinus cavity perforation.
Local anesthesia is crucial for eliminating pain and discomfort during minor, routine dental procedures, and general anesthesia is used to render patients completely unconscious for more extensive oral surgeries.
After cases involving extraction-related infections, cases involving improper administration of anesthesia are the second most common type of dental malpractice claim. Administering too little anesthesia can result in the patient feeling extreme pain or “waking up” during a procedure, whereas too high of a dose can have serious consequences such as tremors, seizures, and even death.
Dentists should always carefully review their patients’ medical history, medications, and other risk factors when preparing to administer anesthesia, and should monitor patients closely to make sure they are not having an adverse reaction.
Misdiagnosis or Failure to Diagnose Conditions
When a dentist fails to diagnose a condition that another dentist would readily recognize from the patient’s symptoms or diagnostic imaging, dental malpractice may be occurring. Qualified dentists should be able to identify signs of oral cancer, periodontal disease, or other serious conditions that require immediate care, and refer their patient to the appropriate specialist for treatment.
Failure to take X-rays or misreading X-rays can also result in improper diagnosis. In some cases, a misdiagnosis is the product of faulty imaging equipment, in which case the malpractice claim might have to be made against the equipment manufacturer rather than the individual dentist.
Implant, Crown, or Bridge Issues
Another type of dental malpractice lawsuit involves the improper placement of dental implants, crowns, or bridges. Cases in this category typically involve the restorative device not fitting properly, therefore causing injuries to the gums, cheeks, lips, jaw, or other teeth. Recommending bridges or crowns for healthy teeth may also qualify as dental malpractice if another dentist would not have recommended them.
Even though dental malpractice lawsuits are not very common, they involve severe injuries and even death. An experienced dental malpractice lawyer can help if you have been the victim of a dental professional’s negligence.