Dental malpractice is very similar to medical malpractice. Dentists and dental health workers provide a type of medical care and have the same responsibility to provide a certain level or standard of care. When this standard is breached, whether intentionally or not, the patient can be harmed and the result may be a dental malpractice case that proves negligence.
If you were harmed by your dentist, hygienist, or anyone else providing dental care, you may have a case for dental malpractice. You will need to prove several things to make your case successfully, so it is important to rely on the expertise of a medical or dental malpractice lawyer. This expert can help you decide if you have a case and guide you through the legal process.
What is Dental Malpractice?
Dental malpractice, like medical malpractice, occurs when a dental professional does not provide the expected level of care or does not take all reasonable efforts to provide care for a patient, resulting in significant harm and damages. As with physicians, dentists have a responsibility when entering into a professional relationship with a patient to provide a standard of care. When that is breached, it can be considered malpractice. Not all mistakes that are made, however, can be proven to be negligent and therefore malpractice. There are many factors involved.
Types of Dental Mistakes
While not all mistakes made in dental care can be considered or proven malpractice, they are still potentially very damaging for patients. When people seek out dental care they expect to get a certain level of care and they trust the hygienist, dentist, and others to keep them safe. There are many ways in which a mistake can occur, whether or not it is proven to be negligent. Here are just a few examples:
- Failing to get informed consent before a procedure or treatment
- Making a mistake with anesthesia
- Misdiagnosing a dental condition or delaying the diagnosis of a condition
- Making a mistake with treatment or a procedure
- Providing the wrong procedure or treatment
- Errors with prescribed medication, such as dosage or type of drug
- Causing injury during examination, cleaning, or a dental procedure
- Using or recommending a dental device that is faulty
- Causing an infection through unsanitary tools
- Allowing a patient to drive home before they have recovered from a procedure
- Failing to refer a patient to a specialist
- Failing to order diagnostic tests or making mistakes in reading test results
- Not supervising hygienists or other dental office workers
- Extracting teeth incorrectly
When Mistakes are Malpractice
Proving that a dental mistake is negligent and constitutes malpractice is very similar to proving medical malpractice. It requires establishing that there was a professional relationship and therefore a duty to care on the part of the dental professional. It must then be proven that the duty to care was breached, and that the dental professional did not provide the appropriate standard of care. Finally, it has to be shown that the breach of duty of care harmed the patient and caused significant damages.
To prove dental malpractice can be difficult, but there are some cases in which it is clear that a professional was negligent. The most challenging step to prove is that the duty to provide care was breached. This typically requires witness testimony to show that a similar professional would have done something different in the same situation and that the outcome would have been different for the patient.
Consequences of Dental Malpractice
The repercussions of malpractice that occurs during dental care can be very serious for the patient. In many ways the potential consequences are similar or the same as those for medical malpractice. For instance, if a dentist does not diagnose a condition, such as oral cancer, the condition will worsen causing pain, additional symptoms, delayed treatment, and possibly even death.
Depending on the particular situation, some of the possible consequences of dental malpractice include chronic pain, injury to teeth, gums, or mouth, permanent damage or disability, worsening or additional symptoms and conditions, additional complications, mental anguish, lost ability to work, lost wages, hospitalization, dental and medical expenses, and even death.
Examples of Dental Malpractice Cases
Dental mistakes that have led to malpractices cases are numerous and include many different types of errors and degrees of harm and damages. In one case a dentist administered injectable anesthesia to a patient before performing a procedure to repair a chipped molar, but the needle tip broke off in the mouth. The patient had to go to a specialist and have two surgeries to remove it. He then sued the dentist for malpractice and won.
In another case a patient was given a dose of an anti-anxiety medication by the dentist prior to having work done. The dentist provided the medication because the patient was anxious about the procedure. After the procedure was done the patient left and had a car accident. The dentist was found to be liable because the patient should not have been allowed to drive after being administered the medication. The case ended in a $480,000 settlement.
There have also been many cases in which the dental patient died because of the actions or inactions of dental professionals. In the most tragic cases, the victims are children, as was the case when a 14-month-old child died under anesthesia for dental work. She stopped breathing, was resuscitated, and then died on the way to the hospital in the ambulance. Whether the case involved negligence remains to be seen, but the child’s mother may believe that the dentist did not get informed consent because she was not fully aware of the risks of anesthesia for such a young child.
Dental malpractice can be just as serious as medical malpractice, and proving negligence is a similar process. The consequences of mistakes made by dentists and hygienists can be mild or severe. If you or a family member suffered significant harm and damages because of a mistake made during dental care, you may have a chance to prove negligence. A good malpractice lawyer can guide you and give you the best advice as you move ahead.