Dental Malpractice: When to Get Legal Assistance

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We have faith in our dental care providers to look after our teeth and treat any issues that arise. While most dental procedures are safe, mistakes can happen. Dentists, like any other medical professional, can make mistakes that cause you pain, suffering, and additional costs.

What is Dental Malpractice?

Malpractice in the dental field is a significant problem.  It refers to an accident caused by negligent dental treatment, failure to diagnose or treat a potentially dangerous condition, failing to diagnose or treat oral disease promptly, or any other form of intentional or reckless wrongdoing by a dental professional.

In the context of dental malpractice, the terms neglect and standard of care are often used.  Negligence is a term used to describe acts that did not meet a reasonable standard of care.  

A dentist must offer a certain standard of care to a patient, according to Title 49 § 33.1 of the Pennsylvania State Code, which deals with the State Board of Dentistry.  According to a Department of Health and Human Services report, the FDA also controls dental care quality.  A patient may have a malpractice allegation if the dentist fails to follow the accepted standard of treatment.  A patient might not have a strong case based merely on the results of any treatment being unsatisfactory.  

It is advisable to file a malpractice lawsuit with the guidance and assistance of a Medical Malpractice Attorney whenever a doctor or dentist fails to exercise an appropriate standard of care or provides treatment beyond a patient’s informed consent.

Dental Malpractice Claims: What Triggers Them?

Dental treatment may range from regular cleanings to complicated procedures and even surgery.  As a result, care can go wrong in a variety of ways.  A few common mishaps are as follows:

  • Failure to Regularly Update Medical Records –  A dental care provider should maintain up to date  medical history for their patients.  If no changes have occurred, the dental provider should report this in the patient’s chart, especially if the patient has a complicated medical history.
  • Failing to detect oral pathology  – Oral pathology is concerned with diagnosing and treating diseases of the mouth, such as oral cancer.  Many malpractice lawsuits stem from missing a potentially malignant lesion or failing to detect oral cancer.
  • Inadequate sterilization of dental or surgical instruments.
  • Defective or shoddy dental devices that are improperly mounted.
  • Any deliberate wrongdoing and assault.
  • Failure to diagnose an oral condition or malformation properly.
  • Carelessly performing dental work that causes harm.
  • Failure to detect or treat a dental problem.
  • Failing to detect periodontal and other diseases – Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, can cause tooth loss by damaging the underlying tissue. It may also play a role in the development of heart and lung diseases. When a dentist neglects to check for gum disease for a prolonged period of time, the condition goes undetected and untreated and can worsen.
  • Injuring a patient  – A number of issues may arise throughout the process of delivering treatment.  An instrument’s tip can break.  An instrument can slip and sever a nerve or perforate the sinuses by cutting the tongue or other areas.

A dentist must obtain each patient’s (or the patient’s legal guardian’s) informed consent.  Informed consent refers to a patient’s understanding of an agreement to a procedure or treatment suggested by the dentist.  

Before giving informed consent for a procedure, your dentist should discuss the condition being treated, why treatment is being recommended, any risks involved, and alternative options.  They should be willing to address any questions you might have.

Severe Consequences of Dental Malpractice

Dental practitioners are responsible for recognizing health risks and exercising the appropriate standard of care to keep patients safe. Many people are afraid of the dentist.  They may be even more afraid after learning how common dental errors can lead to severe consequences, including death.

According to dental malpractice figures, inadequate practices and methods are to blame for 85% of dental malpractice lawsuits.  Chipped or broken teeth, nerve injuries to the lips, chin, tongue, jaw, gum injury, anesthesia issues, and equipment malfunction injuries are common.  Significant long-term damage can include:

  • Nerve damage
  • Oral structure damage, such as to the teeth, jaws, or tongue
  • Infections caused by dirty equipment that has not been properly sterilized
  • Trauma to the teeth

Dental malpractice lawsuits are notoriously difficult to resolve.  In Pennsylvania, a medical malpractice lawsuit has a two-year statute of limitations, meaning a complaint must be filed two years from the medical error date or else you risk being barred from recovering compensation.  
There are exceptions to this rule, as well as other reporting provisions, so it is best to speak with a reputable Bucks County Personal Injury Lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your options.

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