According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US had over 150,000 practicing dentists in 2014. These professionals undergo years of education and training before they begin diagnosing and treating dental conditions.
Most of America’s dentists meet or exceed the standard of care for every patient they treat. However, dentists, like doctors, can sometimes violate that standard of care, an act which constitutes dental malpractice. Dental malpractice can take many forms, including the types listed below.
- Failing to Diagnose
When you visit your dentist, even for a routine checkup, he or she should look for any problems with your teeth and then report them to you. If evidence of a problem exists and your dentist overlooks it, he or she has failed to diagnose a condition that likely needs treatment. If most other dentists would have noticed the evidence of the problem, your dentist violated the standard of care.
Failure to diagnose matters because it prevents you from seeking treatment-or even knowing you should seek treatment. The dental problem will probably get worse before your next appointment, which could cause health complications or lead you to need more complex (and expensive) treatments.
- Diagnosing Incorrectly
Sometimes a dentist notices a problem but incorrectly diagnoses it. In this case, he or she will likely recommend a treatment that fails to resolve the problem. The issue will continue to develop, and the patient will still need treatment to resolve the actual condition and relieve the pain or other side effects of the condition.
- Failing to Notify the Patient of Dental Problems
In some cases of dental malpractice, dentists recognize that a dental condition exists but they don’t tell the patient. In these situations, as with failure to diagnose, the patient will then not seek treatment for the problem, and it will become worse without the patient knowing the dangers. This type of malpractice can have severe consequences for patients, particularly those with oral cancer or gum disease.
- Treating the Wrong Tooth
Some of your teeth may look pretty similar to you, but dentists must know all the key differences that distinguish teeth from each other. They must use that knowledge to ensure they treat the correct tooth, whether you need a filling, a crown, a root canal, or an extraction. If your dentist performed treatment on the wrong tooth, he or she breached the duty you expected him or her to perform.
- Performing Unnecessary Treatments
This type of malpractice is similar to treating the wrong tooth. After all, making a crown for a perfectly healthy tooth (instead of the damaged one) is an unnecessary treatment. However, this type of dental malpractice could also involve dentists who recommend treatments that are completely unnecessary for any of the patient’s teeth.
For example, the dentist could inform the patient that he or she needs a filling when no teeth actually have cavities. This practice violates the standard of care because most other dentists wouldn’t have prescribed the same treatment-or any treatment at all.
- Causing Severe Injury During Treatment
In some instances of dental malpractice, the dentist causes a preventable injury to the patient. These injuries can include severe nerve damage, unnecessary lacerations, or harm to the jaw bone or teeth. To win this type of dental malpractice case, the patient’s lawyers would have to prove that most other dentists would not have caused the same damage during the procedure.
- Using Unsterilized Dental Equipment
Sterilizing equipment is a basic and fundamental component of the standard of care. Dentists use and reuse their equipment on different patients, so they must thoroughly sterilize equipment after each use. If they fail to do this, patients could contract illnesses or diseases or even develop a dangerous infection. Those outcomes would not occur with properly sterilized equipment.
- Administering Anesthesia Incorrectly
Before performing any invasive procedure, a dentist will administer numbing agents or sedation methods to ensure the patient’s comfort. These forms of anesthesia must be given with great care to avoid injury or complication. Mistakes with anesthesia can lead to a number of serious health problems for the patient, such as nerve damage or heart problems.
- Failing to Obtain a Complete Medical History
Even though dentists help keep a part of our bodies healthy, many people don’t think dental treatments are as serious as medical treatments. However, dentists should obtain a patient’s complete medical history before performing any procedure because health conditions or medications could affect the treatment.
When dentists carefully gather information from patients about their medical history, they can prepare for and perform treatments with the appropriate amount of care. If they don’t have that information, severe-but preventable-complications could occur.
This list is not comprehensive. You may have experienced a form of dental malpractice that is not described above. If you believe you experienced malpractice at a dental appointment, don’t hesitate to consult with a law practice that handles dental malpractice cases. Their legal team will understand how the complexities of your case go beyond basic personal injury, and they will advocate for you.