Can a Patient File a Malpractice Lawsuit Against a Dentist?

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Most medical malpractice cases involve medical professionals, such as doctors, surgeons, and anesthesiologists. Medical malpractice cases involving dentists are far less common, but they do occur. There are over 200,000 practicing dentists in the United States, with each dentist seeing approximately 2,500 patients each year. This adds up to roughly 500 million dental patients annually. Most of these patients receive good care; however, some suffer injuries ranging from minor infections to permanent nerve damage. In extreme cases, the injury can be fatal. Just as doctors can be held liable for injuries resulting from negligent behavior, dentists can also be liable for injuries, infections, and other health complications that occur while the patient is under the dentist’s care. A skilled medical malpractice lawyer can assist patients with the claims process and secure the compensation he or she deserves.

What is Dental Malpractice?

When a patient sees a dentist, a hygienist, or any other dental care professional for a routine cleaning or treatment for a specific problem, the dental professional has a responsibility to meet the appropriate standard of care that another dental health care professional with similar experience would provide under similar circumstances. If the dentist did not meet the standard of care, the patient may pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, it is important that the patient understand that not every dental mistake warrants a medical malpractice lawsuit. For substandard dental care to be considered medical malpractice, the patient must prove the following four elements of a dental malpractice claim:

  • Duty of care: This arises from a dentist-patient relationship. The dental professional had a responsibility to provide safe and competent dental care.
  • Breach of duty: The dental professional failed to provide competent dental care.
  • Breach of care: The patient was injured while under the care of the dental professional.
  • Proximate cause: The patient’s injury was caused by the dentist’s breach of duty. If the dentist argues that the injury was a result of a pre-existing condition or was the result of a common complication of which the patient was aware, the patient will need to prove otherwise.

The breach of care and proximate cause are critical in a dental malpractice case. It is crucial that the patient prove that the dentist caused the injury, or that his or her action or inaction either caused the injury or made an existing condition worse. An expert witness can support the patient’s claim and offer professional testimony about what the dentist should have done differently, and how the treatment contributed to the patient’s harm. If the injury was minor, the patient may want to reconsider filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. A skilled medical malpractice lawyer can review the case and recommend the best legal course of action, including whether to pursue a malpractice lawsuit.

What Documents are Needed to Build a Strong Case?

In a dental malpractice case, the plaintiff has the burden of proof, meaning that the patient must prove that the dentist did not provide the acceptable standard of care that another qualified dentist would have provided. To do this, the patient will need to obtain the proper documentation, including the following:

  • A copy of the patient’s complete dental chart, including X-rays and all other records
  • A copy of the written consent form for all dental procedures that were performed
  • Documentation of the treatment plan, including a detailed explanation for all procedures for which the patient was billed
  • A copy of any additional notes that were written before or immediately following the patient’s treatment
  • An affidavit of merit, which is a document that is signed by an expert in the field who can attest to the merit of the malpractice claim against the dental professional
  • Photographs of any swelling, bruising, or disfigurement that the dental procedure caused
  • Statements from witnesses, including family and friends, about the harm that the dental procedure caused and the impact it had on the patient
  • A lost wages statement from the patient’s employer if he or she was unable to work as a result of the dental injury

What are Common Examples of Dental Negligence?

Because dental malpractice claims are far less common than medical malpractice claims, patients may not pursue a dental malpractice claim if they were not aware that they were the victim of dental medical negligence. The following are examples of common types of dental negligence:

  • Extractions: Complications from tooth extractions that are caused by negligence often include serious infections, severed nerves, and sinus perforations. Oftentimes, patients are left with permanent nerve damage, pain, and sinus problems.
  • Endodontic procedures: Examples of negligent behavior during these procedures include leaving dental instruments in the canal, perforation of the nerves or sinus, air embolisms, and mistakes that cause serious infections.
  • Dental implants: Infections that could have been prevented, or that were not properly treated, for patients getting dental implants are among the most common malpractice issues. Serious infections can be fatal.
  • Substandard crown or bridge treatment: These tend to involve a lack of treatment planning. Patients often complain about open margins, overhanging restorations, infections, the inability to chew properly, and poor occlusion.
  • Periodontal disease: These often involve a failure to diagnose or treat in a timely fashion. For example, patients can develop periodontal disease if a dentist fails to take X-rays when necessary or record periodontal probing.
  • Orthodontics: Orthodontic patients report cases of complications including root resorption and instances in which the necessary radiographs were not taken. Patients also suffered lost teeth and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) injuries.
  • Dental anesthesia complications: This category and the extractions category accounted for the most fatalities involving adult and child patients. Dental professionals involved included oral surgeons, pedodontists, and general dentists.
  • Dental infections: If not treated properly, dental infections can become quite serious and lead to blood poisoning, brain abscesses, and cardiac complications. In severe cases, they can be fatal.
  • Dental injections: If a dentist hits the lingual nerve, or the inferior alveolar nerve, it can cause injuries. Patients can continue to suffer after the procedure if the dentist fails to follow up with the patient or refer them to another dental provider for the appropriate follow-up care.
  • Adverse drug reactions: This can happen when a dentist administers a drug without referring to the patient’s history. In extreme cases, drug interactions can be fatal.
  • Oral cancer: If a dentist fails to recognize the signs and symptoms of oral cancer, it can have deadly consequences, particularly if the dentist’s negligence allowed the cancer to grow and spread.

How Does a Patient File a Dental Malpractice Lawsuit?

If a patient believes that he or she has a viable malpractice claim, they may wish to pursue a dental malpractice lawsuit. The first step is to collect every document that can provide important evidence to support the claim. The patient should obtain copies of dental records from the dentist who is being sued, witness testimonials, photographs of the injury, the affidavit of merit, and a written statement from another dentist who can verify the claim that the patient’s dentist was negligent. If the patient is insured, he or she should check to see if the injuries suffered as a result of the malpractice are covered by insurance. The patient should notify the insurance company about the injury and exactly how it occurred. It is highly recommended that patients contact a skilled medical malpractice lawyer who has a proven track record of reaching successful settlements for patients with dental injuries. This can help make the claims process less stressful. More importantly, a medical malpractice lawyer will protect the patient’s legal rights and secure a fair settlement amount.

Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Victims of Dental Injuries

If you or someone you know suffered a serious injury while under the care of a dental professional, it is in your best interest to contact the experienced Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton as soon as possible. We will thoroughly investigate the details of your case and determine whether your dental care professional was negligent in any way, and whether it is a good idea to pursue a dental malpractice lawsuit. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie and Prince George’s County, we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood and Elkridge.