Can I File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Against My Dentist?December 14, 2020
Dentists are medical professionals, just like doctors, nurses, surgeons, and anesthesiologists. That means that they are obligated to provide the standard level of care that another dentist with the same professional credentials would provide under similar circumstances. If a dentist fails to meet the standard of care and the patient suffers a serious injury as a result, the patient may pursue a medical malpractice claim against the dentist. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can assist the patient with the claims process and recommend the best legal source of action.
In addition to getting regular physicals to maintain overall good health, it is important that people take good care of their teeth and gums by getting regular dental cleanings and checkups. Maintaining good oral health can help prevent cavities, tooth sensitivity, gum disease, and other issues related to the teeth and gums. However, even the most diligent patients eventually need some kind of dental work done, whether it is a small filling, a wisdom tooth that needs to be extracted, or a root canal to treat an infected tooth. If something goes wrong during a procedure, it can cause extreme pain and discomfort, an infection can develop, and it may require additional procedures to fix the problem. In addition to the pain and suffering, the additional procedures can be very costly.
What is Dental Malpractice?
Dental malpractice cases are much less common than medical malpractice cases. In fact, only one out of seven medical malpractice claims involve dental malpractice. A dental malpractice case can involve a dentist, and orthodontist, a hygienist, or an oral surgeon. Even though these types of cases are rare, they can lead to serious, even life-threatening health complications, many of which are preventable. In addition to providing the acceptable standard of care for the specific procedure, the dentist may not perform any additional services without the patient’s informed consent. For example, if a patient is scheduled for a root canal and the dentist extracts the tooth instead, the patient may be eligible to file a dental malpractice lawsuit if he or she did not consent to having the tooth pulled.
To have a successful dental malpractice case, the patient must be able to do the following:
- Establish that a doctor-patient relationship was established. This is simple to prove by obtaining copies of dental records.
- Be able to demonstrate the appropriate standard of care. That means proving that the actions or precautions that a competent dentist took were consistent with those that another equally competent dentist would have taken under similar circumstances.
- Demonstrate that there was a breach in the standard of care. A breach in care means that the dentist failed to provide the acceptable standard of care that another dentist would have provided.
- Show that the breach of care resulted in the patient becoming injured. This means that the patient’s injury was caused by the breach of care.
It can be difficult for a patient to prove each of these elements. The process often involves obtaining expert testimony, documentation of the patient’s treatment, and opinion from other dental professionals. In some cases, the patient may be required to obtain an affidavit of merit, which is a sworn statement by an expert witness that assures the merit of the plaintiff’s claims. A skilled medical malpractice lawyer can help collect this information and assist the victim with every step of the claims process.
Common Examples of Dental Malpractice
Depending on the nature of the dental work being performed, a dental mistake can cause temporary or permanent nerve damage to the lips, chin, tongue, jaw, or teeth. The following are examples of dental malpractice:
- Improper administration of anesthesia
- Prescribing the incorrect drug or the wrong dosage amount
- Unnecessary extraction of teeth or extracting the wrong tooth
- Improper use of dental tools
- Fractured or broken jaw caused by a dental procedure
- Infections from a faulty root canal, crown, or bridge prosthesis
- Delayed or incorrect diagnosis
- Nerve damage caused by dental injections
- Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) symptoms that include jaw pain, severe loss of function of the jaw, and difficulty speaking or eating
- Complications from crowns that were put in incorrectly
- Failure to detect serious oral issues, including oral cancer, periodontal disease, and an infection
- Temporary or permanent injury to the tongue, jaw, chin, or lips
- Temporary or permanent numbness or loss of taste or sensation
- Damage to the sinuses
- Infections, which can lead to brain abscesses, blood poisoning, and cardiac complications
- Wrongful death caused by negligence during a dental procedure or oral surgery
- Failure to review the patient’s medical history before performing a procedure
- Complications from dental work that was performed weeks or months ago
- Sexually assaulting a patient who is under sedation
How can a Patient Prove Dental Malpractice?
There are a number of steps that dental patients must take in order to prove a dental malpractice claim. The victim will need to obtain copies of all medical records that verify the injury. Patients have a right to this information, so if the dental office refuses to provide it, a dedicated medical malpractice lawyer can help secure that information. The dental records should include X-rays, test results, authorization forms, instruction sheet, and other paperwork that can help prove that the dentist is liable for the injury. If the patient has any other forms, documents, or paperwork related to the dental work, he or she should include copies of those as well. In addition, patients are urged to take pictures of the injury to indicate where there is any swelling, bruising, infections, or disfigurement. If a friend or family member was with the patient after the procedure, the patient should ask them to provide a detailed statement about what he or she heard the dentist say about the procedure, follow-up care, and next steps.
It is also important for patients to understand that, simply because they are dissatisfied with the results of the dental procedure does not necessarily mean that they have grounds to pursue a dental malpractice claim. Dental work is not always guaranteed, so patients cannot sue simply because they are unhappy with the results. However, if there is a breach in the standard or care or the dentist was blatantly negligent, the patient has grounds for legal action.
What Damages are Victims Entitled to Receive?
Injuries caused by dental malpractice can be physically, emotionally, and financially devastating, particularly if the injury is severe. Patients who have been injured as a result of dental malpractice may recover the following damages:
- Medical expenses related to the injury, including hospital visits and emergency procedures to treat infections
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of quality of life
- Loss of consortium
If a dental injury is not severe, it may not warrant a malpractice lawsuit, even if the dentist failed to meet the standard of care. For example, if the dental professional used an incorrect tool, which caused a cut in the patient’s mouth, this may not rise to the level of malpractice. However, if the patient wants to file a complaint against the dentist, they can do so with the state dental board. All complaints are available for public access so that other patients who may be looking for a dentist are aware that the dentist violated the standard of care.
How can Patients Avoid Dental Malpractice?
One of the first steps that patients can take to avoid dental malpractice is to do some research and find a dentist who is qualified, experienced, and has a good reputation. Patients should always check the dental professional’s credentials before making an appointment. In addition to researching different dentists online or through dental associations, it is a good idea to ask friends, relatives, and colleagues for recommendations. Once a patient has a few names of dentists in the area, they can enter the dentist’s name online to see if there are any positive or negative reviews from current or former patients.
Patients should also feel free to ask a dentist questions about general dental care, and what they should expect from a root canal, tooth extraction, or any other type of dental procedure. If a dentist is not forthcoming about answering questions and providing information that the patient can easily understand, this should be a red flag.
Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Seek Justice for Victims of Dental Injuries
If you or someone you love suffered an injury while under the care of a dentist or any other dental professional, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. Dental injuries can cause extreme discomfort and result in costly reparative procedures that could have been avoided if the dentist provided the acceptable standard of care. We will ensure that your legal rights are protected and that you receive the maximum financial compensation you deserve for your injuries. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.
Our offices are conveniently located in Baltimore, Columbia, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel County, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland’s Western Counties, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of Catonsville, Essex, Halethorpe, Middle River, Rosedale, Gwynn Oak, Brooklandville, Dundalk, Pikesville, Parkville, Nottingham, Windsor Mill, Lutherville, Timonium, Sparrows Point, Ridgewood, and Elkridge.