Just as with medical malpractice, when a dentist or oral surgeon fails to provide a certain standard of care, and injury or death results, then the victim of the injuries or the family of the deceased can potentially qualify for a dental malpractice claim (or a wrongful death claim). Dental malpractice can result from a failure to diagnose or treat a dangerous condition, a delayed diagnosis, a delayed treatment of oral disease, an injury resulting from negligent dental work, or any intentional misconduct or irresponsible action on the part of the dentist or oral surgeon.
While dental malpractice is not as common as medical malpractice, it does occur. Approximately one out of every seven medical malpractice claims are the result of dental malpractice, according to malpracticecenter.com.
A valid dental malpractice claim must show that:
- The dentist or oral surgeon intentionally committed a specific act that no other reasonable oral health care provider would have done if he or she were in the same situation;
- The oral health care provider unintentionally failed to provide the acceptable standard of care another oral health care provider would have performed, or
- The oral health care provider provided additional services which were beyond your informed consent.
As with any personal injury case, a good outcome is never guaranteed. There are many things which can go wrong that are beyond the control of an oral health care provider, therefore, you cannot necessarily sue just because you are unhappy with the results or something unexpected occurs (which could not have been foreseen by the dentist). A dental malpractice claim can only be brought against an oral health care provider when that provider failed to provide the standard of care any another provider would have done, given the same set of circumstances. The negligence or incompetence of the oral health care provider must be responsible for your resulting injuries—even if the injuries were unintentional, if they are the result of incompetence or negligence, a dental malpractice claim may be the best course of action.
How common is dental malpractice?
While we do not hear about dental malpractice in the same way we hear about medical malpractice, it is a very real, very serious issue. A person can potentially sustain a temporary or permanent injury to the nerves in the face—the jaw, tongue, chin or lips—or could experience a temporary or permanent loss of taste or numbness in the face. TMJ symptoms could result from dental malpractice, resulting in a temporary or permanent pain in the jaw or loss of jaw function, making it difficult to eat or speak. Infections to the teeth, gums, or jawbone can result from dental malpractice, particularly when there was a faulty root canal, crown, or bridge prostheses. The most common injuries related to dental malpractice include:
- During a tooth extraction, there can be nerve damage or perforations of sinuses or mouth tissues.
- Following a dental procedure which was improperly performed, infections can result. These infections can lead to blood poisoning, cardiac complications, or brain abscesses, requiring a hospital stay or a surgical intervention.
- When a dental implant is performed, an infection could ensue, or there may be inadequate follow-up dental care, resulting in injury.
- Endodontic procedures such as root canals can result in nerve damage, damage to the sinuses, infections, blocked blood vessels, and even dental instruments left in the canal.
- When an oral health care provider fails to adequately diagnose and treat periodontal disease, problems can result.
- When an oral health care provider improperly places a bridge or a crown, the patient can be left with an infection, the inability to properly chew, and unsightly gaps in the teeth.
- When an oral health care provider fails to recognize mouth cancer, the results can be deadly to the patient.
- One of the most common forms of dental malpractice is improperly administered anesthesia, which can result in injury or even death.
- When an orthodontist improperly installs corrective dental treatments, such as braces, there can be tooth loss, root complications, and infection.
While it is not common, in some cases, a person may even die in the dentist’s chair or following a dental procedure. The improper use of anesthesia during oral surgery can result in death, or a failure to diagnose or treat gum disease, oral cancer or other serious oral conditions can also potentially result in death. Finally, although rare, serious injury may be sustained from an unlicensed oral health care provider who is operating a business illegally.
The malpracticecenter.com detailed a study which found that the most common type of alleged dental malpractice resulted from a simple tooth extraction which became infected. Following tooth extractions, permanent nerve injury is the most common type of alleged dental malpractice, resulting from an oral health care provider who failed to refer the patient to a specialist.
Evidence in Your Dental Malpractice Claim
As soon as you realize something is wrong, it is important that you gather as much evidence as possible to help your dental malpractice attorney build a solid case on your behalf. The following evidence can make the difference between a successful dental malpractice claim and one with a poor outcome:
- Obtaining your dental records is crucial to a successful dental malpractice claim. These records can include dental x-rays, copies of your dental charts, and any other records from oral health care providers.
- Keep careful records of all billing associated with your dental injuries.
- Instruction sheets from your dentist, any authorization sheets you were required to sign, and any other communications between you and your oral health care provider could be very important to your dental malpractice claim.
- Family or friends who were witness to your dental injuries could potentially be very important to your dental malpractice claim. Obtain a written statement from any potential witnesses, ensuring you have good contact information from each witness.
- Take photographs or videos of disfigurement or swelling caused by the dental procedure.
- Obtain a lost wages statement from your employer if you missed work due to dental malpractice.
Get Help for Your Dental Malpractice Claim from Alderman & Hutcherson
As a victim of dental malpractice, you need solid legal assistance to file a Macon, Georgia dental malpractice claim. The experienced dental malpractice attorneys at Alderman & Hutcherson have the necessary skills and knowledge to bring a claim against the dental professional who caused your injury through negligence. At Alderman & Hutcherson, we have a strong commitment to our clients, with a philosophy which can be summed up in three words: Experienced. Driven. Effective. Contact Alderman & Hutcherson today.