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Medical Malpractice

Can Lack of Dental Informed Consent Constitute Malpractice?

Optimal medical outcomes, including those in dentistry, hinge on clear communication and patient-provider trust. Dental informed consent is an important part of this process. Patients have the right to make educated decisions regarding their care, so it’s necessary for dentists to provide all-encompassing information. Patient-provider relationships can become compromised and questions of medical malpractice may arise if a patient doesn’t believe they were adequately informed about their treatment, including potential risks.

What Is Informed Consent?

Informed consent is the process of ensuring someone understands the information provided before making a decision. In terms of dental informed consent, this means a patient has clear, accurate information regarding any potential procedure or medication, including the possible benefits and risks. Additionally, dental treatment consent also calls for alternative treatment options to be discussed so the patient has all the facts. Based on this information, the patient can then freely choose what course of treatment they want.

Dental Consent Rights

BC’s Health Care (Consent) and Care Facility (Admission) Act provides adults with clearly defined rights to consent. They have the right to:

  • Give or refuse consent on any grounds for any reason
  • Choose a particular type of care or treatment
  • Revoke consent
  • Expect that giving, refusing, or revoking consent will be respected by medical professionals
  • Be involved as much as possible in the planning and decision-making processes regarding their health

Consent to any healthcare, including dentistry, may be expressed orally, in writing, or inferred by medical professionals via patient conduct.

Dental Consent Exceptions

There are situations where a medical professional doesn’t require patient consent. These include:

  • During a preliminary examination
  • When the provider believes the patient to be unable to give or refuse consent
  • When the adult patient’s guardian or representative has authority to provide consent
  • When a patient is impaired by drugs or alcohol or is deemed semi or completely unconscious
  • When it is necessary to provide prompt care to save the patient’s life

Dental Informed Consent and Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice and dental treatment consent cross paths in cases where medical professionals do not provide all necessary information concerning treatment plans and alternative remedies. Consider the following scenario.

You visited the dentist for a persistent toothache. The dentist recommends wisdom teeth removal, saying this treatment is the most effective way to resolve your pain. Though the dentist discusses the possibility of minor discomfort following the procedure, they fail to mention risks associated with wisdom teeth removal such as potential damage to nearby teeth, nerves, sinuses, or the jawbone. You agree to this procedure believing it to be the best and only option to treat your pain. Following the procedure, you experience severe numbness and tingling in your lower lip. You discover that the dentist hit a nerve while removing your wisdom teeth. This nerve damage significantly impacts your quality of life, as it is difficult to eat, speak, or smile comfortably.

In this scenario, the dentist failed to provide complete information about complications or risks as well as their long-term effects. The dentist also didn’t discuss any alternative procedures. Because of the lack of transparency, this situation may be dental malpractice.