Dentists have a duty to provide high-quality patient services with safe and effective care. This obligation is called a standard of care and it is defined as the minimum degree of professionalism that dentists must exhibit when practicing dentistry. This standard is required under the law. When these basic standards of care aren’t met due to negligence, usually with acts of carelessness or omission, victims of unprofessional behaviour may bring a dental malpractice claim against the offending dentist.
Unlike instances of medical malpractice, which sometimes garner big news headlines, dental malpractice can go unnoticed by the general public. But it is often just as serious, even when the victims of dental malpractice are unsure of whether they have been wronged. Expert dental malpractice lawyers can help determine whether your dentist has been negligent in delivering care and whether that negligence entitles you to financial compensation.
What is dental malpractice?
Dental malpractice occurs when there is a failure to provide adequate dental services and a violation of established standards of care causing patient harm. Dentists can be then made the subject of a dental malpractice claim by a victim seeking rightful compensation for the physical, emotional, and financial damages they caused.
Examples of Dental Malpractice
The following non-exhaustive list of dental malpractice injury examples demonstrates the types of injuries that can qualify a victim for a dental accident or injury claim.
- Anesthesia or Novocain injuries
- Improper tooth extractions
- Failure to diagnose (dental conditions)
- Failure to gain informed consent
- Medication errors
- Failure to refer to a specialist
- Nerve and muscle injuries
- Failure to treat
- Failure to monitor
Sometimes, victims of inappropriate dental treatment can die, either while in treatment or in the aftermath of their initial injuries. In this case, family members can bring a wrongful death case against the offending dentist. Both wrongful death and dental malpractice can involve negligence by a dentist or their employer, however, anyone who causes a personal injury resulting in death can be subject to a wrongful death claim.
Proving Dental Malpractice
The Four Ds of Dental Negligence
- There’s a duty of care owed.
- That duty of care was violated.
- The patient incurred damages.
- Negligence led to those damages.
Like medical malpractice, dental malpractice claims are reserved for dental professionals and the healthcare businesses that employ them (like a hospital or large dental provider). Negligence can be committed by dentists as well as by non-clinical dental professionals such as X-ray technicians working in the dental environment.
The large health and dental systems that deliver dental services to consumers can also be held liable for damages if they fail to follow health regulations or have created an environment that raises the risk of improper care.
In each of these situations, proving that negligence occurred is necessary, but not sufficient for making a dental malpractice claim. Victims, often with the help of a lawyer, must prove that negligence directly caused subsequent injuries. This is often achieved with evidence showing that a dental practitioner deviated from the accepted standards of care by misdiagnosing a dental condition, misinterpreting test results, or recommending unnecessary or improper treatments.
Building Your Case
Establishing an effective legal theory designed to prove dental malpractice often can involve comparing the offending dentist’s behaviour to what is expected in similar circumstances. Dentists should always avoid taking unnecessary risks and failing to inform patients of all treatment options and their side effects. Acting carelessly in testing, diagnosing, and treating can also result in legitimate malpractice claims.
An experienced malpractice lawyer can help you compile the evidence needed to prove a dental malpractice case. Evidence typically includes the patient’s dental records as well as correspondence between the dentist and the patient. In some cases, evidence can include witness or expert testimony. Your lawyer can also help you receive the medical evaluations you’ll need to verify your long-term dental injuries and prognosis.