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Reports of Dental Malpractice on the Rise

Dental malpracticeAny health care treatment including dentistry carries risk of potential harm, especially when performed negligently. Medical negligence cases involving surgeries gone wrong or children born with birth defects make the press, but dental malpractice happens too.

Though laws vary from state to state, generally, medical malpractice is the failure of a health care professional to adhere to the standards of care, skill, and treatment that other health care professionals would provide under similar circumstances.Dentists and oral surgeons must adhere to the standards that others would consider reasonable and would provide under similar circumstances. If these standards are breached, a patient may have legal recourse to recover compensation for any resulting damages.

Examples of dental malpractice

Infections: Dental tools and equipment that aren’t properly sterilized, and personnel who don’t follow recommended hygiene protocols can expose patients to infectious diseases.  Tulsa, Oklahoma oral surgeon Dr. Wayne Harrington was accused of exposing patients to hepatitis and HIV due to unsanitary conditions at his clinic. Earlier this year the Tulsa Health Department issued a warning to Dr. Harrington’s 7,000 patients of the potential dangers of infections.

Missing Instruments: Instruments used during oral surgery could be swallowed, causing injuries and follow up surgeries to remove the items. One 92 year old patient is suing his dentist after he swallowed an inch long tool that fell down his throat during a dental implant fitting procedure. The plaintiff claims medical treatments to remove the tool cost him about $20,000.

Failure to Diagnose: Dentists have been sued for failing to properly diagnose oral cancers. If not diagnosed, cancer can spread making it more difficult to treat, resulting in more aggressive and invasive treatments.

Nerve Damage: Nerves inside the mouth can be damaged or severed during oral surgery, tooth extractions or injections of anesthesia. This could result in numbness in the mouth and face, difficulty in swallowing and affect your sense of taste.

Dental Implants: Dental implants are marketed as an alternative to dentures. They are caps or bridges that are affixed to screws and mounted in the jaw. If not done properly, they can result in bone loss and nerve damage.

Crowns and Bridges: If done improperly, crown and bridge work may cause infections, may have to be re-done or cause teeth to be removed.

Extractions: Extractions that are done unnecessarily could result in bone loss in the jaw and difficulty in being fitted for dentures.

Assault: Dentists who take advantage of anesthetized patients have been charged with sexual assault.

Dental malpractice claims

As in any medical malpractice case, the harm done will need to be more than nominal.  If there is permanent injury, loss of function, extensive follow up treatment to correct the dental problem, medical bills and lost income would be indications of a serious case that may be worth filing. The applicable statute of limitation creates a deadline for cases to be filed.

NBC Chicago, Suit Claims Dental Tool Went Down Man's Throat