It is recommended that everyone should visit their dentist for a check-up every six months or, at the very least, once a year and millions of dental treatments are carried out successfully every year. However, many people suffer from dental phobia, a fear of dentists, and rarely go unless it’s an emergency.
It seems that their fears may not be totally unfounded as there has been an increasing number of complaints made against dentists for negligence. A toothache is bad enough, but when pain and suffering is exacerbated by poor treatment it makes it all the worse.
Your dentist not only looks after your teeth and gums but also your general oral health. During a check-up or procedure, they should also be looking for problems or signs of disease which either they can treat or refer you to a specialist. Failing to spot something can have long term effects on a patient’s health.
What is Dental Negligence?
Dental negligence or malpractice is defined as a dentist performing poorly, inappropriately or negligently causing avoidable injury or harm to a patient. The types of negligence can include injury, serious injury or failure to obtain informed consent.
Injury might be nerve damage, extracting the wrong tooth or failing to spot a minor problem which, when untreated, becomes a more serious issue. Serious injury is treatment that results in possibly life altering harm such as causing infection, inappropriate use of dental implements, misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis of conditions such as mouth cancer.
For any treatment which involves risks, the dentist has to fully explain those risks and the side effects of medication or anaesthesia in order for you to give your informed consent or refusal of the treatment. If the treatment is carried out without your consent or knowledge of the risk and your health suffers as a result, the dentist has been negligent.
Causes of Injury
Dental injury can be caused by something as basic as an administrative error. With a steady flow of patients throughout the day, the dentist could pick up, or be handed the wrong patient notes. This can result in the wrong treatment being carried out with possible serious consequences.
Having a tooth extracted is generally a straightforward procedure where a decaying tooth or one broken beyond repair is removed. However, it is not unheard of for a dentist to extract the wrong tooth causing distress to the patient who will now, when the correct tooth is taken out, have lost two teeth. Sometimes during an extraction, the tooth can break off. If the fracture happens close to the gum line it may require a surgical procedure to remove the remaining root. If the dentist performs the procedure without having the necessary skill they could be guilty of negligence.
Wisdom teeth sometimes don’t come through properly and need to be extracted, which can be more complicated than the other teeth. Often the gum has to be cut and some bone removed to release the tooth. The gum would have to be stitched afterwards and the dentist must advise you on the measures necessary to prevent infection. If not carried out correctly there can be damage to adjacent teeth and damage to the nerve.
Failing to diagnose and treat tooth decay leads to the condition worsening and requiring further treatment. The patient can suffer sensitivity and there is an increased risk of infection and abscesses.
Restorative dentistry is sometimes necessary to repair teeth if decay isn’t diagnosed early enough. Veneers, implants, crowns or bridges may need to fitted. If they are not fitted properly, bacteria and food particles can get in causing further decay.
Gum inflammation, or gingivitis, should be easy for your dentist to spot, treat and advise you on your ongoing oral health regime. If it isn’t treated it can lead periodontal disease.
Hygiene is extremely important and it is essential that the dental practice has a rigorous sterilisation routine. Using non-sterile equipment in a patient’s mouth can lead to serious infection.
There are many forms of cosmetic dentistry which may be necessary after a facial injury or the removal of teeth. Many people choose to have these treatments to improve their appearance and boost their self-esteem. Whitening, straightening, gum contouring, dental implants, crowns, veneers, bridges and dentures can all fall into this category. Some of these procedures require the dentist to have specialist training as, if not carried out correctly, they can have serious consequences.
Signs of Dental Negligence
Some signs of dental negligence are immediately apparent. A badly done filling can usually be felt with the tongue and you may be able to spot a poorly fitted crown. After leaving the dentists surgery you will often experience pain and numbness as the anaesthetic wears off but this should lessen after a while. If the pain persists or worsens there is something wrong. If your tongue remains numb and your sense of taste has changed, you could have suffered a damaged nerve. Where you have to keep going back for treatment in the same area of your mouth, it could be that the dentist has not performed the procedure correctly the first time. The symptoms of infection usually become quickly apparent.
Other types of negligence may not be obvious for a much longer time. If decay has not been properly treated it will slowly worsen. If your dentist has failed to diagnose serious problems such as oral cancer, you might not recognise the symptoms until the condition is advanced.
Dental Negligence Compensation
Dental treatment is expensive and you have to put your trust in the dentist. But if they make mistakes the consequences can be devastating. If you think you have been the victim of dental malpractice you may be entitled to compensation. You should consult a legal expert who will advise you on making a dental negligence compensation claim in the UK. You can claim for additional dental expenses, pain and suffering, loss of earnings and out of pocket expenses.
You should have an oral hygiene regime to help prevent decay and gum disease, and get regular check-ups at your dentist. But when things do go wrong, you are not alone.