Help for Victims of Dental Malpractice – Florida Malpractice Lawyer
One of the underreported areas of medical malpractice is in the fields of dentistry. Many people understand the severity of what can go wrong when they have a medical or surgical procedure, but they are often still ignorant of what could possibly happen as a negative outcome from a dental procedure.So, can you sue a dentist for malpractice? The fact is, however, that if a dentist (or a dental professional) has injured you, then you may be able to recover damages from that dental practice. Here are some things to know about this field of malpractice.
Table of Contents:
- Understanding Dental Malpractice
- Compensation Information
- Pediatric Dentist Malpractice
- Can I sue my dentist?
- Common Dental Procedures and Related Injuries
Are you safe in the hands of your dentist?
According to statistics from the National Practitioner Databank, about twelve percent of all medical malpractice cases in 2002 involved dentists (http://www.ablminc.org/). In addition, from 1990 to 2004, the following statistics show a breakdown of the defendants in dental malpractice claims:
- 34,691 reports were made against dentists;
- 137 reports were made against dental residents;
- 19 reports were made against denturists;
- 17 reports were made against dental hygienists; and
- 8 reports were made against dental assistants.
Although the exact definition varies by state, dental malpractice complaints usually falls under the same heading of medical malpractice. This is when a health care professional does not follow the standard of care that a patient could expect under similar circumstances from any other health care professional. If a dentist doesn’t follow these standards, then a patient may have recourse to compensation. Some of the areas covered under this include:
- Procedures that are performed with negligence;
- Procedures that are not necessary, including procedures on the wrong tooth;
- Failure to get a patient’s consent before a procedure is performed;
- Failure to have the appropriate licenses for certain procedures;
- Failure to give information so that a patient can give informed consent;
- Failure to properly administer anesthesia;
- Failure to keep accurate medical records;
- Failure to properly diagnose medical conditions;
- Failure to properly treat medical conditions; anInappropriate touching of a patient’s body.
How Can I Be Adversely Affected ? Any one of the above complaints can result in physical or emotional damage to a patient. You may not know that a procedure was performed negligently, but you certainly have the results of the botched procedure. This can include:
- Wrongful death, especially as a result of anesthesia misadministration;
- Infection after surgery, especially from improperly sterilized instruments or negligible aftercare;
- Permanent loss of teeth that are broken or chipped;
- Permanent nerve damage, especially in the tongue or lips;
- Permanent numbness;
- Permanent loss of taste; and
- TMJ disorder.
What Compensation Can I Receive? Each case is different and compensation may vary from state-to-state. However, these are the general areas of compensation that people can receive from dental malpractice cases:
- Medical costs;
- Pain and suffering; and
- Lost wages (including potential future earnings).
Pediatric Dentist Malpractice – Are Your Children Safe in the hands of your Dentist?
Perhaps one of the most disturbing forms of dental malpractice is when it comes to children. Dentophobia (fear of the dentist) is a common fear for many people, and most of the time it all comes back to a negative experience as a child. And think about how the child views the dentist: a scary authority figure in a white coat that pokes and prods at their teeth using sharp medical instruments. However, just having a bad experience with a dentist does not equal being the victim of dental malpractice. Here are some of the types of cases that can lead to a valid claim of dental malpractice.
- Dentist Using Excessive Force on Young Patients Probably the most troubling form of pediatric dental malpractice are dentists using excessive force on children in the process of performing their job. One of the things that dentists provide is an experience that is as pain-free as possible. However, some dentists have shown themselves to be sadists much like Steve Martin’s diabolical dentist in Little Shop of Horrors. A recent lawsuit in Florida alleged that Dr. Howard Schneider used his practice as a “front for a sadistic and systematic scheme of physical and psychological torture and abuse” (http://www.usatoday.com). The lawsuit alleges that the dentist choked patients out, left visible marks on their face and body, including marks from restraints that were used to strap them down, and psychologically abused the patients by threatening to kill their parents if they told anyone about the abuse. This is an extreme case, but some dentists have also treated children by not listening when they try to tell them they are in pain. The excuse here is that the child is “whining” or needs to “toughen up” because it isn’t really hurting them. This kind of practice can enter into the realm of malpractice if it physically injures your child.
- Performing Non-Medically Necessary Dental Procedures Another issue of dental malpractice is the performance of procedures that are not medically necessary for a child. This can include the extraction of teeth that do not need to be removed. Having a child sit through a procedure that has the potential to inflict pain, when the procedure is not medically necessary is unconscionable. Also, some procedures that are performed that are not medically necessary can also be examples of insurance fraud as the dentist may be trying to pick up money from an insurance claim when it is not really needed.
- Not Using Appropriate Anesthetic A final area that dentists must be careful of, especially when dealing with young patients, is the issue of anesthesia. Some dentists have gone so far as to not use the appropriate anesthesia before performing painful procedures such as tooth extractions and root canals. Others have administered the anesthesia, only to let the patient “sleep it off” so that they can then bill for the anesthesia while still performing the procedure while the patient is wide awake and suffering. Finally, some dentists have accidentally given someone the wrong level of anesthesia. Giving too little will mean that the patient will be more alert and feel pain. Giving too much can lead to nausea and mental confusion. In extreme circumstances, a patient could have brain damage from a lack of oxygen reaching the brain. The worst-case scenario is that a patient may begin vomiting into the anesthesia mask, only to choke (or aspirate) on his or her own vomit and die. This can be especially problematic with young children, as their weights require a substantially smaller amount of anesthesia that may be harder to calculate. Regardless of the particular occurrence, these are all examples of dental malpractice that can be litigated by a skilled malpractice attorney.
Dental Malpractice Examples, Claims & Lawsuits
Do You Have a Case? The types of dental malpractice cases are almost as varied as the types of dental procedures that you can have performed on you. Each type of procedure comes with its own risks and its own set of problems that can arise, especially if the dentist does something wrong during the course of the procedure. Here are some of the most common procedures along with examples of what could constitute dental malpractice with these cases.
- Broken Instrument/Broken File—Some times during a procedure such as a root canal, an instrument such as an endodontic file will break off and it has the potential to lodge itself inside the tooth or root. If this happens, the dentist may have to refer the patient to an oral surgeon to remove the piece, causing an additional bill for the patient. This may be an example of dental malpractice and could lead to payment for the medical bills.
- Broken Jaw—One of the possible complications of oral surgery, particularly wisdom teeth extraction, is a jaw fracture. This should be explained and detailed in the pre-op consultation and the patient should sign a consent form at the time of surgery. If the dentist fails to do this, or if negligence is involved that lead to the broken jaw, dental malpractice may be an issue and could possibly be litigated.
- Broken Tooth—Another issue that has occurred in several cases is a broken or chipped tooth. In this instance, the dentist may have been repairing or extracting one tooth only to make a mistake or slip, causing damage to a neighboring tooth.
- Extraction—A very common procedure that has potential for injury and a case for dental malpractice is with extractions. This procedure can lead to the aforementioned issue with fractured jaws as well as sinus perforation, infections, bleeding, and infections. In severe instances, death can even occur.
- Filling—Probably the most common dental procedure is getting a filling to repair a cavity. Even these can go wrong and if the problem is a result of negligence, then the patient may have a chance to file a dental malpractice lawsuit. The most common problems with fillings include drilling too deep into the tooth than is necessary and drilling into the tooth’s nerve causing permanent damage.
- HIV and Hepatitis—In the past two years, there have been two cases, one in Oklahoma (http://www.foxnews.com/) and one in Australia (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/) left 18,000 patients exposed to HIV and hepatitis. This comes from a lack of proper sterilization techniques that can lead to serious and potentially fatal infections.
- Root Canal—Another issue that can come from root canals is permanent nerve damage. This is particularly an issue in the lip and chin. Such nerve damage can cause paralysis and constant, nagging pain or numbness.
- Crowns and Veneers–Crowns and veneers are casings that are placed over the teeth to cover up issues such as irregular sized or discolored teeth. Issues that can arise from this include improper bonding of the veneer to the teeth. Another issue is when a dentist puts veneers on that are the wrong color to match with the other teeth. This can leave a very unnatural and garish look to a patient’s mouth and smile.
- Wisdom Teeth—If you have a wisdom tooth extracted, there can be several complications. These include nerve damage, loss of taste, and uncontrolled bleeding. Dentists are required to provide a patient with a list of potential issues that could arise including these and others. If a dentist fails to do so, or if the issue occurs as a result of negligence on his part, then you may have a case for dental malpractice.
- Wrong Tooth—One of the most disturbing type of malpractice stories to come out in recent years are stories of surgeons performing operations on the wrong patient or on the wrong body part, such as amputations on healthy limbs. This has also occurred in dental cases. Patients have gone in for a tooth extraction, only to have the wrong tooth pulled. Others have had painful procedures such as root canals performed on the wrong tooth, only to have to repeat the procedure on the correct tooth, enduring twice the pain and discomfort.
- Nerve Damage—As has already been mentioned, nerve damage is a very real potential complication from several dental procedures such as tooth extractions and root canals. In some cases, the chin or lip can be permanently damaged causing issues such as paralysis, numbness (also called dental paresthesia) and tingling, pain, or loss of taste.
- Braces—Braces are very common (and very expensive) dental appliances, particularly for children. Unfortunately, some dentists will recommend braces when they are not truly necessary, preying on a parent’s fear of their child not having perfect teeth. Other dentists will intentionally keep a patient in braces for longer than is necessary. This ultimately comes down to one motivation—money. The longer the dentist has a patient in braces, the more opportunities they have to charge for checkups and maintenance on the braces
- Orthodontic Treatment—Another popular orthodontic treatment that is being used in place of braces is Invisalign. However, this has only been approved for certain types of conditions. If an orthodontist improperly prescribes Invisalign, it can result in damage to a patient’s mouth, which is neglible.
- Dentures—For many older individuals, dentures are a basic part of life. They have lost all or part of their teeth and need a set of properly fitted dentures to allow them to eat and enjoy their lives. However, if a dentist does not fashion a set of dentures that fit properly, a patient can have serious problems with eating, not to mention appearance issues. When you get dentures, you are literally buying a product that must perform as needed. If they do not, you may be entitled to new dentures at no additional cost to you.
- Periodontal Disease—One of the top reasons for patients filing dental malpractice suits is from a failure to properly diagnose periodontal disease. Failure to diagnose can cause the condition to become worse, meaning that the patient will have to pay much more for treatment at a later date.
- Dental Perforation—Dental perforation can be a very serious issue. If a dentist does not properly diagnose a potential perforation, then something such as a bur or tooth fragment can perforate the patient’s sinuses. This can create an infection that can potentially lead to hospitalization for treatment or even death.
Just because you are seeing a dentist doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect the same level of quality care as from other health professionals. If you or someone you love has been injured by a dental procedure and you feel that negligence was involved, then contact the offices of Wolf & Pravato so you can learn more about your legal rights in this matter when it comes to suing for dental malpractice.