The Elements of Dental Malpractice

What must be proved when you sue a dentist for malpractice?

As in all cases of medical malpractice, the plaintiff must be able to prove that personal injury was suffered as a result of the practitioner’s substandard care. Because of the complexities of proving dental malpractice to a judge or jury, if you have suffered at the hands of a negligent dentist, you should be sure to engage the services of a skilled attorney who specializes in dental malpractice. Expertise in this particular field will go a long way to ensuring that you receive the compensation you deserve for your medical costs, loss of wages, and pain and suffering. There are four principles of negligence involved, all of which must be satisfied to establish proof: duty, breach, causation and damages.


All dentists have a duty to comply with a standard of care in treating their patients. Standard of care is legally defined as the level of care an ordinary, prudent dentist in good standing would administer under similar circumstances, assuming that both dentists have similar educational backgrounds and work in parallel geographic locations.

Breach of Duty

Any dentist who fails to provide care in line with the standard of competent care has breached his or her duty. Remember, though, that the fact that there are complications or that a procedure is unsuccessful does not mean that a breach of duty has occurred.

Some examples of true breach of duty can be obvious, as when the dentist ignores cancer in the mouth or when the dentist cuts the nerve or breaks the jaw during a routine extraction. There are cases, however, where the breach of duty is more blurred; in such situations, expert medical witnesses will be essential to proving the case. When expert practitioners in same field are called as witnesses, they must testify concerning the appropriate standard of care under the circumstances and precisely in what way the defendant’s conduct fell short of that standard.


Causation is central to proving dental malpractice. Unless breach of duty has actually resulted in harm, you may not even be aware that your dentist has committed a breach of duty to comply with the standard of care. Before you decide to pursue a dental malpractice suit, you should consult with a competent dental malpractice attorney to confirm that your injury would not have occurred without the preceding dental event. Unless your attorney  can prove through your own and expert testimony that there is a causal connection between the dentist’s actions and the injuries you suffered, it probably won’t be possible to prove your case. For example, you may not realize the underlining viability of your teeth has been permanently damaged.


If you are to win a lawsuit accusing your dentist of dental malpractice, you will have to prove damages; otherwise, your case will be dismissed. As the plaintiff, it is your job (which of course requires the professional assistance of your lawyer) to prove that your dentist’s breach of standard of care has caused you harm, either in terms of physical pain, appearance, or expensive restoration work such as bone grafting and implants .

About the Author
Of all the different areas in medical malpractice, it is podiatry malpractice that has had a particular interest to me. With 42 years practicing law and representing hundreds of victims of malpractice, I have created a law practice in which my clients are comfortable knowing that their case is being handled with my personal attention, in the most professional manner, and without unreasonable delays.