Tracking the Most Common Types of Dental Malpractice

What types of dental malpractice are most common? 

While many people are not thrilled to go to the dentist, no one expects negligence or serious, perhaps permanent injury to result from a dental visit. Nonetheless, if you have been the victim of dental malpractice, you are not alone. If you find yourself in this situation, you should consult with an attorney who specializes in dental malpractice.

While most dentists are well-trained, capable and careful, there are always some negligent professionals in any field and dentistry is no exception. A few general dentists and specialists of all types (e.g. endodontists, oral surgeons, periodontists) have been convicted of dental malpractice. The following types of dental malpractice have been singled out as most common in a recent evaluation of 242 malpractice cases. They are listed in order of frequency:

  1. Extractions
    Some extractions resulted in infections serious enough to require hospitalization, nerve injuries, sinus perforation, mandibular fractures, and TMJ injuries. Some of these left patients with permanent damage; eight resulted in fatalities.
  1. Endodontic Procedures
    Complications of endodontic procedures included nerve damage, sinus perforations, air embolisms, and life-threatening infections. There were four fatalities in this group and four cases of irreversible brain damage.
  1. Dental Implants
    In some few cases, implants were lost and there had been no apparent treatment planning. One patient died of a post-operative infection. When poorly done, implants can also result in gum problems and bone loss.
  1. Shoddy Crown or Bridge Treatment
    All cases of substandard crown or bridge treatment involved multiple units or full-mouth reconstructions. They all involved lack of planning. The results of dental negligence were overhanging restorations, poor occlusion, open margins, gum problems and bone loss.
  1. Periodontal Disease
    All cases in this category involved failure to diagnose disease in its early stages, resulting in bone loss and/or tooth loss. In none of these cases were routine X-rays taken.
  1. Orthodontics
    Most of the cases of orthodontic negligence involved root resorption, gum problems and bone loss, especially when the patient was not seen for gum treatments often enough. Not only were numerous teeth on each patient affected, but the majority of damaged teeth were permanently lost. X-rays were not taken routinely. There were also several cases of TMJ injury.
  1. Anesthesia Complications
    This category was found to be responsible for the greatest number of fatalities, and three of the deaths were of children.
  1. Dental Infections
    Serious dental infections resulted in four fatalities, two brain abscesses, and one case of septic arthritis.
  1. Dental Injections
    Cases involving dental injections all centered on nerve damage. In the majority of cases, the lingual nerve was affected; in a few, the damage was to the inferior alveolar nerve. In all cases, although the dentists were made aware that they had hit a nerve, they did not follow the recommended procedure of withdrawing the needle and reinjecting. None of the negligent dentists followed up with the patients they had injured.
  1. Adverse Drug Reactions
    Astonishingly, in all the cases of adverse drug reactions, two of which resulted in fatalities, the dentist administered a drug contraindicated by the patient’s medical records.

Other categories of dental malpractice involved treatment of TMJ, orthognathic (jaw) surgeries, failure to diagnose oral cancer in its early stages, defective or malfunctioning equipment or injections into the wrong sites. All of these resulted in permanent injuries to the patients.  While no one expects to be a victim of dental malpractice, if you are unfortunate enough to be victimized, it is essential that you have an attorney who specializes in dental malpractice to fight vigorously to ensure that you receive just compensation.

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.