Dentists or root canal specialists called “endodontists” may be liable for dental malpractice if they breach the standard of care in performing a root canal procedure. Although there are many different types of dental malpractice, botched root canal procedures make up a huge number of dental malpractice claims, as well as complaints to the state board of dentistry. A viable dental negligence claim essentially means that the dentist, endodontist, or other medical professional can be held liable for the injured patient’s injuries and resulting damages, like medical bills and pain and suffering. In other words, the injured patient can be compensated for the damage the negligent dentist caused.
As we talked about, root canal dental malpractice is one of the most common types of dental malpractice claim. Thus, a failed root canal that damages the patient is one of the leading causes of dental malpractice lawsuits. These procedures are terrifying, and nobody wants to get a root canal anyway because they are notoriously painful procedures. Add in some dental negligence, and the result can be a real nightmare for the patient.
Common Causes of Dental Malpractice Cases Involving Root Canals
There are many different ways that a root canal procedure may injure a patient and result in a dental malpractice claim. The key component of the dental malpractice claim is whether the dentist or endodontist breached the standard of care in rendering treatment. Below are some of the most common causes of dental malpractice lawsuits involving root canal procedures.
Unnecessary Root Canal
Part of a dentist’s job is to properly justify a course of treatment. The failure to do so is a breach of the minimum standards of care and could result in a dental malpractice lawsuit, or at least a complaint to the state board of dentistry. There’s a couple of reasons a dentist might perform an unnecessary root canal. First, the dentist needs the money. A dental practice is a business, and the owners need cash flow. Thus, an unscrupulous dentist might perform a procedure simply to bill the patient or the patient’s insurance company. Second, the dentist might perform an unnecessary root canal because the dentist failed to properly diagnose and evaluate the patient’s condition. This could be due to pure laziness, or it could be due to failure in the preoperative planning phase.
Root Canal Performed on the Wrong Tooth
I know. It sounds crazy, but you’d be truly amazed if you knew how often dentists perform root canals on the wrong tooth. This is an absolute nightmare for the patient, not just because of the pain involved, but also because it shortens the life of the otherwise healthy tooth. Thus, the patient’s loss is two-fold. That’s why a root canal procedure on the wrong tooth is highly likely to turn into a dental malpractice lawsuit.
Drilling Too Deep into the Canal
There are several injuries that could occur when a dentist drills too deep into a tooth’s canal. First, the patient could suffer nerve damage as a result of a root canal procedure if the dentist drills through the apex of the tooth and into the inferior alveolar nerve. This is a huge risk when the dentist performs the root canal on a lower molar and does not take the necessary images to properly plan for the procedure. After this type of injury, a patient will typically notice numbness or odd sensations in the chin, jaw, and face.
Second, the dentist may drill too deeply during a root canal and puncture the sinus. This is a risk when the dentist performs a root canal procedure on an upper tooth and drills through the apex of the tooth into the sinus cavity. A patient experiencing this type of injury may experience a nosebleed, sneezing, or excessive sinus drainage.
Overall, if a dentist drills through the apex of the tooth during a root canal procedure, the patient is likely to suffer. There will be pain, swelling, and likely infection as a result of this type of error. It can also lead to bone loss, gum damage, and loss of the tooth. Thus, these are the types of cases a dental malpractice lawyer will often see.
Failure to Properly Perform the Root Canal
Dentists can commit dental malpractice by not properly cleaning out the canals of a tooth. This happens when the dentist fails to remove the tissue from the inside of the canal. As a result, the tissue left inside the canal will begin to become infected and rot the tooth from the inside out. This causes serious pain, and it will typically destroy the tooth. A patient may notice pain and swelling in the weeks after the root canal when this happens. Patients injured by failed root canals often reach out to a dental malpractice lawyer to pursue a claim.
Overfilling the Root Canal
Another serious issue in dental malpractice is overfill. This occurs when the dentist packs too much material into the canal of a tooth. When the dentist forces too much material into the canal, the dentist may cause the root to fracture, or the dentist may negligently push the material out of the apex of the tooth and into the surrounding tissues. On a lower tooth, this could cause the material to intrude into the inferior alveolar nerve canal, which could cause permanent nerve damage. On an upper tooth, this could cause the material to damage the sinus. Root canal overfill is a common issue in dental malpractice because it inevitably will typically cause the patient to suffer extreme pain and infection, at the very least.
Broken Root Canal File
Another serious issue in dental malpractice is when a dentist performs a root canal and breaks the root canal file off in the canal of the tooth. Sometimes, this is referred to as a “separated file.” The dental malpractice does not necessarily occur because the dentist broke the root canal file in the tooth. The dental malpractice occurs if the dentist fails to tell the patient about the broken file and if the dentist does not refer the patient to a specialist to try to resolve the issue. Although a separated file or instrument is not an unheard-of complication in dentistry, many dentists fail to inform the patient about the broken file. As a result, the patient can suffer with pain and other complications for months before learning about the broken file from another dentist. In the more extreme cases, the dentist may break the file such that the broken piece of the file extends into the inferior alveolar nerve canal and damages the patient’s nerve. Thus, a broken root canal file is another common reason people sue the dentist.
Perforated Tooth During the Root Canal
Another way a dentist might commit dental malpractice during a root canal procedure is by perforating the tooth during the procedure. Sometimes, a dentist will mistakenly drill out the side of the patient’s tooth during a root canal. Additionally, the dentist may not know that he or she drilled out the side of the tooth. In other words, the dentist may drill a hole through the tooth and into the patient’s bone, thinking that the dentist is drilling into the root canal. Then, the dentist will use cleanser on freshly cut bone and then push sealant into the wound. Finally, the dentist will stuff the gutta percha into the freshly cut bone and send the patient home. This not only condemns the patient’s healthy tooth, but it also causes excruciating pain, and it could develop into a very serious infection.