Dental malpractice claims can involve a number of issues. The key to a dental malpractice claim is that the dentist breached the standard of care. In other words, the key to a good dental malpractice claim is to show that the dentist’s treatment of the patient fell below the acceptable level of care within the field of dentistry. Although a dentist could breach the standard of care in many ways, there are several dental malpractice claims that are much more common than the rest. In this article, we’re going to be talking about the 5 most common sources of dental malpractice claims.
One of the most common reasons people sue dentists is because of bad crown work. When a crown is not properly fitted to the underlying tooth, it can cause extreme sensitivity and pain. Additionally, if left untreated, the poorly fitted crown can cause the tooth to decay. When this happens, the patient may lose the tooth or need to get root canals done on those decaying teeth. The most common issue with crowns that leads to dental malpractice claims is open margins. An open margin is where the dentist leaves a gap between the crown and the underlying tooth. This gap creates a trap for food particles, and this leads to decay. Ultimately, open margins can lead to the death of the tooth.
Another common issue is overhang. This is where the crown laps over the underlying tooth, kind of like the roof on a house. That ledge between the overhanging crown and the underlying tooth creates a trough that holds food particles. Like an open margin, overhang creates the perfect environment for decay, which ultimately destroys the tooth. When this happens, the tooth may need to be extracted, although sometimes a root canal can save the tooth if the issue is identified early enough.
Root Canal Procedures
Root canal procedures are a major source of dental malpractice claims. A bad root canal procedure could result in permanent nerve damage, infection, or the loss of the tooth. For example, a root canal could lead to nerve damage if the dentist drills beyond the tip of the root and punctures the inferior alveolar nerve canal. Because the inferior alveolar nerve runs through the middle of the jaw bone, you typically see this type of issue when a dentist performs a root canal on a bottom molar.
A root canal could lead to infection if the dentist does not properly perform the root canal and leaves behind pulp in the roots or does not properly seal or fill the root canal. As a result, the unprotected canal can fester and become infected. This can lead to serious pain, and it often results in an abscess or other painful manifestation of a tooth infection.
Another serious issue in root canal procedures is a broken file, sometimes called a “separated instrument.” When a dentist performs a root canal, the instruments involved are thin and brittle. This makes sense because the canal of a tooth is small, and so the instruments must also be small. Sometimes, the dentist will break a file in the patient’s tooth. Even worse, sometimes a dentist will break the file in the patient’s tooth and then not inform the patient of the issue or help the patient to get the object removed. This can result in serious pain for the patient, and the patient may need an apical surgery or an extraction to fix the problem.
One of the worst possible scenarios that can result from a root canal is a perforated tooth. This is where the dentist drills out the side of the tooth and into the surrounding tissues, usually bone. This occurs when the dentist thinks that the dentist is drilling into a canal, but the dentist has actually created a hole in the patient’s tooth and in the patient’s bone. Sometimes, the dentist will push sealant and filling material into the hole in the patient’s bone. This can cause extreme pain, and it likely destroys the tooth such that the tooth will need to be extracted.
Dental Implant Procedures
Dental implant procedures are surgical procedures. They involve screwing a piece of titanium into the patient’s jawbone. If the dentist fails to properly plan for the procedure, horrible things can happen during a dental implant procedure, including infection, permanent nerve damage, or a punctured sinus. For example, whenever a dentist places a dental implant in the upper jaw, there is a risk of puncturing the sinus because the sinus is so close to the roots of upper teeth. Additionally, if a dentist uses mini dental implants, the mini implants may cause serious damage if they migrate into the sinuses or into the nerve. If the dentist places an implant on the bottom jaw, there is a risk of causing permanent nerve damage. Finally, if the implant becomes infected, this can cause serious problems for the patient, including bone loss, osteomyelitis, or sepsis.
Extractions are serious procedures that can result in painful injuries to the patient. Sometimes, the dentist can apply so much force during an extraction that the patient’s jaw can break. If left untreated, this broken jaw can eventually become infected and turn into osteomyelitis. As a result, the patient may need multiple jaw reconstructive surgeries that can involve a titanium implant to bridge the gap in the patient’s jaw, as well as bone transplants from another part of the patient’s body, like the hip. Extractions can also cause permanent damage to the lingual nerve or inferior alveolar nerve. Finally, extractions can turn into serious infections that cause intense and lasting pain.
Procedures On The Wrong Tooth
We’ve all heard the horror stories about a doctor performing a procedure on the wrong arm or leg. Well, this happens in dentistry too. Sometimes, a dentist can get into a hurry and perform a root canal, crown, or filling on the wrong tooth. In more serious cases, a dentist may extract the wrong tooth or place an implant in the wrong site. Regardless of what type of procedure was performed, a procedure on the wrong tooth is one of the most egregious examples of dental malpractice because it simply cannot happen without negligence.