When a dentist damages a patient as a result of the dentist’s negligent acts or omissions, the injured patient may be able to sue that dentist for dental malpractice. Chapter 766 of the Florida Statutes governs dental malpractice actions in Florida.
Simply put, a dentist commits dental malpractice when he or she fails to meet the standard of care in providing dental services to a patient and causes the patient to suffer injury or illness. For example, if a patient has serious numbness, tingling, or burning sensations days after a dental implant procedure, that’s a good sign that something went wrong. Similarly, if a patient experiences nerve damage and has numbness, burning, or tingling after an extraction procedure, the dentist may have done something wrong.
Dental malpractice cases follow the same procedural rules as medical malpractice cases. In fact, they are medical malpractice cases, except that they focus on dental work. Let’s talk a little about what a dental malpractice attorney might look at to properly evaluate your case.
What Are Common Reasons for Filing a Dental Malpractice Case?
If your dentist injures you, you may have a dental malpractice lawsuit. Some errors that occur during dental procedures are easily corrected and don’t cause lingering pain, injury, or infection. On the other hand, some mistakes can cause serious and lasting injury. A personal injury attorney will look to see whether a patient has suffered injuries from his or her dental work and why those injuries occurred.
The American Dental Association lists many common injuries that may occur as the result of dental malpractice. Some of the more common types of dental malpractice include the following.
When a dentist damages the patient’s inferior alveolar nerve or lingual nerve, it can cause permanent damage and severe pain. There are many ways this can happen. For example, dentists can cause nerve damage when doing a root canal or when extracting a wisdom tooth. Additionally, a dentist may place an implant too close to the nerve and cause nerve damage. Unfortunately, nerve damage is all too common in these types of cases. In the worst cases, nerve damage can cause lifelong conditions, like anesthesia dolorosa and trigeminal neuralgia. Hence, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible if you think you have suffered nerve damage.
Dental Implant Issues
Dental implants can fall out, fail, or cause a number of problems as a result of dental negligence. For example, your dentist may place the wrong size implant or place an implant at an improper angle. Alternatively, the dentist may use mini implants in the wrong location, and these mini implants may migrate into the sinuses. The bottom line is that about 98% of dental implants are successful. It should be a safe procedure that leads to a great result. Thus, if you experience serious problems after a dental implant procedure, this is a big red flag for your dental malpractice attorney.
Osteomyelitis of the Jaw
Osteomyelitis of the jaw is a severe infection that can occur after dental procedures. It can lead to pain, suffering, disability, disfigurement, and even death. Dental malpractice may occur if a dentist fails to recognize, diagnose, and treat the infection in a timely manner. Some of the most serious cases in this area of law involve a dentist fracturing a patient’s jaw during an extraction procedure, usually a wisdom tooth extraction. Then, the dentist does not recognize the fracture and/or does not inform the patient about the fracture. Over time, the patient develops osteomyelitis in the fractured portion of the jaw. The result can be catastrophic, and the patient may lose a significant portion of the jaw and require multiple reconstructive surgeries and bone transplants.
Improperly Performed Root Canal Procedures
Root canals are a major source of dental malpractice cases in Florida. When a dentist or endodontist performs a root canal, they may perforate the tooth and push sealant, gutta percha, and other materials into the patient’s surrounding tissues. These perforation cases are quite common. Additionally, dentists or endodontists may overfill a canal. This occurs when the dentist pushes too much material into the canal of the tooth, and that material comes out the apex of the root. This can cause the loss of the tooth and even permanent damage to the inferior alveolar nerve.
Soft Tissue Damage
Dentists can injure bone, muscle, or soft tissue when removing teeth, placing implants, or performing other dental procedures. Soft tissue damage can be very painful and can seriously interrupt a patient’s life, and it often accompanies bigger issues. Therefore, if you have soft tissue damage, your attorney may be able to get you compensation for your damage.
Lack of Consent
A dentist must have informed consent before treating a patient, so the dentist must tell the patient about the risks and benefits of the procedure, as well as the available alternatives. Unfortunately, many dentists do not give their patients enough information for the patient to consent to the procedure. Therefore, lack of consent is another big-ticket item for your dental malpractice attorney to look into on your behalf.
A dentist can cause an infection in a patient by improperly sterilizing equipment prior to performing dental procedures. Similarly, a dentist may cause infection by not properly prescribing antibiotics. Additionally, a dentist may overlook infections, and this can cause serious issues for a patient. For example, dentists may place an implant in the presence of infection, which can greatly increase the chance that the implant fails.
Dentist Pulled Wrong Tooth
When a dentist pulls the wrong tooth, this is typically a careless and clearly avoidable mistake; there is no excuse for pulling the wrong tooth. Accordingly, if your dentist extracted the wrong tooth, you should contact an attorney right away because this is one of the more egregious forms of dental malpractice.
When a dentist removes a tooth, places a dental implant, or performs a sinus lift surgery, there is a serious risk of puncturing the sinus cavity, which we call a sinus perforation. This can be extremely painful, and it often causes serious infection if not treated quickly. A dentist should quickly refer a patient to a specialist if the sinus is punctured. If you experience an unusual amount of sniffling or sneezing or any sinus-related symptoms after a dental surgical procedure, you should seek medical help immediately. This kind of injury can be very serious.
Damaging Liquid Solutions
If a dentist uses improper solutions during a procedure, it can burn sinus tissues or even damage nerves. This is often due to a careless mistake or a dentist’s failure to properly educate himself or herself about what solutions to use in a given situation.
A dentist can commit malpractice if he or she fails to administer anesthesia, pain medications, or antibiotics when needed. For example, if a dentist fails to treat an infection, a dental implant can fail or fall out, or the patient may develop a very serious infection. Talk to your attorney to determine if your dentist used or prescribed improper medications.
Failure to Refer a Patient to a Specialist
A big issue in dental malpractice is that dentists will put money before patient safety and attempt to perform surgeries or procedures that they are not properly trained to perform. Additionally, dentists might not properly inform a patient that the dentist is not adequately trained for the given procedure. This is a big reason patients will ultimately contact a dental malpractice attorney.
Failure to Diagnose Cancer
If a dentist fails to recognize cancer or a tumor that a reasonable dentist would have noticed on an x-ray, the patient can die or lose valuable time in his or her life. A failure to diagnose cancer or squamous cell carcinoma is often due to a dentist’s incompetence or failure to properly review the patient’s file and images. If this sounds like something that happened to you, contact an attorney to see if you have a dental malpractice claim.
How to Prove Dental Malpractice
A dental malpractice lawsuit involves the four major elements of negligence that the plaintiff or attorney must prove by a preponderance of the evidence. Those elements are duty, breach, causation, and damages.
- Duty. The attorney must prove that the dentist owed a duty to the plaintiff. Most often, this means that the plaintiff or claimant was a patient of the defendant dentist.
- Breach of Duty. The attorney must prove that the dentist or dental staff provided a level of care that fell short of the applicable standard of care.
- Causation. The attorney must prove that the failure to meet the standard of care caused an injury (physical harm, illness, or both).
- Damages. You must have suffered damages as a result of the dentist’s negligence. In other words, the injury or harm the dentist caused must be compensable. This means that the damages must be measurable in some way, typically by assigning a dollar amount. Damages are typically divided into economic damages and noneconomic damages.
If a claimant can prove these four elements, you likely have a viable dental malpractice lawsuit.
Costs of Bad Dental Work
Dental malpractice can result in serious financial and personal costs for the harmed patient. The cost of medical bills, corrective dental work, and lost wages can all put a strain on a patient’s finances. In addition, the pain and suffering caused by dental malpractice can be devastating, both for the patient and the patient’s family. Your lawyer will attempt to calculate all your tangible and intangible costs to determine what kind of money damages you are entitled to.
Here’s the deal, insurance companies have spent countless dollars to promote the idea that dental malpractice cases are bad for our country and healthcare system, and these claims are meritless and misleading. Nevertheless, they're money well spent for the insurance companies. It’s great marketing for them.
The truth is that these cases act as a check and balance on dentists and their staff. Without this check and balance, we can all see how patient safety would become an afterthought for dentists. As a result, more people would needlessly suffer without dental malpractice claims and lawsuits.
With the civil law system, our society makes wrongdoers pay with money. Money gets their attention, and money changes their behavior. Thankfully, dentists are typically required to carry some type of professional insurance coverage. Thus, they may not be personally liable for any settlement or verdict against them. Regardless, if you have been harmed by your dentist, we recommend you contact a dental malpractice attorney immediately to protect your rights.
Do You Need to Speak to a Florida Dental Malpractice Attorney?
If you or a loved one has suffered injuries as a result of dental negligence, you should speak with a skilled and experienced Florida dental malpractice lawyer as soon as possible because you may be entitled to compensation. Please don’t hesitate to contact us on our website, or you can call our Orlando, Florida personal injury law firm today at (321) 352-7588 to schedule your free consultation by phone. We handle dental malpractice cases all over the State of Florida.
If you need help with a South Carolina dental malpractice matter, don’t hesitate to call us at (843) 638-6590. We have a location in Charleston, South Carolina, and we have at least one lawyer licensed in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. So, if you’ve been injured in these states, we have you covered. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you need us.