Dental Negligence

Dental negligence claims advice

A visit to the dentist is never a pleasant experience for anyone, and when dental work is sub-standard and causes harm, the results can be devastating. Whilst some recover quickly from injuries and harm suffered following negligent dental treatment, others suffer permanent life changing effects.

What is Dental Negligence?

Dental negligence is a strand of clinical (or medical) negligence, and occurs when a dentist (or other members of the dental team) breaches their duty of care causing harm to the patient concerned. For the purposes of this article, we refer to dental professionals.

Dental negligence occurs when the treatment of a patient by a dental professional is below what would normally be expected of someone of similar experience in that field. The actions or failings of a dental professional which directly lead to physical or mental harm because of a lack of reasonable skill or care will be classed as negligence.

If you have received treatment from a dental professional but you believe the level of care was negligent, and you have suffered harm as a result, you may be able to make a compensation claim on the basis of dental negligence.

What type of actions or inaction can amount to Dental Negligence?

There are many forms of dental negligence, including:

  • Missed or false diagnosis
  • Careless dental work
  • Being given too much anaesthetic
  • Failing to monitor a patient
  • Failure to advise of risks of procedures

Missed Diagnosis and False Diagnosis

A missed diagnosis is where a dentist fails to notice problems with the teeth or gums, or other oral problems – meaning that the problem worsens. Many dental negligence claims are based on missed diagnosis.

A false diagnosis occurs when the dentist misjudges or underestimates the condition or issue so, for instance, does not undertake any dental work. In other cases, the diagnosis is wholly wrong. For example, a dentist could decide a patient’s discomfort or pain is caused by food trapped in small cavity, when a thorough investigation and x-ray would reveal the patient has a severe tooth abscess. This can lead to life threatening septic shock.

Missed and false diagnoses can lead to serious problems which could become much harder to treat. Long lasting damage can also result.

Careless Dental Work

Where a dental professional does not practice safe working methods when treating a patient, this can amount to careless dental work. For instance, this could be placing dental implements in an inappropriate or unsafe place causing the patient harm, or using a wrong instrument causing harm.

A dental professional may also be careless when undertaking a procedure without due care, for instance, allowing an instrument to slip – leading to a cut gum.

Other scenarios

There are many cases of patients receiving too high a dose of anaesthetic, which can lead to complications during and after treatment. In some instances, the wrong amount of anaesthesia can lead to brain damage. Where appropriate checks are carried out on the patient beforehand, such problems can be avoided. However, there are always risks with anaesthetic, and close monitoring after surgery can quickly identify problems. If a patient is not monitored following treatment under anaesthetic and they suffer harm – a dental negligence claim could follow.

Dental patients should be advised of the risks of treatment to enable them to give informed consent. If the risks are not spelt out, and the patient suffers harm as a result of surgery that they would have refused had they known the risks, a compensation claim may arise.

What should I do if I have been a victim of Dental Negligence?

If you have suffered harm as a result of what you believe was dental negligence, you may be able to make a compensation claim against the dentist/dental practice. You should take steps early because your lawyer will need to obtain the relevant dental records and any medical records, and most likely obtain an independent specialist dental report in support of your claim.

You should instruct a specialist dental negligence lawyer who has the experience and knowledge of dental treatment and the law, and a successful track record of making dental negligence claims.

How difficult is it to fight and win a claim?

As with any clinical negligence claim, it can be difficult and costly to make a compensation claim for dental negligence, unless the negligence complained of is admitted by the dentist/dental practice. However, the majority of medical negligence claims are settled before they reach court.

Even if negligence is admitted, quantifying an appropriate level of compensation may be difficult – and the court may have to decide a fair compensation figure. For more information on general and special damages in clinical negligence claims see here.

If the negligence is not admitted and you have to go to court, the case can take a long time (years, in the case of a complicated case). Your lawyers will have to satisfy the court, on the evidence, that on the balance of probabilities you were the victim of dental negligence. This is why specialist lawyers are necessary to give you your best chance of success.

Are dental negligence cases expensive?

Dental negligence claims can be extremely costly, but some solicitors will take dental negligence cases on a no win, no fee basis. Your lawyer will be able to advise you on how much it could cost; whether you can obtain legal insurance to cover the risk of losing your claim; and the other cost implications of making a claim.

You may also incur additional costs while the claim is ongoing. For instance, you may need to take time off from work to progress your claim, and attend court hearings – meaning a potential loss of earnings; travel expenses and so on.

Your lawyer will advise you on the implications of making a claim, and the merits or otherwise of your potential dental negligence claim.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.