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What is a Dental Expert Witness?

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  • Written By: L. Burgoon
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A dental expert witness provides testimony and information in legal proceedings on dentistry matters. As with all expert witnesses, dental expert witnesses explain concepts or interpret facts with knowledge that the average person does not possess. Used in both civil and criminal courts, dental experts usually testify about dental records, forensics, or other specialty areas in the field.

It is very common for dental expert witnesses to be called in civil malpractice cases. In these circumstances, the plaintiff’s attorney might call upon the witness to explain how another dentist’s actions were harmful. For instance, if the dentist did not follow proper treatment protocol or missed an obvious complication, the dental expert witness will explain this to the judge and/or jury. Conversely, the defense may use the expert to explain why the dentist acted properly or was not negligent. In either situation, each side trusts that the expert’s testimony carries enough clout to help win the case.

Dental expert witnesses also appear in civil court for larger cases involving product liability. In these cases, an injured party may sue a manufacturer or supplier of devices alleged to cause harm. A dental expert could testify for either side of the case by supporting the plaintiff’s claims with medical knowledge or by helping the defense show that no harm was caused.

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Attorneys also employ dental expert witnesses in criminal trials. In cases where dental evidence is important, the witness will offer an expert opinion to try to sway the jury or judge. For instance, consider an assault trial where the alleged perpetrator bit the victim. The prosecutor would use the expert to compare dental records of the accused with the bite pattern. The defense also could use an expert to dispute the prosecutor’s witness, offer an alternative explanation of the incident, or claim that the injury was not severe.

In more complex criminal cases, a forensic dental expert, for example, may be called in to testify about human remains where identification of a victim is only possible through dental records. The expert may also recreate dental features, such as jaw structure, or help bolster an argument about cause of death based on autopsy results or crime scene evidence. Forensic dentist experts are highly specialized professionals; not every dental expert witness is qualified to testify on these intricate criminal matters.

While the term dental expert witness implies that the expert will testify in court, this is not always so. Some dental experts simply provide background information for attorneys or provide a written, sworn statement about the evidence in a case, or give testimony in an out-of-court deposition. The expert may also help police investigators build their case by suggesting specific lines of questioning. The expert also may provide dental examinations or interpret records, and attorneys will use the information in court without necessarily calling the dental expert to testify in person.

A person must first earn a dentistry degree to become a dental expert witness. Opposing attorneys often call qualifications and experience into question in order to undermine testimony, so dental expert witnesses must build a solid professional resume. Thorough and accurate testimony also is a requirement, as attorneys will use any previous dishonesty or inaccurate testimony to undermine the credibility of the dental expert.

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pastanaga
Post 3

@irontoenail - I can see why people don't like the idea of having professional expert witnesses though. If they want to keep earning expert witness fees for that kind of job it's in their best interests to say exactly what the lawyer who hired them wants them to say. Even if they aren't willing to perjure themselves, they can still sway opinion one way or another by the spin they put on the truth.

irontoenail
Post 2

@Fa5t3r - I think that's one reason people end up being professional expert witnesses. It doesn't just take the skill of knowing the subject matter, it also takes the skill of being able to deliver your opinion properly on the stand.

As well as that, the mistake might have been that the lawyer used a surgeon as a medical expert witness rather than another dentist (or perhaps as well as another dentist). No one outside a field can really convey the truth of a situation since they don't know what mistakes were made or what procedures should have been followed, even if they do know the consequences were bad.

Fa5t3r
Post 1

If you are involved in a case against a dentist, be careful who you call in to be your expert witness. My father was injured by a dentist who drilled into his jawbone by accident, broke off the drill bit and then just covered it up without extracting it.

His witness was the surgeon who ended up having to extract the drill bit when it got infected. My father wasn't really looking to make a lot of money so much as he just wanted the dentist in question to be banned from doing further work in this area. But the surgeon was so meek on the stand that he ended up losing the case. It was infuriating, as anyone who saw those x-rays should have been able to testify to the incompetence of the dentist.

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