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What is Dental Malpractice?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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Dental malpractice is a form of professional negligence where a dentist does not provide an adequate standard of care for a patient, and the patient experiences harm as a result. Patients can sue for damages, collecting funds to pay for any necessary medical treatment as well as pain and suffering the patient may have experienced. Dentists and other medical professionals carry malpractice insurance to help them respond to suits and cover any damage awards.

Dentists are held to a high standard of professional care because they receive advanced training and professional certifications, and clients expect their dentists to provide appropriate treatment. A dentist who injures a patient by failing to follow standards and practices of the industry, like checking for allergies, making sure equipment is sterile, or confirming a patient's wishes in regard to a procedure, is committing professional malpractice. Mistakes, even if not intentional, can be grounds for a dental malpractice suit if a patient can show that the dentist didn't exercise due care.

For example, if a patient experiences a severe reaction to latex gloves during dental surgery and the patient has no history of latex allergies, this is not dental malpractice. The dentist checked the patient's medical record and interviewed the patient to determine that latex gloves shouldn't be a problem. If the patient experiences a reaction and has had reactions before, the dentist may be considered at fault, because he did not check the patient's records or ask the patient directly about any known allergies.

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Dental malpractice can potentially leave patients with very high medical bills. They may need additional surgery to correct unfinished or inappropriately formed procedures. It is also possible to experience complications that may result in chronic disease and other problems. A dentist may, for instance, extract the wrong teeth, forcing the patient to get more extractions to pull the correct teeth and causing permanent discomfort for the patient. In some cases, it can even be fatal, in which case survivors of the patient would file suit to recover compensation for the loss of a family member.

Dentists use numerous procedures to keep their patients safe and maintain safe working conditions at their clinics. These include training staff properly, using informed consent for procedures, and interviewing patients carefully to collect a full medical history. Even with these measures, dental malpractice can be a risk, and most dentists carry insurance so that in the event of a suit and damage award, the insurance will pay out.

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