Dental Malpractice: Can You File a Lawsuit for Injury Compensation?

You’re entitled to seek compensation if you’ve been hurt by a dental procedure gone wrong. Here’s what you need to know about dental malpractice lawsuits.

Dental malpractice affects thousands of people each year. At least five percent of all medical malpractice lawsuits are filed against dentists. ¹

There are more than 200,000 practicing dentists in the United States. ² With each dentist seeing about 2,500 patients annually, that adds up to 500 million people in the dentist’s chair every year.

While most patients receive good care, many patients suffer severe, sometimes fatal injuries from dental malpractice.

General dentists and specialized dentists like oral surgeons, periodontists, and orthodontists are obligated to deliver high standards of patient care. If a negligent dentist injured you or a loved one, you have the right to expect fair compensation.

Common Types of Dental Malpractice

The types of dental treatments most commonly involved in malpractice lawsuits are:

  • Extractions: Problems from getting a tooth pulled include injections, nerve damage, and perforations of nearby mouth tissues and sinuses.
  • Dental Infections: Infections following dental procedures can lead to blood poisoning, brain abscesses, and cardiac complications. Infections may require hospitalization and surgical intervention.
  • Endodontic Procedures: Injuries from root canals and similar endodontic procedures include infections, sinus and nerve damage, blocked blood vessels, and dental instruments left in the canal.
  • Dental Implants: Patients have been injured by infections, lost implants, and inadequate follow-up care.
  • Crowns and Bridges: Improperly placed crowns and bridges can result in unsightly gaps, the inability to chew properly, infections, and more.
  • Periodontal Disease: Malpractice lawsuits typically stem from the dentist’s failure to adequately diagnose and treat the disease.
  • Orthodontics: Badly installed braces and other corrective treatments can result in multiple tooth loss, infections, and root complications.
  • Dental Anesthesia: Wrongfully administered anesthesia is the most common cause of dental malpractice resulting in death to adult and child patients.
  • Oral Cancer: A dentist’s failure to timely recognize mouth cancers can be deadly to the patient.

How to Prove Dental Malpractice

Dental malpractice occurs when a dentist:

“…deviates from the dental standard of care in his community, and as a result of that deviation a patient is injured.”

Standard of care means the kind of care that another dentist in the same community would give to a patient under similar circumstances.

Case Summary: $300,000 Award for Dental Infection

Stephen Darnell had two molars extracted by oral surgeon Jan Kippax. Three days later, Darnell returned, complaining of severe pain. Dr. Kippax asserts that he did not see any infection.

Two days later, Darnell went to a local hospital emergency room, where he was later admitted for treatment of a severe infection.

Darnell suffered through the surgical placement of drains to remove pus from his jaw and weeks of IV antibiotic therapy.

The attorney representing Darnell filed a malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Kippax, alleging he was negligent for deviating from the applicable standard of care when Mr. Darnell suffered a massive infection.

The jury found in favor of Stephen Darnell, awarding him $48,266.82 for his medical bills, and $295,000 for pain and suffering, for a total of $300,000.

For a strong dental malpractice lawsuit, you will have to show:

  1. You were a patient of the at-fault dentist (the dentist owed you a duty of care)
  2. What the dentist should have done while treating you (the standard of care)
  3. What the dentist did wrong or failed to do (violating the standard of care)
  4. The type and extent of your injuries (measurable damages)

Case Summary: Jury Awards $14.8 Million for Dental Malpractice

Kimberly Kallestad, a former high-school cheerleader and varsity tennis player, went to oral surgeon Patrick Collins after injuring her jaw while sledding.

Collins claimed he would “be her hero” by fixing her jaw with a surgical technique he had developed. He assured Kimberly that he had a “near-perfect success rate” in cases like hers.

The surgeries left Kimberly permanently disfigured and disabled, with her jaw fused shut.

Kimberly’s attorney filed a malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Collins, alleging he was negligent in performing the operation.

The jury agreed, awarding Kimberly $14.8 million, which included $10 million for her pain and suffering, and “past and future loss of enjoyment of life.”

Evidence Will Support Your Dental Injury Claim

Begin gathering proof of malpractice and the scope of your injuries as soon as you realize something is wrong. The more evidence you can collect, the better.

  • Medical Records: Verification of your injuries from another doctor or dentist are extremely important to your claim. You have a right to copies of your dental chart, x-rays, and other records from all your treating dentists. Request copies of all related medical and dental records and bills.
  • Communications: Keep copies of any instruction sheets from the dentist, along with copies of any information or authorization forms you had to sign. Write detailed notes about everything the dentist or dental staff said before, during, and after you were injured.
  • Photographs: Take photographs and video of any swelling or disfigurement caused by the dental procedure.
  • Potential Witnesses: Family and friends can provide a written statement of your condition before and after the harmful dental procedure.
  • Lost Wages: If you missed time from work, ask your employer for a lost wages statement.

Register a State Dental Board Complaint

Sometimes a dentist can be negligent without causing serious harm. Let’s say the inside of your cheek was cut during a tooth extraction. The cut healed quickly with no further treatment.

Cutting a patient’s mouth is a deviation from the standard of care, so technically your injury was caused by malpractice. But the injury caused no more than a few days of minor discomfort and required no treatment. Without measurable damages, you won’t get far trying to file a malpractice lawsuit.

If you’ve fully recovered from harm caused by a negligent dentist, and you have little or no financial damages, you can still register a dental malpractice complaint with the state dental board.

Find your location on the ADA list of State Dental Boards.

In most cases, your dentist practices in the state where you live. If a dentist injured you in a neighboring state, be sure to file the complaint with the authorities in the state where the dentist works.

It’s important to be specific in your complaint. Many state boards have a form to be completed, like this California Consumer Complaint Form. Attach extra pages if you need more room to explain how the dentist harmed you.

Protect yourself by talking to a personal injury attorney about your malpractice case before signing a release for your dental or medical records.

After Your Complaint is Filed

Your complaint will be assigned to a dental board investigator. If the investigator doesn’t think your complaint is strong enough to justify further action, you’ll receive a letter stating your complaint was dismissed. The letter should include instructions for appeal.

When the investigator decides to move forward, the dentist will be notified in writing of your complaint.

The dentist will have a deadline (usually thirty days) to respond to the complaint. After reviewing the dentist’s response, the investigator will determine whether to proceed. If the response proves no malpractice occurred, you will receive a letter dismissing your complaint. Again, the letter should contain instructions for appeal.

Depending on the state, if the investigator believes malpractice occurred, you and the dentist may be scheduled to appear at a dental board hearing. In some states, qualified malpractice complaints are referred to another agency, like the state’s attorney general.

If you are asked to participate in a hearing, you can plead your case. You can present any evidence you have, including copies of x-rays, dental records, and witness statements supporting your complaint.

The dental board will notify you and the dentist of their decision within a few weeks after the hearing. At that time, if the board has determined malpractice occurred, the dentist may be ordered to compensate you for costs related to treatment. The board may also decide to suspend or revoke the dentist’s license.

Filing a Dental Malpractice Lawsuit

A finding of malpractice by the state licensing board is compelling evidence in an injury lawsuit.

If your injuries are serious and you think you may file a lawsuit, having an attorney prepare and file a complaint with the state board of dentistry is better than handling the complaint on your own. Your attorney will protect your best interest from the start.

Family dentists, oral surgeons, and other kinds of dental care providers all carry malpractice insurance. Malpractice insurance companies are willing to spend thousands of dollars to make sure you don’t see a dime of compensation.

The good news is that you don’t have to fight alone. You can have an experienced attorney in your corner.

Most malpractice attorneys don’t charge at all for the first consultation and represent injured clients on a contingency fee basis.

You won’t need any money up front, and your attorney’s fees won’t get paid unless your case settles or your attorney wins in court. Don’t wait to find out what a skilled attorney can do for you.

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Dental Malpractice Questions & Answers