Dentist chair

Which dental injuries can lead to a medical negligence claim?

For many of us a visit to the dentist is never something we look forward to. When we do visit, perhaps in need of emergency treatment, or perhaps for cosmetic work, we hope it will give us more confidence and we fully expect it to be problem-free.

Most of the time, the treatment people receive at the dentist is of the highest standard, and whatever fears they had at the beginning they are happy with the work. Occasionally, however, things can go wrong. When it does it can lead to significant pain, disfigurement and trauma.

In such instances, it may be possible to pursue a medical negligence compensation claim.

Read more about dental negligence claims

What is dental negligence?

A dental negligence claim is a claim in one category of medical negligence. As with other forms of clinical negligence a claim can be made if you have sustained any form of personal injury while undergoing dental treatment. As well as physical injury, this can include psychological harm or financial loss. Negligence occurs when anyone responsible for your treatment causes harm to a patient, through a mishap or a mistake. This can be the dentist themselves, or a member of the nursing or care staff.

How common is dental negligence?

Thousands of dental procedures are carried out in the UK every day. Considering the numbers, you might presume that dental negligence is common. Thankfully, most dental practitioners operate to the highest of standards, and negligence is relatively rare. Historically, fewer than 10,000 cases of medical negligence are recorded in the UK every year.

However, the number of cases has risen considerably over the past few years. This rise is primarily put down to the increase in cosmetic dentistry. These procedures bring with them a range of extra risks. Cosmetic dental procedures can be complex, intrusive and require major reconstruction of the teeth, jaw bones, and gums. Therefore, the risks associated with cosmetic dentistry are generally higher than with remedial or preventative work.

What kind of dental injuries can lead to a medical negligence claim?

The most common types of dental medical negligence will fall into one of the following categories:

  • Poorly executed surgical procedures – any kind of surgical procedure, from a filling to a full set of implants, can potentially go wrong. If something does go wrong, then a medical negligence claim can be made.
  • Poorly managed anaesthesia – a surgical procedure will usually require the administration of either local or general anaesthetic. If something goes wrong, and the application of anaesthetic results in an injury, or another type of health problem for the patient, then a medical negligence claim can usually be made.
  • Misdiagnosis – if a problem is missed when you undergo a dental examination, or you are sold dental work that isn’t necessary, then this counts as misdiagnosis. If the subsequent treatment or neglect results in injury, then you may be able to make a claim for medical negligence.
  • Inadequate patient care – either during or after treatment has taken place, the patient should be given the necessary standard of care to help aid their recovery. If it isn’t, and injury or harm ensues as a result, then a claim for medical negligence may be able to be made.

Are there different types of dental medical negligence claims?

When it comes to making a medical negligence claim much depends on how the injury was caused, and the circumstances that led to it.

A dental practitioner could be guilty of one of the following types of negligence:

  • Contributory negligence – in a case of contributory negligence, the victim themselves have been negligent, which has led to the injury. In most of these cases, the victim is unlikely to receive any compensation.
  • Comparative negligence – in cases of comparative negligence, both the dental practitioner and the victim are both deemed as somehow culpable for the injury. These can be the trickiest cases for legal professionals to pursue, and they will nearly always be lengthy. The legal process will usually result in a court case, where the correct amount of blame will be apportioned between the two parties. If more blame lies with the practitioner, then compensation may be awarded.
  • Vicarious liability – in this case, partial blame is being apportioned to a third party for the injury caused. It might be a claim against the supplier of a particular piece of medical equipment that failed, resulting in injury. Or it could be a claim against the company that employs the dentist, which has failed to meet the required statutory health regulations, resulting in injury to the patient.
  • Gross negligence – this is the most serious and least common type of dental medical negligence case. It’s only pursued when there’s evidence that a dental practitioner has blatantly disregarded the health and well-being of a patient. There are a number of ways in which this could happen. The practitioner could be under the influence of drugs, or alcohol while performing a procedure, or they could act recklessly out of anger or because they’re distracted.

What kind of dental treatments might lead to a medical negligence claim?

Any number of dental treatments can result in injury which might then prompt a medical negligence claim.

  • Inadequate root canal therapy
  • Failed implants
  • Extracting the wrong tooth
  • Failing to properly manage and treat tooth decay
  • Inadequate fillings
  • Inadequate crowns
  • Failing to manage gum disease (periodontal disease)

Cosmetic dentistry claims

As the amount of cosmetic dentistry undertaken increases year-on-year, the number of claims for medical negligence relating to cosmetic dentistry has also increased. These cases include accidents during bleaching, porcelain veneers, crowns, bridgework and orthodontic work. Botox, hyaluronic acid and dermal fillers can all be administered incorrectly, and a claim may be possible as a result.

Dental implants

If you have missing teeth, then you may be recommended dental implants. These can be transformative, giving people new confidence. There can be problems, however, in how they’re fitted. Resolving problems with incorrectly fitted implants can prove painful and costly. Claiming compensation can help raise the funds to pay for corrective treatment and can help make sure that no-one else suffers in the same way.

What can be claimed?

When a claim is made for dental negligence tangible and intangible costs will need to be calculated. Some of these costs are easy to calculate, others are more complex. A judicial framework provides some guidance, and your solicitor will be able to advise what might apply in your case.

Most dental negligence cases will involve one or more of the following types of negligence:

  • Special damages – all non-physical costs are included in this category, such as being forced to cancel a holiday, or being unable to take up work if you’re self-employed.
  • General damages – this includes any medical damage that was done such as pain, mobility or psychological trauma.
  • Care costs –any extra care assistance that is required because of your injury.
  • Loss of current and future earnings – the impact the injury has had on your working life.
  • Medical expenses – out of pocket expenses that the claimant has had to pay, such as corrective treatment.
  • Travel costs – any out of pocket expenses that have been incurred because of having to travel for treatment.

What to do if you think you’ve been a victim of medical negligence

As with any legal process that requires adjudication, evidence will need to be presented on both sides. These will either prove or disprove the claim so it’s important to do all you can to strengthen your claim.

Here’s some steps you can take:

  • Document your injury – visit a doctor or a hospital to have your injury treated. This will create an impartial medical record that details your injury. Make sure that you ask whoever treats your injury to record how long they think it will take for the injury to heal, and how long it’s likely to take.
  • Collect important information – find out the names of any of the team who assisted the dentist in carrying out your treatment. Find out the name of the company who owns the dental clinic if it’s a private practice or a cosmetic dental clinic.
  • Record the financial impact of the injury – if you’ve lost income, or had to miss work as a result, the cost of medication, had to take unexpected journeys for treatment, or had to pay for corrective treatment out of your own pocket, then these should all be written down.
  • Contact a dental negligence solicitor – a specialist medical negligence solicitor will be able to advise you as to the strength of your claim. At Mark Reynolds Solicitors we can represent you on a no-win, no-fee basis if we believe your case stands a good chance of success.

Call Mark Reynolds Solicitors for professional dental negligence advice

At Mark Reynolds Solicitors we can provide confidential professional advice about your potential dental medical negligence case. If you feel you have suffered dental medical negligence, call us on 0800 022 957 to speak to one of our experienced team.