Malpractice - A Term That Strikes Fear in PractitionersWritten by Heather Siler
Dental Malpractice is the fifth and final topic in this blog series dedicated to confusing legal issues encountered in the practice of dentistry. We’ll focus on the definition of malpractice, and reasons you may find yourself in a lawsuit.
Malpractice is a legal term describing a professional individual’s failure to deliver the standard of care because of ignorance or outright negligence. For a case to be considered malpractice, there must also be long-term injury, disfigurement, loss of normal function, or death. If the ruling is in favor of the patient, a monetary settlement is usually paid by the dental professional in question. Although rare, with one in seven malpractice cases being dental related, it can happen to even the most proficient and successful practitioners.
Reasons for a case of malpractice:
- Failure to diagnose, treat, or refer an obvious cancerous lesion, periodontal disease, decay, periapical abscess, or periodontal abscess
- Long-term or irreversible nerve damage resulting in loss of taste, disfigurement, or numbness
- TMD caused by treatment
- Wrongful death directly related to any procedure
- Negligent delivery of anesthesia causing injury or death
- Failure to evaluate and consider the patients’ medical history resulting in injury or death
- Extraction of the wrong tooth/teeth
- Complications due to negligence of any kind
- Failure to secure a signed informed consent or performing treatment outside of the signed informed consent
- Inappropriate behavior while a patient is sedated
While the reasons for malpractice suits are plenty, studies show that most cases are a result of tooth extractions where the patient wasn’t given an informed consent form. This signed documentation gives the dentist permission to perform the procedure after providing the patient with a complete understanding of why the procedure is necessary, methods by which the procedure will be carried out, the procedure itself, and the benefits and risks of following through with treatment.
Avoiding malpractice is absolutely the best approach. Have informed consent documentation in place and only proceed when signed. Educate patients and take the time to listen to their expectations, and don’t abandon them after treatment. Review medical histories every single visit, review treatment plans, and diagnose and treat all patients as though your license depends upon it.