When you attend the dentist you are entitled to expect that they will provide you with proper care. Unfortunately not all procedures are successful and when things go wrong the effects can be extremely distressing, both physically and financially.

When a dentist does not provide proper care and an avoidable injury occurs, this is considered as negligence and a patient should be compensated for their pain and suffering. There are a wide range of possible claims and I shall set out some of the most common below.

Before any treatment commences your dentist must obtain the proper consent to proceed.  They should explain exactly what the treatment is for, what the risks of having the treatment are, the benefits of having the treatment and the potential risks of not having the treatment.  The dentist should also provide information on the costs of the various options. If they fail to give sufficient advice and warnings then it could be argued that they have not obtained the patient’s ‘informed consent’ to proceed.

Any dental health care professional should be constantly alert to the risks of gum disease and this should be monitored at every consultation with a dentist.  The dentist is required to provide patients with advice on oral hygiene and has a duty to give advice on smoking cessation. If they fail to do so then this could be negligent.

During a tooth extraction, a tooth may fracture.  It is important to note that a tooth fracture during extraction is not by itself a cause for negligence however, the risks of such a fracture must be explained before the treatment commences.  If a fracture occurs, the dentist must offer the patient removal by a specialist if they are not competent to carry out the treatment and an x-ray of the tooth should be performed. It is also possible to cause nerve damage when extracting a tooth and, again, due warnings must be given.

Cosmetic treatments are becoming increasingly popular and,as with all treatment, it is vital that the risks are clearly explained.  When fitting crowns, there is a chance that the nerve of the tooth will die and poorly fitted crowns can be hard to clean and result in problems such as gum disease.

The dentist must also consider the way the teeth bite.  If a number of teeth are crowned or veneered, these can fracture if the movement of the upper and lower teeth are not synchronised.

Dental implants should only be carried out by a specialist dentist.  A patient’s suitability for dental implants must be carefully considered before such treatment is offered to include their general health and the health of the gums and other teeth.

When a dentist carries out any consultation, they should also be on the lookout for any worrying signs of oral cancer.  

If a dentist is found negligent then an award of damages will include the pain, suffering and loss of amenity caused, knownas general damages. In addition, any other losses and expenses incurred as a result of the negligence should also be recovered (known as special damages).  Typical special damages may include: dental treatment costs, travel expenses, loss of earnings and medication costs. Most dental work has a finite lifespan and so future treatment costs can also be claimed, as can the cost of increased visits to a dentist and increased maintenance costs.

If you consider you may have suffered from negligent dental treatment then please do not hesitate to contact me at aml@blytheliggins.co.uk.

Caption: Adam Lloyd, Solicitor. Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence Department

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