Dentists, like all other sorts of health professionals, are responsible for maintaining the highest standards in the care they give to their patients or clients. Because dentists are also health professionals, when they mess up or breach their duty, they too can be found to have committed medical malpractice.
While not quite on the same level as amputating the wrong limb or leaving surgical implements behind in the body cavity, dental malpractice can still carry some significant repercussions in the event that it occurs. First, dentists are the first line of defense against cancers of the mouth. Commonly before an individual notices anything is wrong or feels anything, there will be something visible in the mouth that looks "off" or not quite right. As dentists enjoy such an up close and personal relationship with all of the parts of the mouth, they should notice things like tumors or pre-tumors in the mouth. As a consequence, a dentist may provide a patient with very early notice or early warning or early suspicion of cancer. This can make a huge difference in the treatment necessary and how much tumor has to be removed from the mouth. It also reduces the chances that the cancer will spread to other parts of the body.
Oral surgeons, who are also dentists, are also able to be liable for dental malpractice. Oral surgeons are slightly more at risk because they are engaged in surgery. It would be difficult for an oral surgeon to leave an instrument in the mouth but pulling the wrong tooth or committing any number of potential errors can be equally as damaging. For example, dentists working through the dental implant procedure may place the post for the implant in the wrong position or somehow mess up on the process.
If there are anesthetics involved, there is the potential for a dental error. Using topical anesthetics may trigger an allergic reaction that is on the patient's chart. Missing that minor detail has the potential to be extremely harmful to the patient.
In addition to missing the early stages of oral cancer, a dentist may make early signs of vascular disorders. Because the teeth are such an excellent indicator of problems with circulation, not noticing problems with circulation is a problem. This is not quite as serious as missing an indicator of cancer but is still quite harmful.
Overall, dentists can commit errors just like doctors, despite the small spaces of the mouth.
The Pennsylvania medical malpractice attorneys of Lowenthal & Abrams are available to answer questions that may come up regarding dental malpractice.
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