When you visit your dentist you expect, and are entitled, to receive treatment that is performed at a standard that is acceptable within that profession. Dentists, like other medical professionals have a duty to their patients, to exercise reasonable care, skill and competence when providing dental services.
Dentists are required to carry professional indemnity insurance and a claim may be made against a dentist for loss or injury sustained as a result of negligence.
Typical claims that may be pursued due to poor dental treatment include:
- a dental procedure that has made your original problem worse or has brought about new problems;
- treatment that has been delayed due to misdiagnosis or other reason causing a condition to worsen significantly;
- complications resulting from incorrect administration of anaesthesia or pain medication;
- poorly performed surgery or cosmetic dentistry resulting in damage to surrounding teeth, tissue or nerves;
- infection resulting in hospitalisation and further complications;
- failure to refer the patient for specialist treatment;
- failure to warn the patient of the associated risks of dental surgery or treatment.
Establishing a medical negligence case
Proving negligence for dental work is the same as any other medical negligence claim. There are three elements that must be proven:
- The dentist owed a duty to the patient, to take reasonable care. The dentist / patient relationship is a recognised category for which a duty of care automatically applies.
- The dentist was negligent and breached the duty of care owed to the patient. It must be shown that the dentist failed to act in accordance with a standard of care shown by other dentists. The treatment or advice is assessed at the time of the incident and the medical authority available. Expert reports will be obtained to assess the loss suffered and compare the treatment provided with what would be acceptable within the profession.
- The negligence caused the harm suffered by the patient. The harm caused must be directly connected to the dentist’s negligence and not remote.
To succeed in a claim for negligence, the injury sustained generally needs to be significant. For example, it may be difficult to prove that cosmetic treatment that did not deliver as good a result as anticipated was negligent, if the patient held unreasonably high expectations.
The loss suffered must be weighed against the cost of pursuing a medical negligence claim and the likely compensation you might receive if you are successful. Each case must be assessed on its merits and in consideration of the surrounding circumstances.
Most dentists are generally well-skilled and have excellent risk-management procedures. However, if you can relate to one or more of the above examples, or you have any concerns about the care you have received from your dentist, you should not be denied compensation for the loss you have suffered.
We recommend you to speak to one of our experienced lawyers before the relevant time limit for making a claim expires. We are able to provide a reasonable assessment of your case during our first consultation with you.