When is a dentist guilty of malpractice?

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Many people overlook the importance of dental health until they experience a problem that affects the appearance of their smile or they’re in severe pain. If you believe a problem with your teeth and gums is the result of dental malpractice, you may be entitled to compensation. When a dentist can be sued for medical malpractice

Understanding Dental Malpractice

Good dental health is more than just a matter of having an attractive smile. Without proper dental care, patients can experience a number of complications. For example:

  • Nutrition may suffer when a person can't chew solid foods properly.
  • Speech may become difficult to understand.
  • Severe pain can make it difficult to concentrate on daily activities.
  • Bacteria in the mouth can travel throughout the body and cause serious or potentially life-threatening infections.

Medical malpractice lawsuits hold healthcare providers responsible when a patient suffers harm as the result of negligence in diagnosis or treatment. Although the majority of malpractice suits involve doctors and surgeons working in hospitals, dentists can also be held liable for malpractice in some circumstances.

Examples of situations that would be considered the basis of a dental malpractice claim include:

  • Improper extraction of teeth
  • Improper administration of anesthesia during oral surgery
  • Failure to diagnose or treat gum disease or a similar oral health condition
  • A delay in diagnosis of oral cancer
  • Failing to refer a patient to the appropriate specialist
  • Neglecting to supervise the actions of hygienists and other employees involved in patient care
  • Poor sanitation for instruments resulting in infection to the teeth, gums, or jaw bone
  • Injuries to the teeth, gums, or jaw bone from faulty root canals, crowns, and bridge prostheses
  • Lack of informed consent before a procedure

Successfully Proving a Malpractice Claim

Only specific types of conduct meet the legal definition of medical malpractice. It's not enough that you're unhappy with the dentist's work or that you suffered a poor outcome from a procedure. To prove malpractice, you need to establish the following four elements:

  • Duty. You were the dentist's patient, and he had a professional duty to treat you.
  • Breach of Duty. The dentist failed to live up to the accepted standards of professional care.
  • Damages. You suffered verifiable harm such as damage to the teeth and jaw bone.
  • Causation. Your damages were the result of the dentist's failure to live up to the standard of care for your condition.

Expert testimony regarding the accepted standard of care for your condition will prove crucial in establishing damages and causation. Testimony is given as part of the discovery process, which will also include submitting medical records and documentation of expenses such as lost income.

Types of Dental Malpractice Compensation

Dental malpractice claims can include the following types of compensation:

  • Medical expenses related to the harm you've suffered as the result of the dentist's actions
  • Any applicable loss of wages if you missed work due to your injuries
  • Pain and suffering, including the trauma of any permanent alterations in your appearance due to the dentist's work

Louisiana is unique in that it limits the total damages a plaintiff can receive to a maximum of $500,000. However, future medical expenses are not subject to this cap.

Statute of Limitations

Dental malpractice claims, like other malpractice suits, must abide by the state’s statute of limitations. Louisiana requires malpractice claims to be filed within one year of the date of the incident forming the basis of the case. If the plaintiff didn’t discover his injuries right away, the deadline is one year from the date of discovery or no more than three years after the incident itself.

Neblett, Beard & Arsenault Can Help

If you believe you've been the victim of dental malpractice, the legal team at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault can advocate for your right to compensation. Cases are accepted on a contingency fee basis, which means there is no upfront expense associated with retaining legal representation. Please call today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.


Richard J. Arsenault
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Recognized by several legal associations, Richard Arsenault has vast experience in complex litigation cases.