Like physicians, surgeons and other medical professionals, dentists, and dental specialists are expected to provide care that meets or exceeds the established standards for their profession and geographic location.
While most dentists make every effort to meet these standards, mistakes happen, as they do in any medical setting. When this occurs, these mistakes can have a profound impact on a patient’s general health or appearance. These mistakes can cause short-term and correctable consequences. However, other times the impact can be serious and long-lasting.
Examples of Dental Care Mistakes or Negligence
Mistakes can be made by dentists in any area of dental or oral health care, including dental hygienists. Common mistakes that can occur during a surgical procedure or throughout various aspects of a patient’s treatment include:
- Failure to provide sufficient follow-up instructions and care
- Incorrectly administering an injection causing nerve damage
- Injury or misdiagnosis due to improper maintenance of equipment
- Failure to provide or obtain informed consent
- Inadequate measures to prevent infection
- Misdiagnosis of oral cancer
- Misdiagnosis of other conditions such as TMJ
- Medication errors, wrong medicine or incorrect dosage
- Faulty administration of anesthesia
- Incomplete or incorrect patient records
- Failure to comply with state requirements for continuing professional education of dentists and hygienists
- Neglecting to provide prophylactic antibiotics when needed
- Dental implant errors
- Failure to develop and carry out a specific treatment plan
- Failure to take a complete medical history before performing procedures that may involve health risks
- Failure to refer a patient to a specialist when care beyond the dentist’s purview is required
- Extracting the wrong tooth
Causes of Dental Mistakes
Dental malpractice can be caused by many factors including:
- Insufficiently trained staff members
- Faulty office procedures regarding charting or other documentation
- Insufficient patient follow-up
- Inadequate time for proper documentation and record-keeping
- Failure to refer a patient to a specialist
- Inadequately maintained equipment
Oral Health Care Specialists
As technology has evolved, the field of dentistry has become more complex than it was several decades ago. Today general dentists provide a wider range of services than in the past, and, in addition, various fields of specialization have also evolved to address specific areas of oral care.
Here are the general categories of oral care specialists, although there can be some overlap among different specialties. Every dental practitioner, regardless of specialty, has a duty to provide quality care according to the established professional standards.
Endodontists diagnose and treat diseases and injuries of the dental pulp, or nerve, of the tooth. They may also perform root canal treatments or other types of surgical root procedures.
Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologist
A radiologist is the oral health care provider who specializes in taking and interpreting X-ray images and other related data used to diagnose and treat diseases, irregularities or disorders of the mouth and jaw.
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon
An oral and maxillofacial surgeon is the specialist who performs various types of surgical procedures involving the jaw, mouth and facial area. These surgeons treat accident victims with facial injuries and perform a wide range of other oral and maxillofacial surgeries that may include:
- Simple tooth extractions
- Complex extractions involving removal of soft tissue or overlying bone or remaining roots
- Removal of impacted teeth, especially wisdom teeth
- Removal of tumors and cysts on the jaws
- Reconstructive surgery
- Dental implant surgery and positioning
- Soft tissue biopsies
- Removal of tumors in the oral cavity
- Complex jaw realignment surgeries involving facial or bite discrepancies, fractured cheek or jaw bone repair and soft tissue (cleft palate or lip) repair
A periodontist is the oral health care provider specializing in diseases of the soft tissues of the mouth (the gums) as well as the supporting structures (bones) of the teeth, including natural and man-made teeth. Periodontists use a variety of methods to diagnose and treat gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (gum and bone disease).
Some of the procedures a periodontist may perform include:
- Simple and deep pocket cleanings
- Root planing
- Crown lengthening procedures
- Soft tissue and/or bone grafting
- Gingival or flap procedures
- Soft tissue recontouring or removal (gingivoplasty or gingivectomy)
- Hard tissue recontouring (osteoplasty)
- Implant placement
A prosthodontist specializes in the repair of natural teeth and/or the replacement of missing teeth on a much broader scale than a general dentist. The prosthodontist often uses artificial teeth (dentures) or gold or ceramic crowns (caps) to replace the missing or extracted teeth. The prosthodontist also performs procedures involving dental implants to replace teeth. Certain prosthodontists with special training work with patients with head and neck deformities, replacing missing parts of the face and jaws with artificial substitutes.
Oral medicine is the dental specialty that integrates medicine and oral health care, often used for patients with complex medical conditions or histories. This specialty includes the diagnosis and management of oral diseases that include oral cancer, lichen planus, candidiasis, and aphthous stomatitis. Oral medicine also evaluates complex medical patients and hospital inpatients prior to open-heart surgery, chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.
An oral pathologist studies the causes of diseases that alter or affect the oral structures (teeth, lips, cheeks, jaws) of the face in addition to other parts of the neck and face. Oral pathologists examine and diagnose tissue and specimens sent to them by oral health care providers who perform biopsies and other surgical procedures.
A pediatric dentist treats dental issues and performs preventative care for children from the time their teeth start to come in through young adulthood. These dentists diagnose, and treat, providing referrals to specialists when necessary, problems with decayed, missing, crowded, or crooked teeth. A pediatric dentist is required to have additional training beyond that required of general dentists, focusing on topics such as management and treatment of developing teeth, child behavior issues, physical growth and development and other subjects specific to children’s dental needs.
An orthodontist specializes in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of “bad bites,” or malocclusions, of the teeth and surrounding bony structures. Malocclusions can result from crowded, missing, or extra teeth; sometimes they are the result of jaws that are out of alignment. This specialist is responsible for straightening teeth by using a variety of fixed or removable corrective devices that include braces, wires, bands and retainers. Children and adults can benefit from the corrective services provided by an orthodontist.
If you or a loved one has suffered injury, excessive pain or a negative change in facial structure, bite or appearance as the result of services performed by a dentist or other oral care specialist, contact us immediately.