What You Can Do If You Think Your Dentist Has Been Negligent

What You Can Do If You Think Your Dentist Has Been Negligent

Across the country, and indeed around the world, each day, patients are treated by their favorite, reliable dentists, and the outcome is a good one. However, there are a small number of occasions around the world—usually when you visit an unfamiliar dentist—where things can go wrong, and the patient believes that their dentist has not performed the dental work to a certain standard or that what they have done has caused some kind of injury or harm.

If you ever find yourself in this kind of situation, there are steps you can take, and one of the most serious is to sue your dentist for negligence. However, it must be stated from the outset that there is a fairly high bar in terms of what constitutes medical negligence by a dentist, and it is not enough for you simply to be unhappy with what they have done.

To bring a case for medical negligence, you need to be able to show that the dentist’s negligence caused that injury or harm in question. Obviously, you should legal advice, and if the case does reach the court, a lawyer who operates within the realm of medical negligence cases will be required.

It has to be said there are many reasons that you might think would be grounds for suing for medical negligence, which are actually not. These include some of the following:

  • Your treatment was painful
  • You developed an infection
  • The staff/nurse/dentist was rude to you
  • You feel the fees were excessive

Whilst all of these are not ideal, they are not sufficient to bring a medical negligence case. You might wish to report the dentist or the dental practice to the health authority responsible for licensing dentists, but beyond that, there are no legal remedies. Nevertheless simply because you cannot sue for negligence does not mean you should not complain.

Dentists are expected to meet high professional standards, and if yours is not, then as a service to other patients you should raise the alarm to the bodies who oversee and regulate dentists. In Australia, the main ones would be the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), and the Health Complaints Commissioner (HCC)

In order for you to pursue a medical negligence case, you would normally need to be able to show that have suffered significant or permanent harm as a result of your dentist’s negligence.

Examples of the types of injuries that would qualify are:

  • Altered taste
  • Permanent nerve damage
  • Deformed jaw
  • Damaged teeth
  • Wrongly removed teeth

In addition to these kinds of injuries, a more general claim of medical negligence might be possible if it can be shown that a dentist has misdiagnosed a problem, administered the wrong treatment, or given the wrong medication.

For a medical negligence claim against a dentist to be successful, you and your legal team would need to be able to establish these two points:

1) A breach of duty i.e. negligence by the dentist

2) That this breach of duty was the likely cause of the damage, injury, or loss.

Proving just the negligence, or just that causation is not enough. Both must be shown, however, unlike criminal cases where the principle of beyond reasonable doubt exists, you need only show a probability. In other words, if you can prove that the probability is above 50% that the cause of the loss was the dentist’s negligence, that can be enough to win the case.