An image of a female dentist examining the inside of a patient's mouth.

Dentists are medical professionals, like primary care doctors, anesthesiologists, and oncologists. And though their specialties are different, they all have a responsibility when treating their patients to uphold the standard of care. Dental malpractice can occur when the first rule of the Hippocratic Oath, “Do no harm,” is broken.

Dentists aren’t supposed to deviate from what the field considers acceptable. Doing so raises serious professional and ethical questions. It also puts patients at great risk of injury or death. This of course can lead to dental malpractice lawsuits.

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into dental malpractice, covering:

  • An overview of the nerves in the mouth most often damaged in dental malpractice cases
  • Examples of dental malpractice lawsuits
  • How to sue for dental malpractice
  • Damages & compensation for dental malpractice
  • Frequently asked questions about dental malpractice and more

So let’s get right to it!

A woman has her teeth worked on by a dentist.

Dental Malpractice & Nerve Damage

The mouth is full of nerves. And unfortunately, with one little slip a dentist can sever a nerve and change a patient’s life forever. The two nerves most likely to receive injury during dentistry are the lingual nerve & the inferior alveolar nerve.
 
Here’s a few symptoms to watch out for if you suspect nerve damage:
  • Pain in your jaw
  • Loss of sense of taste
  • Weird sensations in your mouth
  • Impeding speech patterns
  • A numb tongue
But before you panic, it’s important to remember this isn’t always the case. Many healthy dental procedures can result in temporary effects. So though you may have the above symptoms, it’s not necessarily permanent! Most of these symptoms are temporary and are a part of the normal healing process. They should go away with time.
 
But there’s always a caveat. For some victims, these symptoms may be long-term or permanent. It’s always a good idea to get a second opinion if you suspect something’s not right. And if you receive a tragic diagnosis, reach out to a dental malpractice lawyer ASAP.

 

Examples of Dental Malpractice 

Now to have grounds for a dental malpractice case, there needs to be substantial proof of suffering. This may mean that the damage will forever impact your taste or sense of feeling. It may also mean that doing normal activities is now challenging. For example, if the way you eat, drink, or speak is affected
…you may have a case.
 
To show you some of the different types of injuries, we’re going to be discussing some legal findings. You can find further information from the dental negligence review here. This study looks at over 200 dental negligence cases. It provides lots of helpful insight that we’re going to share with you. Keep reading to learn more!

 

Botched Extractions Malpractice Cases

Botched extractions are the most common cause of dental malpractice/negligence, according to this study. A big issue with extractions is when dentists sever a nerve. 

Severing a nerve can result a lifelong injury. It can cause paralysis, numbness, loss of taste, etc.  Now, ideally your dentist will notice the issue right away. If so, they can refer you to a nerve specialist, which can be a big help. But that doesn’t always happen. 

Oh, and as if that’s not enough, dentists sometimes perforate the sinuses. This can result in mandibular fractures or TMJ. They may also botch implant surgeries. Ugh!
 
Note: In a recent lingual nerve damage case, the plaintiff was awarded over $1 million.
 

Dental Malpractice Because Of Infection

Many people negate the importance of good dental hygiene. But an infection in your mouth can get serious quick. The pulp of your tooth contains blood vessels, nerves, and tissues. And if the pulp’s infected, it can move to the bone and cause an abscess.
 
Did you realize that an infection in your tooth can lead to sepsis? Around 1/3 of the people who get sepsis die. So again, dental care is important! If you seek help from a dentist and they mistreat or misdiagnose your condition, that may be grounds for a case.
 
Infection post dental work is also a major cause for concern! It’s crucial that dental professionals keep things clean. That means the instruments they use, but also your mouth. Dentists need to clean wounds with care, stop bleeding, and even prescribe antibiotics when necessary.

 

Note: In a recent failure to diagnose case involving tooth infection, the plaintiff was awarded over $2.5 million in damages.

 

A dentist carries several dental instruments in his pocket.

Anesthesia & Medication Complications

Here’s a question for you. Have you ever been the dentist and they asked if you’re on blood thinners? There’s a good reason for that.
 
The purpose of blood thinners is to help prevent blood clots. And taking this type of medication can be lifesaving for certain individuals! But if you’re at the dentist having a procedure and your blood can’t coagulate, that could be a problem. But it all depends on the patient and their situation! This does, however, bring up the importance of communication. If your dentist and their staff aren’t asking the right questions, problem may arise. They also need to find out whether you’re allergic to certain medications and anesthesia. Without due diligence, medication mistakes happen.
 
And as is the case with any medical procedure, anesthesia has to be administered with care. If a patient isn’t given enough anesthesia, they may wake up during the procedure. And if given too much, there may be an overdose. Anesthesia mistakes can result in brain damage, neurological difficulties, and even death.

 

Note: In a recent anesthesia overdose case, the plaintiff  settled for over $1 million.

 

Your Dental Malpractice Lawsuit: How to Succeed

If you or someone you care about has suffered an injury such as nerve damage from a dental procedure, your first course of action is to determine if the damage is permanent, long-term, or short-term. In cases of minor nerve damage, it’s possible for the patient to make a full recovery after just a few weeks. As this is an agreed-upon risk of many dental procedures, it would not fall under the category of medical malpractice.

The next step would be to find a witness – someone who possesses the relevant background to indicate the nature of the injury the patient has sustained. This will also be the person most likely to indicate whether or not the dentist deviated from accepted standards of care.  

Following this, you must find out whether or not your claim will fall within any applicable statute of limitations. These time periods will differ by state, but the window is commonly between two and four years after the incident, starting with the day the harm occurs. 
 
Note: You may not notice side effects until a later date. Sometimes it takes several weeks or months to piece things together. If this is the case, the day your issue begins would be the legal “starting date” for the statute.
 

Damages & Compensation

A dental malpractice lawsuit that proves nerve damage or other injury resulted from an improper dental procedure can lead to several different forms of compensation.

  • If your injury requires correction through further medical intervention, you can claim those medical expenses as damages. 
  • In some cases, you might also be able to claim lost wages if the injury or its subsequent treatment caused you to lose work.
  • Perhaps the most sought-after form of compensation is for pain and suffering. 

Nerve damage and the other forms of injury listed above can cause both physical and psychological pain. Because it’s difficult to put a price on being able to speak correctly or to taste your favorite foods, pain and suffering damages tend to be pretty significant. Of course, this is most notable in situations where malpractice resulted in the death of a loved one.

If you’re not sure whether you have a legitimate malpractice case against a dental professional, seek out a dental malpractice lawyer in your area. Upon doing so, try to schedule a consultation as soon as possible. Once your attorney understands the facts of your case, they’ll recommend the best potential course of action. They’ll also provide a realistic assessment of your case’s potential.
 
Here’s some helpful tips for preparing for your meeting with a lawyer. 
 
A male clients shakes the hand of his male lawyer.

Dental Malpractice F.A.Q.

How can I recognize permanent nerve damage to a tooth?

Some common signs and symptoms of nerve damage resulting from dental treatment include: 

  • Difficulty speaking or eating 
  • Reduced sense of taste
  • Lack of feeling or numbness in the face, jaw, cheeks, gums, or tongue
  • Pain or a burning sensation in the aforementioned areas
  • A pulling or tingling feeling in the aforementioned areas

It’s also important to note that the signs of nerve damage can be short-term, long-term, or even permanent, but this depends on the severity of the injury.

How can I tell if my dentist has injured my nerve?

The most common symptoms of dental nerve damage include:

  • Facial numbness
  • Facial paralysis
  • Loss of taste
  • Reduced feeling in the mouth or jaw 
  • Changes in the way one’s mouth and jaw operate.

Depending on the severity of the damage, these symptoms can persist for days, months, or years. If you can show that your dentist has negligently injured a nerve, you have a dental malpractice case.

Can you get a refund from your dentist?

Because refunds go on a dentist’s permanent record, many are hesitant to issue them. This often makes asking for a refund a poor choice in pursuing injury-related compensation. As a result, many seek the help of a dental malpractice lawyer to pursue a lawsuit instead.

Can you file a malpractice lawsuit for lingual nerve damage? 

Damage to the lingual nerve is quite possible in instances of malpractice or dental negligence. This can lead to a short-term, long-term, and permanent loss of taste or feeling. However, to seek compensation via a lawsuit, you need to prove that the injury resulted from your procedure and that the damage will significantly impact your life. 

Is it hard to successfully sue a dentist? 

Every dental malpractice lawsuit is different. Should you file a lawsuit, your dental malpractice lawyer will handle most of the details and keep you abreast of your chances of success. Of course, keep in mind that you’ll need to show that your dentist didn’t follow the proper standards of care. And that because of this they directly contributed to your injury.

How long does it take to be compensated for a malpractice suit? 

Unfortunately, there is no set standard for determining the timeline of a malpractice lawsuit. In some cases, it will take months. In others, it will take years for the courts to reach a settlement. However, it is worth noting that most insurance companies will prefer to settle out of court, which can speed up the process. 

How do you define “dental malpractice?” 

Put simply, dental malpractice is a form of medical negligence where a patient sustains an injury because of improper dental work, a failure to diagnose a dental condition or disease, or intention misconduct on the part of the dentist.  

If you think you or a loved one is the victim of dental malpractice, contact the dental malpractice lawyers at Hampton & King Attorneys at Law. We’ll help you set up a consultation to review your case and see if you’re eligible for compensation.