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Dental Malpractice and its Consequences

Dental Malpractice

Consequences of Dental Malpratice

Should Pennsylvania public health dental hygienists be allowed to practice without supervision in areas where dentists are hard to find? People who currently do not have access to dental care might benefit, but many dentists are not in favor.

Pennsylvania is considering regulatory changes that would expand the range of settings where Public Health Dental Hygiene Practitioners (PHDHP) are allowed to practice. Advocates believe this will increase access to dental care and provide care to populations that are not currently getting it. However, the proposal is opposed by dental groups, who claim concerns with issues of safety and comprehensive care, and these could lead to potential lawsuits.

According to Pennsylvania law, all dental professionals must provide a certain standard of care to avoid injury to their patients. Even skilled dentists, oral surgeons, periodontists, and orthodontists can make mistakes or act negligently and injure their patients, which may result in pain, further unplanned treatment and significant financial burden, and sometimes even lead to death. If serious injury occurs because of negligence or incompetence, dental malpractice may be involved and become grounds for a lawsuit.

Similar arguments have been made for nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and others. We have found that, generally speaking, permitting paramedical people to render medical care is not good for patients. If a paraprofessional works under the direct and close supervision of a doctor, and that doctor is legally responsible for the paraprofessional’s actions, then there is benefit to so-called “healthcare expanders.” However, permitting paramedics, paralegals, notaries, and other people who are not supervised and are not properly trained to render critical services is always a bad idea.

Cliff Rieders of Rieders, Travis, Dohrmann, Mowrey, Humphrey & Waters, has been involved in writing regulations and laws, testifying on the efficacy of laws and regulations, and advocating for the rights of injured patients. Rieders is a Past President of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association, now called the Pennsylvania Association for Justice. Rieders is recipient of the George F. Douglas, Jr., Amicus Curiae Award, as well as the Milton D. Rosenberg Award, both from the Trial Lawyers group. Rieders has also served as President of the Central Pennsylvania chapter of the Federal Bar Association. Rieders knows the risks of having nonprofessionals, who are not properly supervised and trained, render care. It is also important that any so-called “expander” be properly insured.

Were You Harmed by Dental Malpractice?

If you or a loved one has been injured from dental malpractice, you may be entitled to medical benefits and compensation for your loss. However, not everything that goes wrong during a dental procedure is grounds for malpractice, and not all dental injuries warrant going to court. For a claim to be successful, the burden of proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, is on the patient, so it is essential to have a skilled dental malpractice lawyer on your side. An expert who testifies in a dental malpractice case has testified to a reasonable degree of medical certainty.

What are Public Health Dental Hygiene Practitioners?

In Pennsylvania, a public health dental hygiene practitioner is defined as a certified and licensed dental hygienist who is certified by the Board as having met their requirements. The dental hygiene practitioner must:

  1. Hold an active license in good standing
  2. Have professional liability insurance in a minimum amount of $1 million per occurrence and $3 million per annual aggregate
  3. Be certified by a licensed dentist to have completed a minimum of 3,600 hours of practice as a licensed dental hygienist under the dentist’s supervision.

Public health dental hygiene practitioners are already able to perform dental hygiene services without the supervision of a dentist in the certain settings. These include:

  1. Public and private elementary and secondary instruction schools
  2. Correctional facilities
  3. Healthcare facilities, institutions under the jurisdiction of a federal, state or local agency, and free and reduced-fee nonprofit health clinics
  4. Personal care homes, domiciliary care facilities, older adult daily living centers, and continuing-care provider facilities.

All of these regulations, however, do not by themselves address the important supervision issue. Permitting the practice of dental hygiene without onsite supervision always has the potential of being dangerous to the patient.

What the Proposal States

The proposal would expand areas where public health dental hygiene practitioners can work without supervision to include additional places such as daycare centers, pediatrician’s offices and other locations. Advocates say the proposed change could, for example, reach children in the offices of pediatricians who accept Medicaid, since few dentists take Medicaid. The practitioners can perform services such as cleaning teeth, stressing the need for oral health care, and referring people to dentists for further care.

Opponents feel the expansion “will jeopardize patient safety, and allow a standard of care below what is acceptable,” according to a statement on the Pennsylvania Academy of General Dentistry website. Dentists believe that they are the only ones trained in diagnosis and in treatment for dental disease, and that dental hygienists should work as part of a dental team and be connected with a dentist for all procedures.

On many occasions, dental hygienists will call the dentist into the office and the dentist may find evidence of cancer or another serious condition that cannot be diagnosed even by a well-trained hygienist. A dentist should always look at a patient who is being worked on by a hygienist or any other paraprofessional.

Dental Malpractice in Pennsylvania

Dental problems can affect not only your mouth, but the rest of your body. Your mouth is full of bacteria and nerves, so when mistakes are made by any dental professional, whether a dentist or a hygiene practitioner, the results can lead to nerve and bone damage, enormous pain, and life-threatening infections.

Negligence that leads to dental malpractice can occur through:

  • Errors during oral surgery and surgery that fails
  • Errors in administering anesthesia
  • Injury to nerves, such as the lingual or mandibular nerve, that may be painful and even permanent
  • Teeth that are removed needlessly or damaged by procedures
  • Failure to look for, detect and diagnose oral cancer
  • Damage leading to permanent impairment or injury to the jaw, mouth, lips or tongue
  • Bacterial infections due to oral treatment that start in the mouth and become systemic, damaging the body or even causing death.

Put Your Trust in Us, Contact Us for a Free Consultation

If you or a loved one suffered an injury from a dental procedure, time is of the essence. Pennsylvania malpractice laws are complicated, so it is essential to have a skilled and knowledgeable dental malpractice lawyer on your side.

Whether in settlement negotiations or pursuing a favorable trial verdict, the experienced Pennsylvania dental malpractice attorney Clifford A. Rieders of Rieders, Travis, Dohrmann, Mowrey, Humphrey & Waters is familiar with the law and thoroughly prepared and committed to achieving a just outcome and getting you the compensation you deserve. With our sizeable staff, we offer strength in numbers while providing top-notch personal service.

If you or your loved one has suffered from dental or medical malpractice, do not delay. Consult Cliff Rieders at Rieders, Travis, Dohrmann, Mowrey, Humphrey & Waters by calling 1-(570) 323-8711 for a free consultation, or use our online contact form.