Dental Malpractice in Virginia

Dental malpractice in Virginia is a lower profile problem than medical malpractice. However, a substandard dentist or hygienist can cause serious injuries with extreme pain and even kill a patient.

Dental malpractice refers to poor practice by a dental provider that leaves the patient with an illness, an injury, or results in death.

Although dentists have intentionally harmed patients these cases are extremely rare. Dental malpractice is usually caused by negligent or badly trained dentists. If a patient is given incorrect treatment, you may not necessarily have grounds to file a lawsuit. An oral practitioner must have caused harm for you to have grounds to sue.

The Main Causes of Dental Malpractice in Virginia

The leading causes of dental malpractice in Virginia are as follows:

  • Infections from poorly cleaned equipment
  • Failure to diagnose oral diseases and mouth cancer
  • Injuries to nerves
  • Issues with tooth extractions
  • Injuries caused during root canal work
  • Incorrect administration of anesthesia
  • Complications in the use of drugs like Novocain
  • Issues with crown and bridgework
  • Wrongful death
  • Poor orthodontic treatment that causes injuries
  • Unnecessary extraction of teeth
  • Failure to take a patient’s medical history into account

Dentists may also be sued for the failure to obtain a patient’s informed consent to carry out a medical procedure. A patient must say he or she consents to a certain procedure. Most dental practitioners get new patients to sign consent forms at the outset, inform them orally of what they intend to do and supply documentation.

How Common is Dental Malpractice?

Dental malpractice is more common than many people realize. According to the National Practitioner Data Bank, one out of every seven medical malpractice cases involves a dentist.

The Center for Health Journalism reports how even an apparently minor mistake can cause serious health implications. A woman claimed her dentist inserted upper and lower bridges that did not fit properly. She ended up with serious residual injuries to her jaws and gums. The dentist was found to be negligent and was ordered to pay $450,000 in damages to the woman.

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What Injuries are Associated with Dental Malpractice in Virginia?

Dental malpractice is associated with a wide range of injuries. Many of them are serious and debilitating. They include the following:

  • Paralysis in the jaw, tongue or lips. Loss of feeling may be permanent
  • Permanent damage to the jawline
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Cracked teeth
  • Dangerous gum infections from unclean instruments
  • Holes and other damage to the gums
  • Loss of the sense of taste
  • Heart attacks from improperly administered anesthesia

Deaths Under Anesthesia During Dental Treatment

One of the most tragic consequences of dental malpractice is the death of a patient under anesthesia. Children are the most vulnerable age group who undergo routine dental procedures.

The death of a three-year-old girl in Hawaii highlighted the potential dangers of dental treatment under anesthetic.

In early 2019, a state jury found a former dentist not guilty of manslaughter and other criminal charges related to the death of the three-year-old in her care.  The child stopped breathing and went into cardiac arrest after she received sedative drugs during a procedure at the dentist’s office. The girl remained in a coma for a month before she died in a hospice on Jan. 3, 2014.

Honolulu Chief Medical Examiner Christopher Happy said the child “likely died because of local anesthesia and sedatives administered to the child at the time of the dental procedure.” Attorneys acting for the dentist claimed the toddler’s mother did not inform the dentist the child had been diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection just weeks before her appointment. They said the residual effects of the illness was to cause the girl’s vocal cords to close under sedation, cutting off oxygen. The girl’s death led to the passing of a law that increases the oversight of dentists who administer anesthesia in Hawaii.  

There is a lack of transparency over the deaths of children during dental treatment. An estimated 100,000 to 250,000 pediatric dental sedations are performed each year. The drugs used can have serious effects like oxygen depletion and even death. However, no data is kept on the number of fatalities caused by pediatric dental anesthesia.

Contact an Experienced Hampton Lawyer Over Dental Malpractice

At the Smith Law Center, our attorneys have helped clients fight medical and dental malpractice claims for decades. Our lawyers take on tough cases, often all the way to the courtroom. Please call us at (757) 695-9425.


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