Can dentists be held liable for medical negligence?

Published 14 Dec 2017

Dentists are well respected in Australia, with Roy Morgan Research recently finding that 79 per cent of people in the country rate them highly or very highly for ethics and honesty.

But trustworthiness doesn't mean dentists are infallible; mistakes are still made and people need to be held accountable.

That's why dentists are held to the same principles as any other medical professional when it comes to negligence claims. However, there are specific considerations that plaintiffs must consider before proceeding with legal action against dentists.

Is the claim sufficiently large?

Medical negligence claims must meet certain thresholds within the Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW) in order to be viable when taking into account legal fees and other costs.

The biggest payouts typically comprise compensation for economic and non-economic losses. Plaintiffs are only entitled to the latter - which covers pain, suffering and life expectancy reductions - if their injuries are assessed as being at least 15 per cent as bad as a most serious case.

While the Act doesn't provide specific definitions, a most serious case would typically mean widespread third-degree burns, quadriplegia or other debilitating injuries. A moderate facial disfigurement, for example, might be considered 70 per cent as serious as a most extreme case. 

Patients rarely suffer such extensive injuries in the dentist's chair, so it's important to check with an experienced medical negligence lawyer to see whether your case is financially worthwhile to pursue.

Nevertheless, particularly substandard dental care can result in significant payouts, such as this successful $330,000 claim that we settled on behalf of one of our clients.

What types of dentistry negligence can occur?

Dentistry encompasses a range of complex procedures that can affect your teeth, gums, nerves, bones and appearance.

Here are some of the areas where negligence may occur:

  • Informed consent failings: Dentists must ensure patients are adequately aware of the risks associated with treatments.
  • Dental implant errors: A botched implant can result in cosmetic issues, bone damage from failed grafts, infections and more.
  • Nerve damage: Excessive pressure with dentistry instruments could cause nerve damage.
  • Misdiagnosis or delayed treatments: Periodontal disease can cause significant damage to the teeth, gums and bone. Dentists who don't spot these problems and fail to provide preventative or restorative care may be negligent.

If you would like to discuss dentist negligence in more detail, please contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers.