Dental health care providers—dentists, oral surgeons, and hygienists—all owe an industry-set standard of care to their patients. These medical professionals are responsible for the health and safety of their patients, from performing a simple extraction to mandible surgery.
When this standard of practice is breached through negligence and mistakes are made, serious consequences can result. The two most common are:
- An abscess that leads to infection in the jaw bone usually after an incomplete extraction and failure by the dentist to timely diagnose the problem and
- The failure of a dentist to refer a patient for biopsy of a suspicious oral lesion that might possibly be a symptom of cancer
Abscess or Infection after Extraction
A dental abscess is an infection of the mouth, face, jaw, or throat. The cause of tooth abscesses is direct growth of bacteria from an opening into the soft tissues and bones of the face and neck. Abscesses can result from negligence or mistakes made during oral surgery, from a simple tooth extraction to a root canal to a tooth implant.
Symptoms include pain, swelling, redness of the mouth and face, sensitivity to hot and cold foods or liquids, and a bad odor in your mouth. If the infection becomes serious, patients can experience nausea, fever, chills, diarrhea, vomiting, gum inflammation, swollen glands, difficulty swallowing, and tenderness. Sometimes the infection can get to the point where swelling threatens to block the airway, making it hard to breathe.
Consider the example of a dentist performing an extraction rather than referring the procedure to an oral surgeon. During the procedure it is possible for the dentist to overlook a piece of the root in the jaw. And when it becomes infected, the patient may call back complaining of swelling and pain. The proper action by the dentist is to bring the patient in for examination and x-ray. If the dentist simply calls in a prescription for an antibiotic without a follow-up in-person consultation, there’s no way to tell the extent of the problem. Infection can quickly worsen and invade the bone, causing severe damage, including permanent facial deformity.
Failure to Refer a Patient for Biopsy Necessary to Diagnose Oral Cancer
In the US, 3 percent of all cancer cases a year are oral cancers resulting in 53,000 new cases of oral cancer. More than 90 percent of cancers in the oral cavity are squamous cell carcinomas caused when normal squamous cells that line the throat and mouth mutate and become abnormal. During routine exams, dentists are obligated to examine their patients for a variety of signs that may indicate cancer, including: sores, inflammation, lesions, tissue redness, whitish-looking tissue, and painful areas.
If a lesion is detected and does not heal within approximately two weeks, the patient should be referred to an oral surgeon for an evaluation and a biopsy—the most effective way of detecting cancer. If detected early, cancerous lesions may be removed but if they are not, the cancer can progress deep into the body’s tissue and spread to other parts of the body. The failure of a dentist to timely recognize a potential cancer of the mouth may be the basis for a dental malpractice claim.
According to the CDC, these are common areas for oral cancers:
- Floor of the mouth
- Soft palate and uvula
- Hard palate
- Cheek and other mouth
If oral cancer isn’t detected in its earliest stages, the cost of surgical, radiation, or chemotherapy treatment can be devastatingly high. This type of treatment often goes on much longer than in circumstances where the cancer has been detected sooner. Delayed diagnosis and referral for biopsy is a primary factor contributing to poor outcomes in oral cancer, a disease that claimed the lives of over 10,000 people in 2018.
The Question of Suing and Compensation
Dental negligence and/or mistakes may result in terrible pain and suffering and even death. It’s important to also note that any corrective procedures required for repairing damage caused by such mistakes—loss of function, taste, smell, and physical deformities affecting one’s self-esteem—may result in additional pain and suffering. Depending on the specifics of each case, a victim of dental malpractice may be entitled to sue for compensation for loss of wages (both current and future), current and future medical bills, ongoing treatment or therapy, pain and suffering, loss of consortium (companionship, moral support, intimacy), and reduced income due to the loss of a loved one.
If you or someone close to you has been the victim malpractice by a Florida dentist or other dental professional, please contact our office to speak with an experienced Florida dental malpractice attorney.