You’ve just come back from the dentist. You had a tooth extracted and the whole right side of your mouth is not only sore but, numb. In the following days, weeks, and months, the pain eventually subsides, but despite what your dentist told you, the numbness and lack of sensitivity remains.
If persistent numbness, lack of sensitivity, lack of taste, or an electric or funny bone type of feeling in the jaw, chin or cheek area is persisting for weeks or months on end, you may have a claim for professional negligence against the dentist who pulled your tooth.
Types of dental malpractice
The most common dental malpractice case I see in my practice is a dental nerve injury. In the process of removing a tooth, the dentist injures a nerve.
Dental nerve injuries can be a devastating and traumatic experience for individuals who have been injured. These nerve injuries may be either temporary or permanent, and the symptoms experienced can vary depending on the nerve that was injured and the extent of the damage to that nerve.
While there are many nerves that may be injured during dental procedures, the 2 most frequent injuries occur to the lingual nerve and the inferior alveolar nerve. The most common symptoms are numbness of the lip, chin or gums, a tingling sensation in the lip, chin or gums, pain, burning or electric shock sensations in the lip, chin or gums, drooling, and even speech impairment.
The most common procedures that result in these types of nerve injuries are wisdom teeth removal, placement of dental implants, and over-filled or over-manipulation of the tooth during a root canal procedure.
Identifying dental negligence
The negligence occurs when the dentist fails to appreciate or identify the proximity of the nerve to the tooth being removed or repaired.
The dentist’s first duty is to conduct an x-ray. While nerves cannot be identified via this method, an x-ray of the chin will show the canal or line in the jaw bone area where the nerves are running. Similar to wires inside a conduit, the x-ray will not show the wires, but it does show the conduit.
If the tooth that is to be extracted or repaired is near or adjacent to a nerve that is in danger of being injured, the dentist has a duty under the standard of care to refer the patient for an MRI to further make a determination of the exact location of the adjacent nerve to the tooth that is going to be worked on.
Options that are available to the dentist include removing the tooth in pieces in order to reduce risk of injury to the nerve or refer the patient to an oral surgeon who can conduct the removal of the tooth under fluoroscopy.
In most of the cases that I see, while the dentist did conduct an x-ray, they failed to either appreciate the proximity of nerve to the tooth or believed he could remove the tooth in such a way that it would not cause nerve injury.
Once an injury has occurred, the usual procedure is to wait and see if sensation returns because sometimes the nerves will repair themselves or at least regenerate to a degree that the patient can recover from the numbness, tingling or pain that resulted from the initial tooth extraction. My experience has been that, in general, if there has not be a return of normal sensation within 12 months of the surgery, the chances of regeneration or recovery are reduced significantly.
An advanced treatment for this condition is a nerve graft. This is usually done by transferring a section of nerve from the ankle and placing the donated nerve in the area of the damaged nerve. The hope is that the new nerve will regenerate and result in the recovery of sensory loss.
Steps for filing a dental malpractice case
Like all medical malpractice cases, dental malpractice cases involve certain steps that must be followed prior to the filing of the malpractice case.
These steps include a review by a doctor or dentist that practices in the same general area of dentistry, a certificate finding of negligence, a certificate of review by an attorney finding that there is negligence, and ultimately the opinion of a doctor or dentist that there was a deviation from the standard of care.
Dental malpractice injuries can be devastating and lead to life changing events. If you believe you have been the subject of dental negligence, you should contact an attorney to determine whether or not you have a viable case. Since dental malpractice cases can be long, drawn out, and expensive, as with all medical malpractice cases, contact an attorney who has the necessary experience and resources to handle these types of cases.