A dentist, like a physician, is a health care professional and is also bound by a set of rules on proper patient care. There are a number of duties that a dentist has to follow and breaching any aspect can amount to negligence. In a worst case scenario, this negligence can ultimately lead to a lawsuit. It is thus necessary that dentists are fully aware of the different ramifications of facing legal action.
What often works against a dentist is the fact that patients take appointments not merely to solve a dental problem but also to enhance personal appearances. This is highly subjective in nature and a matter of the individual eye and a patient unsatisfied with the final dental procedure can sue for negligence. While the case must be proved in a court of law, the resulting publicity can seriously dent the reputation of a dentist.
The next point is what constitutes negligence in the eyes of the law? It is deemed a failure on the part of the dentist to take appropriate care resulting in unintentional injury to the patient.
It is based broadly on the following aspects –
- The dentist is bound to exercise a certain degree of care
- That certain degree of care was not implemented
- This non-implementation of care has given rise to an injury
- A connection is established between the negligent act and the resultant injury.
If the dental care has been paid for by the patient, negligence can result in litigation. However, the responsibility lies on the patient to prove in a court of law that he/she has faced damage/injury due to the negligent service.
There is a flip side to this legal aspect of dental practice and that is the role of a dental technician. He is one who provides ancillary services to a registered dentist. Take the case of a person who has completed one of the dental technology courses in Australia. These programmes are so designed that students can work after completing the course in the Dental Technology industry. He/she will be a qualified dental technician responsible for construction and repairs of dentures and other orthodontic appliances. These include crowns, bridges, partial dentures, pre- and post-oral and maxillofacial surgical devices. Now, a dentist who has not examined the orthodontic appliances and has put in defective ones is also liable to be charged with negligent behaviour.
There are some issues that are often brought up by recipients of dental care but in the eyes of the law these are not negligent acts and the dentist is not liable to be prosecuted on these scores.
- Dissatisfaction of the patient on the progress of treatment is not negligence
- Not getting the promised and desired relief does not amount to negligence
- Not having a consent form signed by the patient in an emergency does not amount to negligence
- Charges which to the patient might be excessive is not negligence
There are more to legal aspects of dental practice than what simply revolves around the act of negligence. However, this is the area that is mostly brought up in a court of law.