“Dental Fear” or fear of dentists seems to be one of the most prevalent phobias in society aside from fear of heights, bugs, and snakes. In fact there are people who will avoid the dentist at the detriment of their own health and appearance in order to quell their fear. It stems from the fact that teeth are so sensitive and the pain to teeth can be intense. Add the sounds of the drilling and the scraping and it’s enough to cause anyone to have a few butterflies in their stomach.

Unfortunately, missing teeth and bad teeth can keep a person from gainful employment or finding a serious relationship. But perhaps what ultimately drives people to the dentist is the pain of avoiding them in the first place as teeth rot and gums recede. Studies have also shown that dental health is also directly linked to a person’s overall health. However, just like any other medical procedure, there are serious problems that can arise.

Dental Surgery Complications

Medical malpractice lawsuits in Washington State are commonly brought against the doctors and staff of the hundreds of hospitals and clinics across the state for everything from medication errors to surgical errors that either lead to medical injures or wrongful death. However, very few people who are injured or die while getting surgery in a dentist’s chair know that the options for medical malpractice extend to dentists.

Some of the complications that lead to medical malpractice lawsuits are:

Anesthesia – Sedation using gas or other methods are needed to avoid pain, but can also be deadly, especially to children, the elderly, and people with other medical conditions. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that three staff members are present when deep sedation occurs in a dental office. The anesthesia provider should be a licensed medical or dental practitioner with certification for providing anesthesia; he should monitor the patient’s vital signs, airway patency, cardiovascular and neurological status and adequacy of ventilation.

AAPD also says the operating dentist and clinical staff need to maintain current expertise in basic life support in case something goes wrong. Deaths can also occur with local anesthesia. As of Oct. 2008, RDH Magazine reported it was legal in 43 states for dental hygienists to administer local anesthesia and 26 allow them to administer nitrous oxide.

Nerve Damage – The most common complication with dental surgery is permanent nerve damage, which causes numbness of the tongue, lips or cheeks. More than 11,000 people in the United States are effected annually, according to a 2007 report in the American Journal of Public Health. This can seriously effect the person’s diet, quality of life, and even the way they look as they can often loose muscle control in their face causing it to droop.

Emergency Services – In the 2001 book, Forensic Pathology by Vincent J.M. DiMaio says stress, fear and pain coupled with anesthesia can precipitate a heart attack. One of the most common causes of death in a dental chair is an overdose of a general anesthesia that causes unconsciousness. Further, other experts have found that some people can stop breathing in the dentist chair and staff members are not properly trained to revive them or keep them alive until the ambulance arrives.

Defibrillators – These life saving devices that administer an electric jolt to the heart when it stops due to heart attack or stroke while in the hospital are now becoming much more common in dentist offices due to changes in AAPD recommendations. Unfortunately, several problems have been identified in dental death cases surrounding the use of defibrillators. Despite AAPD guidelines, dentists’ offices may not have working defibrillators, furthermore, dental personnel may not be trained in life support.

Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth are located on each side of the back of the bridge of teeth, both upper and lower. They are generally the last to come in, developing in teenage years to early 20’s, but some people later in life. Experts hypothesize that they are a later evolutionary development in humans in order to break down meat further.

Now, wisdom teeth are considered not needed and the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons strongly recommends that young adults have their wisdom teeth removed to “prevent future problems and to ensure optimal healing.” However, some in the dentistry community contend that the science supporting prophylactic extraction is not substantial enough to support a sweeping policy across the dental community.

American dentists and oral surgeons pull 10 million wisdom teeth each year costing patients and insurance companies more than $3 billion annually. It is the profitability of the procedure that mitigates a sweeping policy that could be potentially deadly. Wisdom tooth surgery has been linked to jaw and tooth fractures, brain tissue infections, life-threatening bleeding and hypoxia. But studies suggest no more than 12% of impactions lead to infections or damage to adjacent teeth — roughly the same incidence as appendicitis. No medical associations recommend prophylactic appendectomy.

Medical Malpractice Attorney

Dentistry is a highly trained and specialized medical field that is essential to society. It is also a multibillion dollar industry that can have serious consequences on patients if not done correctly by a doctor and staff that constantly updates themselves on the latest procedures. Dentists not taking the proper steps to protect patients resulting in medical injuries or wrongful death can be construed at medical malpractice and there are ways for patients to seek justice through compensation.

If you or a loved one have been severely injured or killed by suspected medical malpractice then it is important that you find experienced council that can clearly explain your rights and represent you in your fight to protect those rights. Call Phillips Law Firm for a consultation on your legal options.