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Can a Dentist Be Held Liable for Nerve Damage?

Can a Dentist Be Held Liable for Nerve Damage

Going to the dentist for root canal therapy, wisdom tooth removal, or dental implant surgery should be a routine—albeit understandably dreaded—procedure. In the majority of cases, the patient will recover quickly and be better off for having undergone the operation. But what happens if a dentist hits a nerve during the procedure and the patient suffers nerve damage?

People who suffer nerve damage during a trip to the dentist are often left wondering: Can I sue my dentist for nerve damage? The answer could be yes, depending on the circumstances of the injury.

If your dentist failed to uphold the standard of care they owed to you as a patient—and you were injured as a result—then you may be able to file a dental malpractice claim against the negligent dentist, hygienist, orthodontist, or oral surgeon.

While simple dissatisfaction with a dental practitioner’s services is not grounds for a legal claim, suffering an injury due to negligence or carelessness certainly can be. To discuss your case with someone who can provide expert legal advice about your situation, reach out to a dental malpractice lawyer at Madia Newville LLC with questions.

Types of Nerve Damage 

The term “nerve damage,” or neuropathy, covers a wide umbrella of injuries to nerves in the body. Below, we will discuss the signs and symptoms of three of the more common types of nerve damage associated with dental procedures: lingual nerve damage, inferior alveolar nerve damage, and trigeminal nerve damage.

Lingual Nerve (LN) Damage

One of the most common types of nerve damage is damage to the lingual nerve (LN)—the nerve that supplies sensation to the front two-thirds of the tongue. Because this nerve is intricately linked with the region of the lower third molars (also called wisdom teeth), this type of damage occurs most frequently during wisdom tooth surgery, a fairly widely-practiced dental procedure. If you suffer lingual nerve damage, you may find that one side of your tongue, most of your tongue, or even your lips and chin are affected. Symptoms of lingual nerve damage include:    

  • Tingling sensation or numbness of the tongue
  • Pain or feelings of burning in the tongue
  • Loss of taste sensation, or changes in the way taste is perceived
  • Drooling
  • Slurred speech or difficulty speaking
  • Decreased salivation
  • Inability to control biting of the tongue

Inferior Alveolar Nerve (IAN) Damage

Injury to the inferior alveolar nerve (IAN) is another type of damage dental patients can suffer. The IAN runs along the lower jaw and sends information to the teeth, gums, lips, chin, and cheeks. If a nerve is damaged during anesthesia injection, root canal therapy, wisdom teeth removal, tumor removal, lower jaw surgery, or another procedure, symptoms can present in the chin, lips, and gums. Signs of IAN damage include pain, tingling or an electrical shock sensation, burning, and numbness, accompanied by drooling and slurred speech.

Trigeminal Nerve Damage

The trigeminal nerve is another nerve that can be damaged in dental procedures if the dentist does not practice the utmost care. The trigeminal nerve—made up of the ophthalmic, maxillary, and mandibular branches—provides sensation to the face, nose, mouth, and tongue, and is involved in chewing and biting functions. Damage to this nerve is often an extremely painful injury. Carelessly-handled root canal therapy and overfilling can lead to serious trigeminal nerve damage. The pain left by an injury of this type can be debilitating. Symptoms can include severe, migraine-like pain in the head and forehead, extreme sensitivity to air and temperature, burning feelings in the face, or loss of feeling in the face and forehead.      

Proving a Dentist Is Liable

Dentists and oral surgeons need to practice extra care when removing teeth, administering local anesthesia, or performing surgery in the areas where nerves like the ones listed above are located. That’s why oral surgeons must undergo years of training before operating on a patient. If a needle slips or another mistake is made and nerves are struck or severed, recovery can last up to a year or years—or the damage could be permanent in severe cases. Emergency nerve-regeneration surgery may be necessary for some patients.  

A dentist (or hygienist, oral surgeon, orthodontist, or other dental expert) has a duty to each and every patient to prevent harm. If a practitioner fails in this duty, they commit medical malpractice. If you were the victim of a dental error, your first step after tending to your health needs should be to reach out to a qualified dental malpractice lawyer. A lawyer will begin immediately to gather evidence to prove liability and determine the compensation to which you are entitled under the law.

Your lawyer will first work to establish four elements essential to any medical malpractice case in order to prove negligence:

  • A dentist/patient relationship existed
  • Your dentist owed you a duty of care
  • The dentist breached that duty of care and injured you
  • Those injuries caused you to suffer damages

There are multiple places your lawyer can look to obtain evidence of the negligent party’s liability and the injury you suffered as a result. The patient’s medical record is one the most important documents in a medical malpractice case. Your lawyer will be alert for missing pages, inconsistencies, sloppy documentation, and other red flags in the record. Your medical records will also help provide an accurate picture of the losses you incurred and how you should be compensated. The following sources can help your lawyer clarify what occurred, the at-fault party’s actions, and your damages:

  • Medical records from before and after the injury
  • Documentation of any follow-up surgery or treatment after the injury
  • Signed consent forms from the patient
  • Documented treatment plans from the dentist
  • Bills for services
  • Notes written by the dentist, hygienist, or other office staff
  • Records of visits and appointments
  • Expert medical witness statements
  • Eyewitness testimonies
  • Any existing video footage or photographs

Proving liability is not always straightforward, especially when an at-fault party is eager to cover up evidence of wrongdoing. This can be further complicated if there are additional issues at play, such as inadequate insurance coverage on the part of the dental office, or if there was evidence that ghost surgery may have occurred.

When it comes to medical and dental malpractice, it is sadly the case that not every practitioner is willing to be held accountable for mistakes. Your lawyer will need to be creative, analytical, and thorough to ensure that your case has a successful outcome, and that you are awarded the compensation you need—especially when you are up against a large, heavily-funded entity highly motivated to defend itself.

What Compensation Is Available?

Depending on your case specifics, you may be entitled to damages. Damages, in legal terminology, refers to the money awarded to a person who was injured due to another’s negligence. In a dental malpractice case, you as the plaintiff may be eligible for damages including:

  • Dental/medical bills
  • Costs associated with recovery and treatment
  • Medication costs
  • Lost wages or loss of future income
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Disfigurement or permanent damage
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

These compensatory damages are meant to help you recover the losses you incurred at the hands of a negligent dentist. As mentioned, it’s important for your attorney to be thorough so that you receive the full compensation to which you are entitled.

The amount of compensation will vary greatly from case to case, and how long it takes to file a medical malpractice claim like a dental malpractice claim will depend on multiple factors as well. All dental malpractice cases are both unique and complex, and the outcome should always be the priority. When you are injured through medical negligence, you should never be made to bear the financial, physical, and emotional burden yourself. Dental malpractice law exists so this does not happen.   

Any potential clients who are interested in learning more about how we may be able to help are invited to get in touch with us at Madia Newville LLC. We offer free initial consultations to potential clients looking to know more about their legal options.