Final Verdict: Consent to Dental Treatment
Dentophobia, or fear of dentists, affects five to ten percent of Americans. There is something inherently frightening about someone who is paid to put tools, needles, or drills anywhere close to your mouth. Additionally, mouth and facial pain just seem to hurt worse than other kinds of pain. A possible reason for this perception is that the nerves surrounding teeth cannot sense heat, cold, and many other sensations; any stimulus at all registers as pain.
Dental pain is an unavoidable part of receiving any dental work. However, more significant dental procedures, like bridges, extractions, implants, and crowns carry additional risks that dental patients need to discuss with their medical providers. If a patient is at increased risk for medical injury, either due to another condition or to prior dental work, their dentist should take care to go over all the possible complications and side effects so they can decide together on the best course of action. A dentist should never recommend oral surgery or other major interventions just because it produces greater income.
After a dental procedure results in increased pain and complications, the question is clear: was this dental malpractice? A dental malpractice attorney like Cohen & Cohen can review the circumstances of a case and help an injured patient decide whether it is a good idea to bring a lawsuit for dental malpractice or medical malpractice. Factors to consider include whether the complication is common for the procedure, whether the dentist made mistakes during treatment, and whether the patient was adequately informed of the risks prior to consenting to the treatment.
57-year-old Yvonne Nesmith of Rockville, Maryland believed her dentist hadn’t performed a dental extraction up to the standards of ordinary dental care. Her dentist, Dr. Rochelle Hackley, had extracted her lower third right molar on April 3, 2014. Yvonne complained that Hackley had damaged her lingual nerve — the nerve leading to the tongue — during the procedure because of a lapse of professional standards of care. As a result, Yvonne lost sensation in her tongue and experienced an altered sense of taste and difficulty chewing. She said that Dr. Hackley had not disclosed these risks to her before the extraction took place. Sadly, lingual nerve damage is irreparable and has no available treatment.
Prior to the five-day trial, the court ruled that Yvonne’s claim of breached standard of care was invalid. As a result, the jury was only able to evaluate the question of whether Dr. Hackley had provided enough information for Yvonne to make an informed decision. Experts brought by Yvonne’s dental malpractice attorney pointed out that Dr. Hackley had never provided her with any written informed consent form. However, Dr. Hackley produced experts who argued that a written form was not necessary as long as the patient was made aware of the risks. Additionally, she testified that she had provided Yvonne with all the information available about the extraction procedure.
To Yvonne’s disappointment, the Montgomery County jury only deliberated for three hours on October 4, 2018, before returning a verdict finding no dental malpractice on the part of Dr. Hackley.