Has the Impact of COVID-19 led to an increase in Dental Negligence Claims?

Over the past few years, the newspapers have been littered with stories about declining access to NHS dentists and the painful and damaging consequences this brings, including dental negligence claims. For example, Scott Benton MP recently informed the House of Commons that a mother resorted to removing her daughter’s tooth with pliers to end her pain after the mother tried and failed to secure an NHS dental appointment. In another case, a former miner, who waited seven agonising months to get an NHS dental appointment, told The Mirror that he was now living on a diet of soup and painkillers as he could not afford £5,400 for private dental treatment.

Dental negligence refers to situations where a dental professional fails to provide the standard of care expected, leading to harm or injury to the patient. Common types of dental negligence include:

  • Failure to identify and diagnose oral diseases or conditions such as gum disease, oral cancer, or cavities.
  • Delay in diagnosing a dental condition which may cause the condition to worsen and lead to additional complications.
  • Providing the wrong type of treatment or performing a procedure incorrectly, leading to harm or worsening of the patient’s condition.
  • Administering incorrect medications, wrong dosage, or failure to consider a patient’s allergies or medical history when prescribing medications.
  • Negligence in maintaining proper infection control measures, leading to the spread of infections within the dental office.
  • Not adequately informing the patient about the risks, benefits, and alternatives of a particular treatment before obtaining their consent.
  • Injury to nerves during dental procedures, resulting in pain, numbness, or other sensory issues in the affected area.
  • Neglecting to refer a patient to a specialist when necessary, leading to a delay in appropriate care for complex dental issues.
  • Mistakes made during oral surgery procedures, such as extractions, implant placements, or other surgical interventions.
  • Errors in orthodontic treatment, such as mismanagement of braces, leading to bite problems or other complications.
  • Problems arising from administering anaesthesia, such as allergic reactions or complications during sedation.
  • Inadequate or inaccurate documentation of a patient’s dental history, treatment plan, or ongoing care, leading to potential errors in treatment.

On average, a dentist can expect to face three negligence claims throughout their career. This is an alarming statistic, and the question is, how did we get into a situation where people resort to DIY dentistry and dentists who stay in the industry are likely to face the stress and expense of a negligence claim three times over a 40-year career?

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on access to dentists

According to a 2021 report from the audit of adult oral health survey, over a third (35%) of adult in England who responded to the study required dental treatment or advice between March 2020 and March 2021, when access to dental services was limited because of the coronavirus pandemic. Broken or decayed teeth and toothache were the most common reasons people sought dental treatment. Just under a quarter (24%) of people wanted a checkup. In 48% of cases, those who had dental problems had them wholly and promptly dealt with by a dentist. But worryingly, 15% of patients received only temporary treatment, and one in ten received no treatment at all. And at the time of writing, almost two years after the final coronavirus restriction (the requirement to self-isolate after a positive test) was lifted in England, some dental surgeries are still using post-appointment Covid screening and not seeing patients of they are showing any Covid symptoms.

In September 2021, the British Dental Association stated that millions of people were denied access to dental treatment or advice between March 2020 and March 2021 due to the pandemic and subsequent screening measures. This has resulted in dentists having to treat patients who have several teeth and gum-related issues. In turn, increasing numbers of dentists are subsequently suffering from stress and burnout. As a consequence, 2022 research shows an estimated 45% of dentists with an NHS contract planned to sell their practice in the next two years and almost half planned to leave the profession for good. Couple this with the fact that many NHS dentists are approaching retirement age, and it is not too much of a stretch to argue that the profession is a ticking time bomb, with all signs leading to an increase in patients receiving negligent treatment.

Concluding comments

There is no current research on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on dental negligent claims; however, plenty of information confirms that the dire state of NHS dentistry in England is likely to see claims increase. For Dental Negligence Solicitors bringing these types of claims, evidence from expert witnesses is vital to establish causation and demonstrate that the defendant dentist was negligent in terms of the care and treatment they provided.

How can Expert Court Reports Ltd help?

Expert Court Reports has several dental experts who can provide evidence in claims arising from dental negligence. We have experts who can also provide reports on chronic pain as well as psychological matters.

Expert Court Reports provides expert witnesses and medicolegal court reports for solicitors, barristers and other agencies including the police, probation services, prisons, and third-sector organisations as well as private clients. To discuss any issues raised in this article, please call us on 01865 587865, email office@expertcourtreports.co.uk, or request a call by completing our online form.