An Expert Witness’s Role In Dental Trauma Claims

Understanding this crucial role

Much has been written about the role of an expert witness in dental claims involving instances of medical negligence. However, significant claims can also arise from damage to teeth via personal injury, resulting from an accident at work or a trip, slip, or fall. Understanding how an expert witness can assist the Court in such cases can help Solicitors and Barristers to build a case in their client’s favour.

What are the signs and symptoms of dental trauma?

Dental trauma is physical injury to the teeth, gums, the alveolar bone, or the soft tissue of the mouth, including the lips and tongue. It can result from several causes, including:

  • Slips, trips, and falls
  • Assault
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Being hit in the mouth by machinery
  • Playing sports

A study spanning a seven-year period, from 1 January 2012 to 31 December 2018, which followed 1,769 patients who were seen on the ADTC at King’s College Hospital showed that an accidental trip or fall was by far the most common cause of traumatic dental injury (41.2%). This was followed by assault (23.4%), bicycle accidents (14.3%), sports injuries (7.5%), and road traffic accidents (4.8%).

Damage to the mouth, teeth, and soft tissue can occur alongside other injuries such as head trauma and/or broken bones. Claimants often find dental trauma particularly upsetting because of the negative affect it normally has on their appearance. This can lead to an additional claim for psychological damage.

Types of dental trauma include (but are not limited to):

  • Broken tooth – the tooth can suffer a fracture, crack, or chip. Dentists often use the Ellis fracture classification system to describe the severity of the break.
  • Subluxation – the periodontal ligament is damaged, including the fibres, as well as some gingival capillaries, being severed or stretched; however, the tooth remains in place.
  • Extrusion or extrusive luxation – the trauma dislodges the tooth. The periodontal ligament is partially or completely ruptured along with the blood vessels and nerve fibres of the dental pulp being damaged or completely severed.
  • Lateral luxation – the tooth is displaced in a way that is approximately perpendicular to the axial or longitudinal axis of the tooth. The socket alveolar bone will also be fractured.
  • Intrusive luxation – the tooth is driven up into the alveolar socket and as a result, the alveolar bone is crushed. The periodontal ligament and the pulp blood and nerve connections are destroyed and in some cases, the tooth becomes submerged in the jawbone.
  • Avulsion – the tooth is knocked completely out of the mouth and the ligaments and pulp neurovascular supply are totally severed. This is one of the few medical emergencies in dentistry.
  • Alveolar Fracture – the fracture of a bone along the alveolar ridge.

How can an expert witness can assist in a dental trauma claim?

Dental traumas are particularly distressing for claimants as they are not self-healing. Time, money, and often considerable pain are required to repair the damage done. Complications can arise from treatment, for example, in the case of avulsions, although replantation of the tooth is ideal, the patient’s immune system may reject a preserved and reimplanted tooth, leading to further invasive treatment being needed.

In addition, the prognosis of dental trauma incidents can be highly unpredictable. Therefore, for the Court to evaluate quantum if the Claimant succeeds in achieving a compensation award, a judge will normally need to review the opinions set out in a dental expert witness’s report.

In summary

Dental Expert Witnesses play a vital role in dental trauma personal injury claims. The impact of the injury and the long-term prognosis can be life-changing, therefore an expert who has a deep understanding, not only of dentistry, but also of how to interpret images and dental records, must be called in to provide an expert report.

How can Expert Court Reports Ltd help?

At Expert Court Reports, we are well-placed to assist any party that instructs us. Whether it is a Defendant in a personal injury claim, or a Claimant who may be navigating the legal landscape for the first time, we can offer advice and provide our expert opinion in a professional yet sensitive manner.

We have several dental experts who can provide evidence in claims arising from dental trauma personal injury claims. Our team can also provide expert reports on chronic pain as well as psychological matters.

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.