For most people, going to the dentist is not on their list of favourite things to do. Unfortunately, sometimes dental care is necessary and due to the Coronavirus pandemic, many people have not been able to see their dentist for over two years. This has led to an inevitable backlog, which may increase the likelihood of dental negligence occurring. Before we look at how an expert witness can assist with dental negligence cases it is important to highlight the challenges the dental industry is facing following the Coronavirus pandemic.
The findings of the General Dental Council on the impact of Covid-19
The General Dental Council (GDC) undertook research in 2020 and 2021 to discover what impact the Coronavirus pandemic had on dental care. The 2020 report released in September of that year showed that access to oral healthcare had been severely limited. Furthermore, the impact on the profession was also significant, with dentists experiencing major income losses and the costs associated with infection control increasing.
The 2021 research involved an online survey of 2,168 respondents, six focus groups with 39 total participants and five further in-depth phone interviews. It was found that the well-being of those in the dental profession was markedly lower than that of the general population. Furthermore, 69% of respondents reported that their income had decreased compared with pre-pandemic levels, with practices that took on NHS patients experiencing the largest income falls. In addition, approximately 35% of respondents predicted that their income would remain lower than pre-pandemic levels over the next 12 months.
Regarding access to dental care in 2021, more young people and individuals of Asian or Black ethnic backgrounds stated that they had experienced difficulties in accessing dental services, indicating that the pandemic had continued to exacerbate oral health inequalities in the UK. Meanwhile, around one-quarter of respondents were still too concerned about Coronavirus to visit the dentist in person.
Unfortunately, matters have not improved. In June 2022, MPs debating the crisis in dental care reported tales such as constituents being told they would have to wait two years for an NHS appointment and one person even telling his MP that he was in so much pain he extracted some of his teeth himself.
The problem exists across the UK, with British Dental Association Chair of the Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee Ciara Gallagher recently telling UTV.
“What we’re finding is that people who would have come in and had their check-up and a clean are now coming in with treatment needs and thus they need to come back maybe two or three times where they didn’t have to before. So for that one patient there is [sic] probably five or six examinations that we are not getting to carry out.”
Even if the dentistry profession was not facing its current skill shortages (over 2,000 dentists quit the NHS in 2021), the amount of work required to reduce the backlog of people needing dental care is likely to lead to an increase in negligence claims over the coming years.
Why is an expert court report important in dental negligence cases?
Claims for dental negligence can be incredibly complex, especially in cases where multiple attempts have been made to correct the initial misdiagnosis or mistreatment and these attempts have resulted in further pain and disfigurement. A dental expert witness can isolate the original cause of the damage and provide a clear picture as to the prognosis and the impact the negligence is likely to have on the claimant’s life.
Firstly, a dental negligence witness will collate all of the evidence, including medical notes and x-rays, to form a cohesive picture of what led to the dental injury and present this in a way that is clear and understandable in an expert court report.
Secondly, an expert witness will outline the lifelong impact of the dental injury on the claimant, ensuring that any damages award made is correctly quantified. This will ensure that the victim can fund their future dental care and, if applicable, cosmetic surgery needs.
Finally, an independent expert dental injury witness will draw a link between what happened and the resulting injury. In cases of negligence, an expert witness will apply the three-part test, proving that:
- a duty of care was owed, and
- the duty of care was breached, and
- the victim suffered harm as a result of the breach.
For example, in the case of an injury caused by a dentist’s negligence, a dental expert witness will draft a report outlining whether the defendant dentist owed a duty of care to the patient, and what they did to breach that duty of care (e.g. failure to view the x-ray properly), and the extent of the injury and whether it was caused the breach.
Dental injuries can be physically, emotionally, and financially devastating to the claimant. A dental injury expert witness report will ensure that you achieve the best possible immediate and long-term outcome for your client, whether you are representing them in a dental negligence case or another type of legal matter.