Orthodontics involves an area of dentistry that focuses on the positioning of the teeth and jaw. This includes diagnosing and preventing misaligned teeth and correcting teeth alignment. Like other types of medical and dental treatment, orthodontic accidents and mistakes can lead to injuries for patients.
Orthodontist Malpractice in Maryland
When a patient claims they were injured because of something the orthodontist did wrong, they may file a malpractice claim against the orthodontist. A jury generally determines if the orthodontist is liable to the patient for any injuries and damages that result.
Orthodontists, like dentists and doctors, owe their patients a duty of care. An orthodontist who fails to act within their standard of care that results in an injury may be liable to the patient for any damages caused. This is also known as professional malpractice or professional negligence.
An orthodontist is negligent if they fail to use the level of skill, knowledge, and care in the diagnosis and treatment that other reasonable orthodontists would use in the same or similar circumstances. The standard of care is generally demonstrated by expert testimony from other orthodontists who use their experience to give their opinion as to whether the orthodontist met the standard of care or breached the standard of care.
If the orthodontist is found by a jury to have breached the standard of care, the jury determines whether the breach caused injury to the patient that resulted in some harm. If the breach of care caused the injury, then the jury may determine what damages the patient should receive to compensate them for their injury.
Orthodontics Training and Certification
An orthodontist is a dentist with specialized training on straightening teeth with braces or other instruments to correct the position of the teeth or jaws. Orthodontist training generally begins with the same training as a dentist, with additional post-graduate education and training in orthodontics. Orthodontics generally requires a minimum of about 10 years of education and study, including 4 years of undergraduate education, 4 years of graduate study, and 2 to 5 years of post-graduate education.
Before applying to dental school, applicants must generally complete a bachelor's degree. Bachelor's degrees may be in any number of subjects, but dental school generally requires the applicant complete required coursework. Minimum requirements may include courses in science, biology, physiology, or chemistry. Dental school applicants may also have to take the Dental Aptitude Test (DAT) and qualify with a minimum score.
Dental school is generally a 4-year program. This includes coursework on the scientific foundation of dentistry and clinical training. First and second-year courses may include courses in biochemistry, physiology, and anatomy. By the third year, students may take more advanced coursework, such as pediatric dental physiology and pharmacology. Students will also begin treating real patients in a supervised clinical setting. Much of the fourth year of dental school will involve completing clinical procedures.
In order to practice as a dentist, dental school graduates must qualify under their state-specific licensure. This generally requires a D.D.S. or D.M.D. degree from an accredited dental program. All dentists must also pass parts I and II of the National Board Dental Examinations. States may also have a clinical examination requirement. Other requirements may also include proof of malpractice insurance, a background check, interviews, and CPR certification.
Only a small percentage of dentists go on to specialize in orthodontics. ADA accredited orthodontist specialization generally involves a 2 to 5-year program and leads to a Master of Science degree in orthodontics. This includes coursework in advanced biomedical, biology, and dental physiology. It also includes additional clinical training in tooth movement, facial surgery, and orthodontic apparatus. Upon completion of an orthodontics program, the orthodontist must pass the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO) board examination before they can practice orthodontics in the U.S.
Orthodontic treatment begins with a diagnosis and taking x-rays, photographs, and impressions. An orthodontic diagnosis involves identifying malocclusions or dentofacial deformities, defining the problem, creating a treatment strategy, and offering treatment options to the patient.
Orthodontists utilize a number of treatments and instruments in adjusting patient's' teeth or jaws. The most common orthodontic treatment is using braces to straighten the patient's teeth. Straightening teeth is not only done for cosmetic reasons but also to correct jaw alignment. Orthodontist treatments may include:
- Metal braces
- Ceramic braces
- Invisalign or other aligner trays
- Full orthodontic headgear
- Removable plates/appliances
- Expansion appliances
- Multibracket therapy
- Rapid palatal expanders
- Transpalatal Arches
- Lower lingual holding arches
Orthodontic treatment is unlike many other types of dental treatment in that it generally involves a lengthy process. A patient may have braces affixed to their teeth, with regular adjustments made, and maintained for a process of many years. According to the AAO, the average braces treatment takes about two years but can take much longer. Patients may have to continue to use aligner trays even after their braces are removed.
Braces are the most common orthodontic treatment for most patients. Braces, also known as orthodontic cases, are used to straighten teeth and bring them into line to align with the patient's bite and to improve dental health. This includes correcting overbites, underbites, malocclusions, cross bites, crooked teeth, deep bites, or other teeth and jaw problems.
Braces have been used to straighten teeth for centuries. In the modern process, braces use brackets, bonding material, wire, and elastic to pressure the teeth and jaw into alignment. A bracket is glued to each tooth and adjusted with bands to provide the proper level of pressure. Over time, the pressure on the teeth moves them into a corrected or aligned position. Braces are periodically adjusted or tightened, which may cause the patient some discomfort.
Progressive removable aligners can be used on some patients to move their teeth into alignment over time. Common progressive, clear, removable aligners include Invisalign and ClearCorrect. These are generally not appropriate for complicated orthodontic cases. These are not appropriate for all patients and may be best for tilting or rotating individual teeth instead of whole tooth shifts. However, one benefit is the apparatus is not easily visible in most patients, and others may not know they are using orthodontics.
Common Orthodontist Malpractice
Orthodontists can make mistakes just like anyone else. However, when an orthodontist makes a mistake by not following the standards of professional care, the patients may suffer serious injury or even permanent deformity. Injuries involving orthodontic care can include:
- Lost teeth
- Broken or chipped teeth
- Tooth decay
- Cuts and puncture wounds
- Complications from anesthesia
- Unnecessary or improper treatments
- Improper braces adjustments
- Leaving braces on too long or not long enough
- Adjustments causing nerve damage
- Facial deformity
- Latex allergies
- Lack of informed consent
Proper alignment requires consistent and the appropriate level of pressure. Not enough pressure on the teeth will not move them into a corrected position. Too much pressure on the teeth can cause the patient to lose his or her teeth. Lost teeth from improper braces adjustments can make it more difficult for the patient to chew food, alter speech, cause dental problems, and affect the patient's appearance.
Infections can come from a number of sources using braces. Irritation from braces can lead to mouth sores. Mouth sores can be painful, causing the patient discomfort. In some cases, a mouth sore could become infected, leading to pain and requiring medical treatment.
Most orthodontic procedures only use a localized anesthetic to numb the mouth. However, in some cases, general anesthesia may be used. General anesthesia involves using medication to sedate the patient. As with any surgical procedure, the use of general anesthesia involves some risk. General anesthetic may increase the risk of injury or death in patients with heart problems or high blood pressure.
Cuts and Puncture Wounds
Defects in braces or poor application of braces hardware could lead to broken or snapped wires. Broken wires could cut the inside of a patient's mouth or even puncture through the cheek. This could lead to pain, infection, or permanent scarring.
Plaque can form on and around braces, which can lead to tooth decay. This can occur when food is retained in between the braces. Improper braces placement or failure to warn the patient of how to take care of their braces can increase the chances of tooth decay for patients with braces.
Orthodontics may involve adjustments to the teeth and jaw. Extractions of teeth to accommodate braces may increase the long-term changes in physical features. This may lead to a change in appearance in the face, jaw, and cheekbones. Some patients may be left with altered physical features that they have to suffer for the rest of their lives.
Some orthodontists may be tempted to recommend more expensive treatments in order to increase their profit. This may even include recommending unnecessary orthodontic treatment on patients who do not need additional procedures or extended treatment. Unnecessary treatment can lead to a number of problems for patients, including pain and suffering for a procedure they never needed.
Mixed Up Records
A busy orthodontist relies heavily on their record-keeping system. However, without taking the time to check that they have the right patient or the correct procedure, record mix-ups can lead to unnecessary injury. An orthodontist may treat the wrong patient for the wrong procedure, and even bill the unsuspecting victim for the cost of the unnecessary procedures.
Lack of Training
In general, an orthodontist has to demonstrate they have the education and training to perform orthodontic treatments. However, when new orthodontic treatments come out, orthodontists may rely on their other training to perform the procedure. In some cases, they may be performing a procedure on a patient for the very first time, without any specialized training on a specific procedure. This can lead to mistakes and possible injury.
Orthodontists may treat patients without informing them of the risks associated with the orthodontic procedure. Patients have a right to know about the potential risks and complications associated with dental procedures. An informed patient can choose whether to accept the risks or decide against having an orthodontic procedure. Informed consent forms may be used that do not clearly describe the risks involved or without the orthodontist explaining what the forms mean.
Orthodontist Accident Injuries and Damages
Orthodontist accident injuries may involve short-term pain; however, more serious problems can lead to long-term or permanent injuries. This includes:
- Tooth damage
- Tooth decay
- Tooth loss
- Sleep apnea
- Permanent staining of the teeth
- Pulpal changes
- Root resorption
- Periodontal disease
- Temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD)
In an orthodontist malpractice case, if the orthodontist is found liable for causing the patient's injury, the patient may be able to receive an award for damages. Damages may include compensatory damages for money spent on treatment, costs of additional medical treatment, lost wages, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.
Orthodontist Malpractice Lawyers Gilman & Bedigian
If you were injured because of an accident or mistake involving orthodontic care, you may have a legal claim to seek compensation in court. When filing a malpractice case against an orthodontist, the injured patient can seek damages for lost wages, pain and suffering, medical bills, and other compensation. Family members may also be able to seek compensation. You should not have to suffer because of your orthodontist's negligence.
At Gilman & Bedigian, we will use our experience, knowledge, and dedication to fight for you to receive the compensation you and your family deserve. Our aggressive trial lawyers have helped our clients recover millions of dollars in compensation related to orthodontist and dental malpractice injuries. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.