Specialists drive a significant portion of dental care in the U.S. While most people regularly go to a general dentist for check-ups and dental cleanings, specialists often take over other types of care. However, certain types of services overlap and may be handled by a general dentist and/or by one or more different specialists. As a result, when alleged malpractice occurs, it is important to understand what kind of expert witness is needed to prove or defend the claim.
Dentists may practice General Dentistry or a subspecialty. General dentists generally focus on preventative dentistry and the health of teeth and gums. They also perform routine dental procedures such as cleaning, fillings, bridges, crowns and sometimes root canals. While they may provide overall care to teeth and gums, general dentists often consult with specialists for complex problems. Typical negligence claims against general dentists arise from failure to diagnose or refer cases to specialists, trauma and complications from treatment or anesthesia, and unnecessary treatment.
Endodontists treat dental pain and problems relating to the interior of each tooth or pulp. They perform specialized treatments like root canal surgery, as well as provide dental implants. Their services may overlap with general dentists with respect to root canal surgery. Malpractice claims against endodontists often involve surgical complications such as infection or nerve damage.
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (OMFS) operate on the face, mouth, and jaw, and perform complex procedures that intersect with the fields of Otolaryngology and Plastic Surgery. They treat injuries, congenital malformations, and diseases of the skull, face, jaw (maxilla and mandible), mouth, and dentition as well as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain, wisdom teeth extractions, and dental implants. Some OMFS specialists undertake additional fellowship training and specialize in a variety of fields, including: Head & Neck Cancer (Maxillofacial Oncology), Microvascular Reconstruction, Cosmetic Facial Surgery, Pediatric Maxillofacial Surgery, and Dental Implant Surgery. OMFS specialists may overlap with endodontists, prosthodontists, and periodontists with respect to dental implants. Surgical complications are a common cause of malpractice claims.
Orthodontists specialize in correcting dental alignment and malocclusion of the teeth. Malpractice claims are rare but may involve unnecessary procedures, poor cosmetic results, or injuries during orthodontic procedures.
Periodontists address the gums (gingiva) and supporting structures around the teeth. They treat gums and bone and may place dental implants as do endodontists, prosthodontists, and OMFS. General dentists may also provide similar services to patients in less serious cases. Periodontic malpractice typically stem from claims alleging a failure to diagnose or appropriately treat gingival disease.
Prosthodontists specialize in the restoration and replacement of teeth for both functional and aesthetic (cosmetic) purposes. Prosthodontic procedures include dental implants, crowns, bridges, and dentures. General dentists may treat some of these conditions as do endodontists, prosthodontists, periodontists, and OMFS. Negligence claims stem from treatment complications, procedural injuries, hardware failure, or patient dissatisfaction with their appearance.
If a patient suffers an injury from a procedure that could have been performed by more than one type of specialist, it is important to carefully evaluate which type of specialist would make the best expert witness in litigation. Given the range of dental specialties and overlapping services performed by each, it is crucial to consult with a firm that can help you find the right expert witness for your case. Elite Medical Experts consults on complex strategic and tactical issues to ensure clients are securing the appropriate Board-Certified specialists to meet their needs. Please contact our Case Strategy Team today.