Very few people really enjoy going to the dentist, but most people don't expect to be seriously injured while they're there. Unfortunately, some dental procedures have an unexpected outcome: nerve injury that takes place when a dentist severs or otherwise damages nerves during a procedure. Dental nerve injury is most often associated with procedures like tooth extraction, anesthetic injection, surgery to correct the shape of the jaw, dental implants, or repairing a broken jaw. Among the most commonly injured nerves are the lingual nerve, inferior aveolar nerve, mental nerve and buccal nerve.
You may not know the name of the nerve that was injured, but if you've suffered a dental nerve injury, you know that something is very wrong. Nerve damage can cause severe pain; difficulty speaking or chewing; drooling; tingling or burning sensations; loss of sensation altogether; and even the experience of food tasting different or unpleasant. If you've suffered such an injury, you know that dental nerve injuries can make you self-conscious and render it difficult for you to participate in ordinary activities you used to take for granted, like dining out and socializing.
It's important to know that not all negative outcomes of a dental procedure amount to dental malpractice. But dentists and oral surgeons have a duty to act as a reasonable professional would in a similar situation. If they don't, and a patient is harmed, they have committed malpractice.
There are a number of ways in which dentists may breach their duty of care. For instance, during a root canal, if filling materials are overextended, they may enter a sinus in the upper jaw, or a nerve in the lower jaw, and effectively burn nerve tissue. Another example is when a dentist severs the lingual nerve during a wisdom tooth extraction, leading to numbing of the tongue and other symptoms like impaired speech.
Because your dentist has likely used local anesthesia during the procedure, you may not have immediately been aware that a nerve was damaged. However, if you become aware of numbness, lost function, or pain that seems excessive several hours beyond the procedure, you should notify your dentist. He or she should then provide careful follow-up at regular intervals. If a dentist fails to provide appropriate monitoring for a suspected nerve injury, he or she is breaching the expected duty of care.
The reality is, unless your dentist has done something observable and obviously wrong, you may not be able to tell on your own that he or she committed dental malpractice. Getting to the bottom of a nerve injury typically requires investigation by a medical malpractice attorney who knows how to review dental records and who has access to dental experts and other professionals who can weigh in with their specialized knowledge.
If you suspect you have suffered dental malpractice, We invite you to contact Huegli Fraser for a consultation. We will listen to your experience, help you understand how Oregon dental malpractice law applies in your situation, review your options with you, and help you decide on the best course of action, including conducting any necessary investigation.
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
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