Dental negligence: The problem of wrong tooth extraction

The dental profession has for some time been committed to reducing the risks associated with dentistry, with an increased emphasis on improving patient safety.

Even with the most stringent safeguards in place, dental negligence is unlikely to ever be eliminated altogether. However dentists do recognise that relatively simple steps can be taken to materially reduce the risk of it recurring.

According to a report in the British Dental Journal (BDJ) one area that has been identified as requiring urgent improvement is the problem of wrong tooth extraction.

The term ‘wrong tooth extraction’ is used to describe situations where a dentist has the patient’s consent to remove a particular tooth (one that may be infected or beyond repair) but goes on to remove another tooth; one which is perfectly sound and healthy.

The full extent of wrong tooth extraction in the UK is unknown, but it is clearly a serious issue for the dental profession and gives rise to a significant number of dental negligence claims each year.

In a bid to reduce the incidence of wrong tooth extraction dental experts have highlighted a number of safeguards that can be relatively easily and inexpensively implemented.

This includes the provision of professional educational programmes alongside risk reduction procedures such as checklists, the clear marking of surgical sites,  the use of patient assisted identification and the implementation of patient safety guidelines.

According to the BDJ report, the factors which increase the risk of wrong tooth extraction include:

  • suboptimal checks and/or cross checking of relevant clinical information,
  • unclear diagnosis,
  • unclear documentation,
  • ambiguity regarding notation of molar teeth,
  • orthodontic extractions, and extractions where there are multiple carious teeth and
  • extractions in the mixed dentition.

With improvements in professional education and the implementation of risk reduction measures it is hoped that the problem of wrong tooth extraction will diminish.

Patients who have suffered the ordeal of wrong tooth extraction and wish to know where they stand legally may contact our free legal helpline on 0808 139 1595 or email us at [email protected] for a free case assessment.

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