In Focus: Infections and Dentist Liability During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has raised concerns about the potential of the spread of infection in dental practices. The reality of the situation is that dental work, especially invasive procedures, has always carried the risk of infection. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented challenge as it relates to dentists’ liability for the transmission of life-threatening infections.

Because lawmakers have yet to craft legislation that provides dentists and other medical professionals with safe harbor from negligence lawsuits, the best way to protect your practice from the potential of liability in the time of COVID-19 is to consult with a lawyer who provides legal services to dental professionals.

In the meantime, this article is a brief discussion of the circumstances under which infections may constitute dental negligence generally, as well as ways to avoid potential liabilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Types of Dental Infections that May Be the Result of Negligence

Severe dental infections are uncommon, however, they can be very serious, leading to cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, kidney disease, and complications affecting pregnancy and childbirth. Types of dental infections that may be contracted as a result of dental negligence include:

  • Root canal infections
  • Periodontal and implant infections
  • Abscesses

In rare cases, such infections, particularly abscesses, can lead to brain abscesses or sepsis, either of which may be fatal.

How A Dentist’s Negligence May Lead to Infections

A dentist’s negligence increases the risk of as patient developing an infection in a number of ways, such as:

  • Failing to inquiry about pre-existing medical conditions or surgeries that make a patient you especially vulnerable to infection
  • Failing to prescribe prophylactic antibiotics
  • Not cleaning a patient’s mouth properly
  • Neglecting the signs of prior infection before beginning to work on a patient
  • Using improperly sterilized instruments during examination or dental procedures
  • Having unsanitary office conditions

In short, a patient who develops a serious infection related to his or her dental care may be able to file a malpractice lawsuit to obtain damages.

The best way to protect your practice from liability arising from dental negligence is to adhere to the safety protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that have been widely accepted by the American Dental Association (ADA). If you are faced with a negligence lawsuit, it takes a skilled dental attorney to protect your license and your livelihood.

Special Precautions Dentists Should Take During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Because COVID-19 is highly contagious, dentist are required to follow specific guidelines that have been promulgated by the CDC and ADA, including:

  • Limiting the number patients in the office at the same time
  • Mandating masks for all staff members and patients
  • Asking patients about potential exposure (e.g. recent international travel or to a hot zone) and symptoms
  • Taking the temperatures of all patients upon arrival
  • Frequent cleaning and disinfecting of public areas (e.g. door handles, counters, bathrooms)

By taking these precautions, you can help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in your dental practice and avoid a potential dental malpractice lawsuit.