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Informed consent for dental procedures

  • An analysis of why ensuring informed consent is obtained prior to treatment is vital to avoid negligence claims.

    By Ben Lees

I recently read an article  online by Joseph Stromberg advising of several ways in which a dental practitioner may attempt to sell services or recommend treatment that may not be appropriate or when better alternative options are available solely to generate higher profits for the practice or practitioner concerned.

I also have first hand experience of a number of patients who have then become Clients, who have had expensive treatment to later discover that the treatment was futile or unnecessary. Although it is not usual for a dental practitioner to admit that the motive for the treatment was for financial gain, sadly, in some cases, it appears to be the case.

By way of example, consider a Client who has paid for implant treatment involving extractions of teeth, radiographs and scans, bone grafting procedures and implants and crowns being placed. In most cases, implant treatment for one tooth exceeds £3,000.00 and the cost almost multiplies by the amount of implants to be placed. The Client has then discovered a matter of weeks or months later that the implant has failed or the neighbouring teeth are compromised. The Client was never warned by their dentist of any potential problems.

Whatever the reason for the failure, even if there was no indication the treatment may be unsuccessful, the risks and benefits of the treatment must be explained to the Client before the treatment takes place so that they have provided informed consent for the treatment to their teeth.

Sadly, I have acted on behalf of Clients that have lost implants and later discovered that the implants were very likely to fail and the placement of a denture or bridge would have been a more successful course of treatment. The dentists have recommended an implant only and clearly failed to obtain informed consent.

These circumstances may suggest that the Client can successfully claim for compensation from their dentist to have treatment to put their teeth right. It also means the treatment was not carried out in compliance with the General Dental Council’s standards for dental professionals and gives the Client grounds to make a complaint against that dentist.

Many treatment plans can be unsuccessful through no fault of the dentist at all; however, informed consent should be obtained by doing the following:

1. A description of all available treatment options should be discussed and this includes the costs of each treatment option; and
2. Explain the risks and benefits of each course of treatment.

If you are concerned that you have had treatment without being provided with the requisite information about the risks and this has compromised your dentition or proved unsuccessful, you should seek medical advice from a dental specialist and feel free to contact a member of the Dental Negligence Team for specialist legal advice.

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