Remembrance of dental treatment past - dental case study

...The patients sought damages for crowns on his front teeth - even though the work was 25 years old...

  • Date: 15 February 2010

A dental practice received notification of a claim of damages by a patient in the placing of a post crown which perforated the sidewall of a tooth. In addition the patient also claimed damages relating to crowns placed on front teeth.

The dentist concerned contacted his dental defence organisation (DDO) in regard to the recent post crown but the patient’s records established that the work done on the front teeth had been undertaken over 25 years ago. Three separate dentists at the practice were involved in the patient’s treatment at that time – none of whom were still with the practice. One had retired, another was deceased and the third dentist, Mr T, who had been a member of MDDUS at the time, had long moved abroad.

A settlement was negotiated by the DDO of the current dentist. Later MDDUS received a letter from that DDO claiming that Mr T was responsible for the dental work carried out on the front teeth and demanding that MDDUS cover a percentage of the negotiated settlement. It was claimed that by working out the chronology of treatment according to various initials on the notes it could be proved that Mr T carried out the crown work on the front teeth.

Analysis and outcome

The MDDUS adviser replied that in regard to responsibility for the alleged negligence it would be difficult to prove by studying the records which dentist carried out the crown work. Certainly memory could not be relied upon. In regard to the competence of the dental work – no matter who carried it out – the adviser replied:

"As you are fully aware, research has shown that advanced restorations have an average lifespan of 10-12 years and therefore the crowns, if fitted by Mr T, have lasted well outside that of any published research on this topic."

MDDUS refused to contribute to the settlement costs and the other DDO reluctantly accepted this position.

Key points

  • Occurrence-based indemnity as offered by MDDUS provides protection no matter how long after alleged negligence took place.
  • Records of dental treatment carried out and by who should be unambiguously clear.
  • Memory cannot be relied upon in legal defence.

This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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