Many people have heard about typical medical malpractice cases. However, dental malpractice is not something many people think about, because most people visit the dentist so infrequently. A dentist commits malpractice when he or she causes a patient personal injuries by failing to act within the acceptable standard of care. Dental malpractice is more common than many people realize, with approximately one out of every seven malpractice claims involving a dentist, dental hygienist, or other dental health care professional.
Recently, the issue of anesthesia and other forms of sedation has become prevalent with regard to the dental industry. Typically, an anesthesiologist must attend school for twelve years, including four years of college, four years of medical school, and an additional four years in an anesthesiology residency before they are permitted to administer anesthesia on their own. On the other hand, the anesthesia industry has begun offering dentists an opportunity to receive certification to use anesthesia by attending weekend courses. More than 18,000 dentists have attended these weekend anesthesiology courses in the past five years. The courses are intended to allow dentists to start anesthetizing patients immediately. Many dentists are lured into the taking these classes by the promise of tens of thousands in extra income annually, which a great deal of dentists need to offset the high cost of attending dental school.
Unfortunately, the consequences of using anesthesia without proper training can be severe. Even a well-trained dentist will have difficulties with anesthesia, and most likely will not have the facilities or equipment to handle such emergencies. Particularly with children, using too much anesthesia can be deadly.
Proponents of anesthesia use during dental procedures argue that patients who are sedated allow for a safer procedure, especially with children. Unfortunately, 31 children have died after being sedated by dentists over the last fifteen years. The actual number of deaths may be even greater, because there is no national registry for dental deaths and dental anesthesia deaths are not always properly reported.
Generally, dentists will instruct the patient to take an oral sedative about one hour before the appointment. Once the patient arrives, the dentist may give the patient more pills if he or she does not believe that one pill has achieved the desired effect. Unfortunately, oral medications take longer to become effective than sedatives taken intravenously or inhaled where the effects are almost instantaneous. In many cases, the dentist can inadvertently cause an overdose by providing the patient with more pills.
Currently, the American Dental Association has guidelines for dental sedation. They recommend limiting sedatives to only one dose on the day of treatment, and that dose should not exceed the maximum recommended dose of the medication required to achieve the intended level of sedation. Even where a dentist follows the ADA guidelines, there is significant danger for younger patients because these guidelines are only intended for patients aged 8 and older. Therefore, any child younger than eight-years-old and anyone with health problems, is at greater risk, even if the guidelines are followed, and should probably avoid sedation altogether if possible.
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