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A lacerated cheek

22 February 2019

A dentist received a letter of complaint from an elderly patient who had sustained a soft tissue injury to the lining of the left cheek during the restoration of a lower left third molar three months earlier.

At the time, the dentist had secured haemostasis with sutures, recorded the incident in the clinical notes and offered his sincere apology to the patient.

In her letter of complaint the patient stated that she wanted recompense for negligence and her unpleasant experience. When the letter of complaint was received, as a gesture of goodwill, the dentist decided to refund the cost of the restoration and to waive the charge for her next routine dental examination. The patient was not satisfied with this and stated in her letter that he was considering taking further action with her complaint. The dentist sought assistance from Dental Protection.

Dental Protection advised the dentist that despite accidents like this occasionally happening during dental procedures, it might be considered that the cheek was insufficiently retracted and therefore there was a breach of duty of care to the patient. However, it was recognised that the injury was transient; probably no worse than could have been sustained by cheek biting, and the patient would have likely recovered. In complaining three months after the incident, the patient was very likely seeking some compensation for what she considered was negligence on the part of the dentist leading to an unpleasant experience.

Dental Protection advised the dentist to write a further letter to the patient, offering an apology and explaining that despite endeavouring to provide treatment in a caring and considerate manner, treatment of the molars at the back of the mouth requires the retraction of the soft tissues (tongue and cheek) which can be difficult, and occasionally these soft tissues may be accidentally damaged despite the best efforts of the dentist.

As with cheek biting, any small injuries in the mouth heal very quickly and there is rarely any long-term damage. The dentist mentioned that if the patient had contacted him in the days or weeks immediately following the incident, he would have been pleased to have provided all necessary care. The dentist then went on to say that he hoped that the patient would be happy with the explanation, reimbursement of the costs of the restoration and, if not, then could she write again outlining what she would consider a suitable response. No further correspondence was received from the patient.

Learning points

If an unexpected outcome arises whilst treating a patient, keep them informed.

These case studies are based on real events and provided here as guidance. They do not constitute legal advice but are published to help members better understand how they might deal with certain situations. This is just one of the many benefits dental members enjoy as part of their subscription. 
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