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Are your dentures fit for purpose?

20 July 2018
When supplying dentures for a patient, there is an expectation that they will be of “satisfactory quality” and be “fit for purpose”. These broad terms are captured within the verbal contract that exists between the clinician providing the treatment and the patient who will pay to receive this treatment. It is a contract that can be unwittingly breached.

A clinician made a patient three sets of dentures over a 12-month period. The patient just “couldn’t get on with any of them”. They were “too big”, “too small”, “too loose”, “too tight”, “too straight”, and then “too crooked”. Both the patient and the provider were exasperated.

The clinician felt he had made every effort to meet the patient’s high level of expectation. But the patient still requested a refund for the first set of dentures that had been supplied, the only set they had actually paid for. The clinician was reluctant to refund the fees; after all he had used up a lot of clinical time with the patient and also incurred additional laboratory costs. The risk of not doing so potentially left the patient with the option of seeking redress through consumer protection legislation or through the Small Claims Court for a breach of contract.

To succeed in such a claim, the patient would not need to show that there had been any negligence on the dentist’s part. In pursuing a claim, the Court would look to be sympathetic to a patient who cannot use the prescribed denture for the functions it was provided to restore. It is also difficult to obtain a fully supportive expert opinion in relation to dentures.

In view of the potential difficulty in defending a claim for breach of contract in respect of the dentures, the clinician was advised by Dental Protection to make a business decision to offer a refund to the patient as a gesture of goodwill. Ultimately the clinician was relieved that the patient was now free to approach another dentist.

Learning points

  • It is important to gain insight into the expectations of the patient before embarking on treatment.
  • If in doubt, speak to one of the dentolegal advisers at Dental Protection.
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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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