The Ins and Outs of Malpractice Insurance for Dental Professionals




As a dental professional, you strive to improve your patients' oral health while giving them beautiful smiles. Despite your best efforts, however, it’s impossible to rule out complications when performing health care procedures. That’s why dentist malpractice insurance is so important.

Malpractice insurance helps to protect your dentistry malpractice, its assets, and you as a professional in case of legal claims – such as negligence.

As with any healthcare profession, there is always a chance of complications when performing any patient intervention. Even the most skilled dentistry professional can’t avoid certain inherent risks, such as those that come with anesthesia administration. This opens the door to potential malpractice claims.

Medical malpractice claims of any kind can be hefty, and the dentistry profession is no exception. In 2019, for example, the dental malpractice case “Seergy v. Ricker” saw a New Jersey jury award a couple $1.33 million in damages. This kind of sum can cripple a dental practice if it isn't adequately protected.

What’s more, this isn’t an isolated incident. There are countless case studies detailing negligence and similar claims against dentists.

Read on for further details on dental malpractice insurance and how to protect yourself.

The Importance of Dentist Malpractice Insurance

Dental malpractice lawsuits can arise for various reasons. Some possible reasons for a claim might include:
  • Injuries to oral nerves during surgery.
  • Novocain-related complications.
  • Tooth extraction issues, such as tissue damage from instruments, air embolisms, nerve and sinus perforations, etc. Accidental perforations during root canal treatment are one example.
  • Anesthesia complications, which can result in fatalities in the worst-case scenario.
  • Issues with bridges or implants, such as poor occlusion.
  • Orthodontics problems, for example, if radiographs aren't routinely taken and misalignment isn't fixed but worsens as a result.
  • Post-procedure infections, which can lead to severe issues like brain abscess or septic arthritis.
  • Dental injections, e.g., if the needle hits a nerve but isn't withdrawn and reinjected, as proposed in the dental literature.
  • Failure to correctly diagnose oral diseases, such as periodontal disease or oral cancer.
  • Adverse drug reactions, which can likewise result in fatalities.
  • Failure to properly supervise actions of employees, such as dental hygienists.
  • Procedures performed despite a lack of informed consent.
  • Failure to refer a patient to a relevant specialist.

This list isn’t exhaustive and covers just some of the reasons that dentists may face malpractice claims.

An Introduction to Dentistry Malpractice Coverage

Setting up comprehensive dentist malpractice insurance can help protect you from damages related to incidents like those described above.

Professional liability insurance – also referred to as errors and omissions insurance or malpractice insurance – is one solution. This covers licensed healthcare practitioners from allegations of negligence related to the performance of professional duties.

Professional Liability Coverage

Every dental practice is unique, varying in size, patient volume, number of employees, and procedures.

For example, some dentistry practices perform surgical procedures, like dental implants, requiring anesthesia. Others provide only general dentistry services, like teeth cleanings. Different practices will demand different levels of coverage.

Depending on the type of dentist malpractice insurance, benefits may include:
  • Professional liability, e.g., of up to $5 million per incident or $6 million aggregate.
  • License defense protection, in case you have to legally defend your right to retain your dentistry license and continue practicing.
  • Personal and advertising injury.
  • Deductibles varying from $0 up to $10,000.
This is just a sketch of what a professional liability plan might look like. Plans vary depending on the dental professional's needs, the insurer, the type of plan, and the extent of coverage.

Types of Incidents Possibly Included Under Professional Liability

The term “professional liability” itself is far-reaching. In general, this type of coverage provides protection related to actions that may have harmed a patient in the course of your (or your employees’) professional duties.

Such harm can be manifested in many ways, however. Possibilities range from HIPAA violations (e.g., violating patient privacy) to sexual misconduct.

Further, professional liability coverage may also address the legal fees that go into defending a professional liability claim. Coverage may include defendant expense reimbursement up to a set amount, e.g., $500 per day.

Possible Special Professional Liability Add-Ons

Many insurers also offer optional special liability packages you can add on to general professional coverage. Examples may include billing errors and omissions, employment practices liability, and non-owned or hired motor vehicle liability.

If your dental practice is a partnership, corporation, or professional association, you may also invest in entity or organization coverage as part of your dentist malpractice insurance.

Taking Steps to Reduce the Risk of Professional Liability Claims

Professional liability covers a broad range of potential legal claims. Getting comprehensive coverage is one positive step towards protecting yourself and your business against such possible complaints.

Of course, ideally, you won't have to use your professional liability insurance. However, it's naive to think that you are immune to patient complaints. As mentioned, some dentistry practices carry unavoidable and inherent risks. Proactively protecting yourself is good business sense.

There are also operational steps you can take to mitigate the likelihood of certain types of complaints. Here are some general guidelines (although every practice will have to tailor their operating procedures and policies to their own needs):
  • Establish clear procedures and training for all employees regarding patient treatment, communication, follow-up, and record-taking.
  • Provide comprehensive information and consent forms before all procedures. Clearly communicate all possible risks in writing and verbally.
  • Follow up on missed or canceled appointments, even if it's just a teeth cleaning. A missed appointment is a potential missed opportunity to spot diseases, like oral cancer, early.
  • Stick to your comfort zone. If a patient requires a procedure that you aren't comfortable performing, refer them to a specialist.
  • Keep accurate and up-to-date patient records and never delete any portion of a patient's chart, even if it's an error. Cross out the mistake and note that it was an error. Deleted entries raise suspicion in case of investigations.
  • Address any inquiries from the Dental Board promptly.

Protect Your Dental Practice’s Integrity with Dentist’s Advantage

Dentist's Advantage provides comprehensive dentist malpractice insurance. Benefits include professional liability, license defense protection, personal and advertising injury, and more. Each plan is personally tailored to the individual’s needs.

Get your quote today.