Dental treatment errors - Dental care compensation claim - compensation for dentist negligence
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Home > Personal Injury > Dental negligence compensation claims > Dental treatments and procedures

Dental treatments and procedures

Compensation claims for negligent dental care

Like all personal injury compensation claims, it is not sufficient to say that you are not happy with your dental care. You must be able to prove that your dental care has resulted in an injury that has been caused directly through substandard dental care or negligence.

These standards are outlined in the General Dental Council guidance “Standards for Dental Professionals”, although they do not attempt to define what the acceptable standards are for various technical procedures.

Below is a summary of many of the procedures you may receive from your dentist. Please select one of the links below to see what is involved in these procedures and what can go wrong if your dentist is negligent.

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Tooth decay

Tooth decay is gradual and is caused by the tooth being dissolved away by acid produced by the bacteria that exist in the plaque present in everyone’s mouth. As the bacteria feed on the sugary foods or drinks which we consume, the acid increases, particularly if poor dental hygiene means that the acid is not removed quickly by brushing with fluoride based toothpaste or the use of dental floss.

Your dentist should check at frequent intervals to spot dental decay early so that treatment can be carried out before the damage becomes too invasive. If the decay is left untreated, it can lead to fillings, or in worse cases, larger fillings or the need to fit a crown. If the decay reaches the nerve of the tooth, an abscess may form, causing pain, or resulting in the need for root canal treatment or an extraction.

As with most things, prevention is better than the cure, so being careful about the amount of sugar products you eat or drink, practising a good mouth hygiene regimen, and making regular visits to your dentist should ensure that if you experience any problems, they are dealt with before they become significant.

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Consent to treatment

One of the fundamental principles of a good standard of dental care is that the dentist must provide you with sufficient information for you to make an informed choice about what treatment, or lack of it, is appropriate for you.

Often there may be several viable options available to you, including the decision not to treat the condition at all, and a wide range of pricing options. If you choose a particular treatment that the dentist knows is not the correct one, and you subsequently suffer an injury because of this treatment, this is considered negligent.

Because treatment may be spread over several appointments, months or even years, consent is considered an ongoing process. The dentist should ensure that you are aware and informed at all times should the options for your treatment change.

Examples of a valid compensation claim for consent would be one where the dentist recommends the removal of a tooth without advising that other options, such as providing a filling, or root canal therapy, are available. Should the tooth subsequently shatter, there may be a valid claim against the dentist for failure to obtain appropriate consent.

Equally, if the dentist performs a procedure that has been requested by you, but which the dentist knows will not be the correct action, this can also prove to be a valid claim for compensation, on the basis of sub-standard care.

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Gum disease or periodontal difficulties

Gum disease is also caused by plaque and causes the gums to become swollen, inflamed and red in appearance. They will often bleed easily, particularly noticeable when brushing. Prevention of gum disease at this stage is relatively easy and if the plaque is removed, and kept at bay, your gums should return to normal.

If the disease is allowed to spread unchecked, it will eventually affect the bone that holds teeth in place and will start to dissolve the bone itself, leading to tooth loss. You may need to be referred to a specialist at this stage and surgery should not be ruled out.

A basic periodontal examination should include X-rays to monitor bone levels, and clear notes included in your records. If there is gum disease, your dentist should discuss all the options available to you before commencing the treatment, and progress should be reviewed in 12 – 18 months. If there has been insufficient improvement, you should be offered the opportunity to be referred to a specialist.

Gum disease (periodontal difficulties) should be identified by your dentist during a basic periodontal examination that should be carried out on every patient at regular intervals (typically 12 – 18 months). A claim for injury compensation may be brought for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it is the dentist’s responsibility to diagnose gum disease and recommend or carry out an appropriate dental plan. If the dentist has failed to diagnose the problem, despite repeated visits by you, the disease may become extensive and restorative treatment can run into many thousands of pounds.

In these circumstances, the dentist may be liable for dental negligence compensation. Similarly, if the dentist does not carry out the basic periodontal examination, but merely refers you to a dental hygienist, it may still be the case that he has not provided satisfactory treatment.

Often it is only when you change dentist, or receive hospital treatment that the disease is diagnosed. If it has gone untreated for several years, the damage can be significant and treatment costly and lengthy.

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Root canal therapy or Endodontics

One of the most unpleasant dental treatments that you may have to undergo is root canal therapy, also known as endodontics. This treatment is necessary when the root of the tooth has become infected or has died, and avoids the need to remove the tooth altogether, maintaining a better appearance overall. However, there may be other, less costly treatments and the dentist would be failing in his duty of care towards you if he did not advise you of these alternatives.

Frequently, patients will reluctantly elect for a more drastic procedure, such as extraction, rather than the more costly corrective or reconstructive treatments, but it is vital that the risks of each procedure are made known to the patient before an essentially financial decision is made.

Root canal therapy requires the root of the tooth to be removed and the space (the root canal) to be filled to prevent infection. There may be one or several canals to each tooth so the treatment time will vary with the number and severity of the damage.

Once the root canal therapy has been completed, it is important that a further visit to the dentist take place to allow a strengthening restoration to be placed over the tooth, to protect it permanently. Failure to do this could result in the tooth fracturing and an extraction being required. If the dentist has not advised you of this important final part of the procedure, you might be able to make a claim for dental negligence if you later experience problems.

Errors in the treatment itself can also lead to problems. For example, if the dentist has failed to remove the nerve completely or failed to fill the canal(s) appropriately, allowing infection to occur and requiring further treatment. Allowing the dental instrument to pierce the root canal would be evidence that the dentist has not exercised a sufficient level of skill and care.

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Tooth extraction

Tooth extraction is normally carried out without problem, but the type of problems that can arise might include the tooth fracturing, or adjacent teeth being damaged.

If a fracture occurs, the dentist should not proceed with removing the roots without taking an x-ray to determine the position of the roots. Once a clear picture of what is required is known, the dentist should only continue if the removal of the roots is within his clinical experience. If not, you should be referred to a specialist and failure to do so would be evidence of negligence.

If nerves are damaged during the extraction, particularly the inferior or lingual nerves, this can prove damaging and would be evidence of negligence.

In the unusual circumstances that the wrong tooth has been extracted, this would be evidence of inadequate dental technique and could result in a claim for dental negligence compensation.

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When teeth are misaligned, the steps taken in an attempt to rectify the situation are referred to as orthodontic treatment. Most orthodontic treatment was carried out with NHS funding prior to 2006, but under the new NHS contract, only severe cases are entitled to NHS treatment. This has meant that the majority of orthodontic work is now undertaken on a private basis.

Compensation claims for dental negligence can be brought if the dentist has failed to identify mal-aligned teeth before they erupt. Alternatively, you may be entitled to compensation if the dentist has recommended a treatment plan, but at the request of you, deviates from that plan, and the treatment subsequently fails to correct the problem.

This is one area where expectations for the outcome are often unrealistically high, and it is particularly important that the dentist discuss all these issues with you before treatment commences. If a patient were to bring a dental negligence compensation claim under these circumstances, and the dentist could prove that they had discussed realistic outcomes, the claim would be unlikely to succeed.

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Wisdom teeth

Between the ages of 18 and 24, we usually see the appearance of our wisdom teeth, four in all at the furthest position at the back of the mouth. Sometimes there is insufficient space to emerge fully into position and this is described as an impacted wisdom tooth, although in most cases this will not cause any problems.

However, in some instances, if the tooth only partially penetrates through the gum into the mouth, it can prove difficult to clean leading to infections, or occasionally, damage to the molar in front of it.

In these circumstances, the dentist may recommend that the wisdom tooth be extracted but as this can be a difficult procedure, this should only be carried out if absolutely necessary and the dentist should advise of the risks involved. Risks would include possible damage to nerves, causing temporary or permanent numbness of the tongue, chin or lip, or infection in the empty tooth socket.

A claim for dental negligence could be brought if the dentist proceeded with the extraction without providing you with sufficient information to make an informed decision, and you subsequently suffered injury from the extraction.

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Cosmetic dentistry and restorative treatment

This area of dentistry includes a wide range of specific dental procedures. Nearly half of all dental compensation claims brought each year result from this type of procedure.

Crowns and bridges

A crown is often attached over an existing tooth that is broken or weakened by decay. It is a synthetic restoration made of porcelain, a mixture of porcelain and precious metal, gold, glass or ceramics. It is attached to a prepared tooth (reduced in size to allow room for the crown) to protect it and is designed to look like part of the original tooth. The type of material used will often depend on where the crown is being fitted.

Some ten percent of crowned teeth lose their vitality and suffer discolouration. This compares to only half a percent of uncrowned teeth being subject to this discolouration and your dentist should warn you of the risks before commencing with the procedure. If the cosmetic outcome of the crown is subsequently unsatisfactory, the dentist’s failure to discuss a range of treatments or finishes with you may result in a successful compensation claim.

A well-made crown should last approximately 10 years, but if it is poorly fitted, or the supporting tooth subsequently decays further, the crown may come off, sometimes repeatedly, and a replacement may be required.

The use of two crowns, at either side of a gap, can be used to place a false tooth (or fixed crown) between them, filling the gap. This is called a bridge and they are usually made of porcelain bonded to precious metal. However, their use is subject to the same caution as a single crown and has the added possible problem that adjacent teeth may not be suitable for bridgework.

Again, if the dentist has not discussed these risks with you, you may have a valid claim for compensation, as it would be negligent to have undertaken the bridgework in these circumstances.


There are several potential issues surrounding the use of veneers, which may lead to a claim for dental negligence compensation.

Veneers fit over the front of a tooth, something like a false fingernail. They consist of a thin layer of porcelain and are used to improve the appearance of your teeth. Because they are generally used for cosmetic purposes only, they are usually an elective procedure.

As they are a cosmetic procedure, the dentist should discuss with you the possible appearance once the veneer is in place. They should make sure that you are aware of what can and cannot be achieved by the use of a veneer and the appearance that can be achieved.

There may also be a problem with the preparation of the tooth if care is not taken to ensure that only a thin slice of tooth tissue is removed. If excess enamel or dentine is removed, or the tooth has not been sufficiently cooled during preparation for the veneer, you may subsequently require root canal surgery. Failure to comply with any of these vital factors could amount to sub-standard care and the possibility of a dental negligence compensation claim.


Usually made of titanium, implants are a relatively new development in the dental field. An implant is a screw that is fixed to the jaw to replace the root of a missing tooth. They can be used instead of a bridge, or a partial denture and the jawbone fuses with the implant to create a stable base to which an artificial tooth can be attached. They are so stable that a single implant can be used to support several artificial teeth.

Although they have proved to be a very successful dental procedure, the technique and alternative options must be explained in detail to allow you to make an informed choice.

The implant procedure does not form part of basic dental training. However, some universities offer study courses (one or two years) and much shorter courses are also available. Some dentists have questioned whether a short course will provide a dentist with the technical ability to correctly undertake this highly skilled work. Before allowing implant treatment to begin, it may be worth asking your dentist whether they have received any training in their use, since the failure of the implant(s) can have significant effects.

Dental compensation claims can arise through the use of implants if the surgical technique is sub-standard. If the implant is sitting at an angle in the jaw, and nerves or adjacent teeth or roots have been damaged, or the sinus cavity has been penetrated, you may be able to prove your dentist was negligent.

They may also be in breach of their duty of care if they have not assessed you correctly, particularly with regard to pre-existing conditions that may result in the implant’s failure to fuse adequately with your jawbone.

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Compensation claims news stories

Clear Answers' lawyers deal with very many successful cases of personal injury claims, including dental negligence. We have teams of experts with a wealth of experience in your type of accident or injury, waiting to help you claim your rightful compensation.

Please visit our regularly updated Personal Injury News Section to view some examples of our successful personal injury accident compensation claims, and related news items which we hope will be of interest.

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Making a dental negligence compensation claim

Have you or a member of your family suffered as a result of dental negligence? Strict time limits apply for making a personal injury compensation claim, so please seek expert legal advice as soon as you think you may have a valid claim for compensation.

Please go to our Costs and Risks section for more detailed information on how Clear Answers will handle your claim and funding.

For more information about our service or for advice about whether we can assist you with a dental negligence compensation claim, please contact us today on 0800 783 9019. Alternatively, please complete one of our online compensation claim forms and a representative will contact you as soon as possible. Or visit our section on information and advice for more details on making a personal injury compensation claim.

Alternative funding arrangements may apply in Northern Ireland due to differing procedures and Law Society regulations.

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