What should you do if you’re unhappy with your dental treatment? What is dental negligence? Understanding who to turn to if you’re unhappy with your dental service will help you navigate the ins and outs of potentially negligent care and unwanted bills, and how to ask your dentist for a refund.
Understand why someone may need to make a complaint about their dental care.
Define dental malpractice, dental negligence, and insurance fraud.
Know which state authorities to contact if you are unhappy with your dental treatment.
Be familiar with the process of reporting your dental provider if they have committed negligence or fraud.
Bad dental treatment – what to do?
If, for any reason, you feel that your dentist has been negligent about your care, the first place to turn is to file a complaint with your state’s Board of Dental Examiners. This state licensing board is the governing agency that manages all the dental licenses in their state to ensure providers meet training and safety standards. They are also responsible for investigating instances such as fraud, abuse, malpractice, etc.
State boards exist for all licensed providers, not just dentists. Everyone from pharmacists to hairdressers must follow special rules and regulations in order to provide their services. The state board has the authority to reprimand or remove licenses depending on the offense.
Depending on which state you live in, there may also be an option to ask for a “peer review” process, where complaints or disputes are resolved by a committee of dental peers who review things like the treatment plan, charges made, etc. They may even want to see you in person for a clinical exam or a copy of your records so that they can provide an opinion on how your dentist handled your care.
What is dental negligence?
Negligence is whenever a dentist fails to diagnose a condition or treat it properly. A classic example seen in dental care is mishandling periodontal (gum) disease. Unfortunately, many people are not well-versed in understanding how periodontal conditions need to be treated any differently than routine preventative cleaning. They may even press their dentist to “just do a regular cleaning” instead of a series of scaling and root planing/deep cleanings/periodontal therapy.
If a dentist instructs the hygienist to only perform a preventative cleaning (prophylaxis) when there is active periodontal disease present, and the patient ultimately loses their teeth because of the infection, the patient could potentially make the claim that the dentist did what is called “supervised negligence” and neglected to treat their disease, resulting in tooth loss.
What is dental malpractice?
Dental malpractice can include the same circumstances as dental negligence, but it can also go on to include purposefully misleading the patient or other parties, such as their insurance carrier. It also involves situations where there is substandard care, or safety practices are not maintained.
Malpractice often ties back to a provider’s incompetence with their patient’s care, such as making life-threatening dosing mistakes with prescription drugs or anesthesia medications. Or perhaps the dentist did not fully review the patient’s health history correctly, resulting in life-threatening or life-altering side effects. But malpractice also involves negligence, where situations are misdiagnosed or go untreated altogether.
Role of the dental complaints service
Is there a centralized dental complaints service that patients can turn to when they’re unhappy with their care? While some European countries do have a centralized dental complaints service, patients in the United States should file their complaints directly with their State Board of Dental Examiners. Other options include contacting your dentist’s office directly in order to resolve the situation or going to a small claims court. In most cases, dentists or dental service organizations will usually prefer to settle the complaint outside of court, so going to them directly or through a mediator is usually the most effective.
State Board of Dental Examiners
First and foremost, the best thing to do if you are concerned about your dental care is to try to communicate your concerns with your dentist directly or the dental practice manager at their office. If your dentist is part of a larger dental service organization (DSO) or “chain” of dental practices, their corporate patient relations officer will most likely be your best resource.
If and when you have exhausted your options of communicating your concerns to the office directly or their organization’s corporate headquarters, if you are still unhappy with their response, you can choose to move on to contact the State Board of Dental Examiners. You can file a complaint directly and/or request a peer review of your circumstances.
Should you complain to the state insurance board?
If you believe that your dentist has committed insurance fraud — for example, they lied to you about a particular treatment being performed than what is on your treatment plan and the claims they submitted to your insurance carrier — you should contact your state insurance board. Basically, they said one thing and did another. Another example of insurance fraud would be the malpractice of diagnosing and performing treatment on otherwise healthy teeth.
How to ask your dentist for a refund
When you’re extremely unhappy with your treatment outcome, you may want to ask your dentist to re-do the treatment or refund the amount you have paid. However, it is extremely unlikely that you will be able to get a refund for your dental treatment unless there is evidence of negligence or malpractice on the part of the dentist (and you have the documentation to prove it.) Although highly unlikely, some dentists may refund your treatment even if they are not at fault for the outcome, simply as a way to “smooth things over” with highly disgruntled patients. Always remember to maintain documentation — whether electronically or in paper form — of your correspondence, should you need to take your concern to the state or personal legal advisors.
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