The Legal Minefield of Dental Law

Medical malpractice might make the headlines, but that does not mean that dental malpractice never happens. In fact, perhaps because of the less stringent methods of professional oversight and fewer regulations on practitioners, dental malpractice claims constitute a significant portion of the overall number of medical malpractice claims in the United States every year. According to the American Board of Legal Medicine, 12.1% of medical malpractice payments were made against dentists.

Like many legal issues in the medical community, there are a handful of elements at play to explain these numbers.

Lack of Credentialing a Piece of the Puzzle

While medical boards and hospitals require that doctors become credentialed in order to perform specific procedures, state dental boards tend not to be involved in this process. The hands-off attitude often leads to dentists performing serious dental procedures that they have little to no formal training in. This does not happen on the medical side of the field, due to the strict oversight that credentialing committees have, and their ability to withhold surgical privileges to medical professionals that do not hold up to their standards of training.

Dominance of Small Practices Play a Part

Medical doctors and surgeons tend to congregate in specialized practices or in hospitals. The field of dentistry, however, is largely comprised of general practitioners who operate their own business, either on their own or with a very small number of other dentists.

The predominance of general dentists who run a solo practice in the world of dentistry has a spillover effect: Most of those who serve on dental boards are, themselves, general dentists who run a solo practice. As a result, these boards are highly unlikely to pass regulations that make it more difficult for general dentists to practice advanced oral surgeries.

Lack of Oversight Creates a Greater Need for Legal Advice

Unfortunately, the freedom that comes with a lack of oversight in the dental community has a downside, as well, which can impact both landed dentists, as well as those professionals who are just starting to get into the field.

For dentists with an established dental practice, the loose regulatory world that they work in often leads to decisions that can result in serious financial liability. It is a sensitive decision as to whether a dentist should perform an unfamiliar dental surgery that potentially carries a high risk to your patient is a serious decision to make. It could be a big boost to your business. If something goes wrong, however, you could be facing a lawsuit.

For new dentists, the lack of a local regulatory scheme can make it difficult to determine what has to be done to begin a new practice. Even though there are fewer requirements to be met, missing a single one can delay the opening of your practice or can later result in serious errors that could undermine your practice once it is established.


Whether you have a thriving dental practice or are just getting your feet on the ground, having a solid legal representative on your side to steer you through the legal issues is a must. The attorneys at Levy Pruett Cullen have extensive experience representing dentists and other health care professionals. Contact use for legal work on all of your administrative or legal defense situations.