Penningtons Manches has settled a case against a private dentist for a root canal treatment that was performed over 20 years ago.
The firm’s client had undergone root canal treatment in the 1990s, during which several pieces of the drill bits used had broken off and remained within the tooth roots. As a result, the amalgam used in the filling did not completely fill the root, leaving it susceptible to infection. The patient was not informed of any problems during the procedure and as far as she was aware, it had gone smoothly.
Over two decades later, while on holiday, she developed severe pain in her face, and it was only when she had returned from holiday and undergone investigations including MRI scans of her jaw that she was told by her referral surgeon that the drill bits were present in the tooth roots and causing the infection. The tooth was not salvageable and required extraction.
She asked Penningtons Manches to investigate a claim on her behalf. The time that had elapsed meant that there were significant evidential problems, not least that her dental records from the original treating dentist had been destroyed. Understandably, she had not kept any records from the procedure either, although she was able to identify the treating dentist with certainty.
After having reviewed the more recent notes, which clearly identified the multiple drill fragments in the tooth, Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team instructed an expert dentist to report on the matter. The expert was of the opinion that, while it is not unusual for drill bits to break during this procedure, patients should always be advised of the presence of any retained foreign material, and there are then options available to them for further treatment and restoration. At the very least, fully informed patients will be alert to the possibility of future infections and can then seek treatment as soon as any difficulty arises.
On the basis of the history, the existing notes, and supportive expert evidence, the team submitted a letter of claim to the dentist’s defence union, which took a sensible approach to the claim, and it was settled quickly.
Emily Hartland, an associate in the clinical negligence team, said: “This was an interesting case and we were pleased to secure a settlement for our client. While we all accept that treatments do not always go to plan, there is a duty of candour for all medical practitioners to advise patients when things go wrong, and in many cases a simple discussion with the patient can avoid a claim. In this case, not only would the patient have been less inclined to bring a claim, but it would have afforded the dentist a legal defence. The lack of notes was a potential concern, but our client gave a very clear account of her treatment and later notes corroborated her evidence. There is a limit to the duration that health records need to be kept, and without the relevant notes, it can be difficult to identify the appropriate defendant, and to collect sufficient evidence to bring a claim.”