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Dentist fails to provide information on risks

Dentist fails to provide information on the risks of root canal treatment

Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner Kevin Allan today released a report finding a dentist in breach of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights (the Code) for failures in their care of a woman who needed root canal treatment.

The woman first attended the dental clinic in October 2019 with a throbbing toothache and was seen by the dentist. It was agreed the woman required root canal treatment, but the dentist did not explain the risks associated with the treatment.

When returning to the dentist for the procedure. The dentist struggled to find the canals and continued drilling. A significant amount of the tooth was removed and a file broke in the tooth.

The dentist referred the woman to a senior colleague at the same clinic. An appointment was made and the woman attended the clinic while suffering ongoing pain. The senior colleague was unable to remove the broken file, and referred the woman to an endodontist.

The endodontist discovered a perforation of the nerve chamber, causing the woman’s significant pain. The endodontist bypassed the broken file and completed the root canal treatment, easing the woman’s pain.

The Deputy Commissioner considered that the dentist did not advise the woman about the risks and possible consequences of root canal treatment prior to the procedure. As a result the woman was unable to make informed choices about her treatment.

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Mr Allan was also critical of the dentist for continuing to drill the affected tooth and failing to refer the woman for specialist advice.

"The dentist saw this woman on three occasions for root canal treatment. During the treatment a number of complications occurred, which caused pain and suffering to this woman," said Mr Allan.

"I accept that prior to the treatment the dentist discussed two options (root canal and removal of tooth) and the benefits of each option. However, this does not meet the requirements of the Code in relation to provision of information and informed choice. The dentist should have explained the risks of each option clearly."

"When the dentist was unable to locate the root canals, and made the decision to continue drilling, he should have proceeded with caution. Had he stopped drilling and obtained advice, the prognosis for the tooth may have been more positive. I am critical that the dentist continued drilling and failed to refer the woman for specialist advice."

The dentist has now provided HDC with evidence that he has participated in training relevant to informed consent and endodontic care, and has provided the woman with an apology.

The full report of case 20HDC00140 is available on the HDC website.

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