Failed root canal negligence claims – everything you need to know

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Root canal, or endodontic treatment, is a procedure used by dentists to treat teeth that have become infected or have died.

The procedure involves removing the infected or dead material and then filling the root canals within the teeth.

The decision to carry out root canal treatment on a tooth depends on a variety of factors. If the tooth is severely decayed, for example, then root canal treatment may not be the best option and the tooth may need to be completely extracted.

Assuming the root canal treatment is carried out successfully and to a satisfactory standard, a tooth can survive for up to 10 years following the procedure.

When you might need root canal treatment

The most common reason for requiring root canal treatment is when the tooth becomes infected by bacteria that enters the nerve (pulp) of the tooth.

This can be due to:

  • Tooth decay
  • Existing deep or leaking fillings
  • Trauma to the tooth

Usually a patient will become aware of an infected tooth due to the resulting toothache. If the infection is left untreated it can lead to an abscess forming in the gum beneath the infected tooth.

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Root canal treatment process

  1. Root canal treatment should be carried out as soon as possible following the diagnosis of an infection.
  2. Prior to the treatment, the dentist will need an X-ray of the affected tooth in order to assess the root. At this stage the decision could be made to have the treatment carried out by a specialist endodontist.
  3. The more routine and ‘simple’ root canal treatments can be carried out in approximately one hour. More complex procedures could take a lot longer and require multiple visits to the dentist.
  4. The treatment is usually carried out under local anaesthetic, with a rubber sheet (dam) used to isolate the tooth from soft tissue and saliva. Once the rubber dam is in place the dentist will drill into the tooth to access the root canal system and find the entrance to the root canal.
  5. The root canals are then permanently filled to prevent bacteria from re-entering the canal system. A final X-ray will then be taken to check that the canals have been filled completely.
  6. A crown is then required as root filled teeth are more susceptible to fracture than normal, healthy teeth.

Recovery period

It is normal to experience some pain following a root canal treatment. The procedure involves deep cleaning inside the inner chamber of the tooth, so it will irritate the surrounding nerves. The pain and discomfort should subside after a few days.

As the pain is usually quite mild, patients will likely only require over-the-counter pain relief such as Ibuprofen for a day or two following the procedure.

If you experience pain, discomfort or increased sensitivity for longer than 2-3 days following root canal treatment you should contact your dentist as you may require additional cleaning of the root canals or supplementary treatment.

Root canal complications

For most people a root canal procedure is carried out without a problem, however, there is a risk of complications with the treatment.

Some of the more common complications with root canal treatment are:

  • Residual infection – most root canal failures are due to the presence of residual infection. This can be caused by under-filling of the root canal, which allows for bacterial contamination and can result in chronic inflammation.
  • Fractured dental instruments – this occurs when part of the instrument being used by the dentist breaks off into the tooth canal. This could be because of excessive force used by the dentist, and if it happens early on during the treatment then failure is likely. This is because bacteria could be left behind and are inaccessible. Fracturing an instrument in the canal is not negligence in itself, but failure to recognise it and take the appropriate steps – including informing the patient – could be deemed negligent.
  • Perforations – a perforation can happen when the dentist is looking for root canals in the tooth, or from overfilling the root canal. Perforations need to be repaired as soon as possible, as if they are left then they can cause nerve damage and bone loss that may not heal.
  • Undetected crack in the root – this is one of the root canal complications that can lead to bacterial growth and the possible requirement for further treatment. If the dentist fails to notice a small crack in the tooth, it leaves the area exposed to bacteria.
  • Use of defective materials – over time the inner seal used during the root canal treatment can erode, which allows bacteria to re-enter the root of the tooth. Your dentist is likely to warn you of this potential complication so you can take proper care of the area to either prevent this or at least slow the erosion process.

When you can make a claim for negligence

Failed root canal treatment is not always due to dental negligence, however it is not uncommon for the treatment to go wrong due to negligence on the part of the dentist. This can cause pain and suffering for the patient, as well as the need for further distressing dental treatment.

Root canal patients may be eligible to make a claim if their dentist:

  • Fractured an instrument inside the root canal
  • Failed to remove the nerve completely
  • Perforated instruments through the side of the tooth
  • Failed to clean, shape or fill the canals adequately, resulting in infection
  • Did not gain informed consent from the patient prior to the procedure
  • Did not inform the patient of alternative and less expensive treatments
  • Made mistakes during the treatment which led to pain or infection

If you think you have suffered an injury due to the negligence of a dentist following root canal treatment, get in touch with CL Legal for advice on making a claim.

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