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Overlooked Oral Cancer: When a Dentist Fails to Diagnose


A dentist who fails to see a developing oral cancer, or who chooses not to inform the patient, runs the risk of medical malpractice. More importantly, if he or she does not raise warnings about suspicious growths it can lead to serious health challenges and even death.

The profession guides dentists and hygienists toward efficient and consistent screenings with patients, including the following:

  • Understand risk factors (patients who smoke, who drink alcohol frequently, exposure to HPV/human papillomavirus, family history and factors that might cause immunosuppression)
  • Conduct a superficial (visual) examination of the mouth
  • Identify lesions and assess them for potential malignancy
  • Determine the need for further diagnostics
  • Communicate with the patient about concerns; provide recommendations
  • Discuss the role of the dentist in management of oral, head and neck cancers, including both medical and legal responsibilities

If a patient discovers a later-stage oral cancer and has consistently seen a dentist, that dentist may be remiss in not detecting the malignancy. As with anesthesia errors, permanent numbness, gum infections, crown errors, root canal errors, orthodontic errors, radiation-related injuries, unnecessary tooth extractions or extractions of the wrong tooth, the expense of care and correction can be considerable. And if a patient dies unnecessarily from any of these dental mistakes, it may be necessary to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. Retain a dental malpractice lawyer if a problem such as oral cancer was overlooked.

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