Medicolegal Aspects of Vertical Root Fractures

Fig. 9.1

An upper premolar with a vertical root fracture. The apical part of the root filling is not apparent. A potential medicolegal case will be based on the evaluation of the clinical procedures carried out (Courtesy DDS Vibe Rud)

The Global Medicolegal System

In several countries, having a general dental practitioner (GDP)–related insurance is an obligation. In other countries, the GDPs are encouraged to be associated with an insurance company [2].
In some countries, like Israel and Italy [3, 4], most of the dental practitioners are obligated to report any incidence or suspicion of a legal action against them, as part of their professional liability insurance terms. In the USA, the GDPs are encouraged by their insurance company to report dental incidents [5]. In the Nordic countries, there is a complaint management and insurance system described below as “The Nordic Model.” This model is relatively unique and includes both complaint management and insurance systems.

The Nordic Model Complaint Management System

In Denmark and Sweden, where the Nordic model is applied, the medicolegal system is closely related to health legislation [2]. Complaints are managed by local committees or regional dental complaint boards (DCBs) consisting of members from the dental association and officials. The committee makes administrative decisions based on best clinical practice and legislation [68]. Patients’ complaints are evaluated by the DCB, followed by a decision whether malpractice exists or not. If the DCB states that there is malpractice, the practitioner is obligated to return the fee for the treatment to the patient [2]. The DCB may also propose a settlement, where the practitioner accepts to cover the patients’ expenses for retreatment provided by another practitioner. Both the practitioner and the patient may appeal the decision to a national board (NDCB) that includes a civil court judge. The NDCB may accept or change the regional DCB decision. The involved part’s have the option to appeal the NDCB decision to a civil court [2].

The Nordic Model Insurance System

In Denmark, patient insurance system has been a part of health care legislation since 1992, covering both private and public treatments. The dental insurance system is founded by the government and dental practitioners which pay’s a premium depending on their revenues [2].
The insurance system in Denmark is considered a “no-fault insurance” which means that the insurance is based on the clarification to which extent the patient suffers from an injury in relation to treatment. It is not a focus to esthablish malpractice. This would be handled in the complaint system. Diagnosing vertical root fracture in conjunction with a root filling may be very difficult due to whether the fracture was present before the start of the dental treatment or the root fracture occurred as a consequence of the treatment. Taking the concept of “no-fault insurance” into account, it is important to establish if the treatment per se leaves the patient in a situation where the status of the dentition has been deteriorated. Additionally, a retreatment would not possibly reestablish the patient’s tooth/dentition integrity and functionality (Fig. 9.2). Finally, four principles are used to distinguish between well-known complications to a particular treatment and injuries [2]:

Fig. 9.2

An example of a VRF of a canine involved in a bridge construction. The pin of the post is too short and the post space preparation sub-optimal; consequently, this region has been deteriorated. It is not possible to reestablish the tooth by an endodontic retreatment. Along the buccal surface of the root, the VRF is apparent (white arrow). An injury as shown would in the Nordic model be categorized as a type 3 case. This is based on the expectation that another specialist would have prepared a sufficient post space in order to avoid a suboptimal load on the canine

Would another specialist/dentist have done it differently?

Could another method have been used?

Is the injury caused by a technically inadequate procedure?

Must the patient tolerate more discomfort than the average patient?
To describe the content of the four principles, the following should be observed:

  • Ad 1. It is possible to think of a hypothetical GDP who would have chosen another treatment based on best evidence and by that avoided the injury.
  • Ad 2. It is possible to treat the patient with another method and achieve the same result but without the risk of injury.
  • Ad 3. For example, the injury is caused by an inadequate post space preparation (Fig. 9.2).
  • Ad 4. It is a well-known fact that treatment often implies discomfort. However, a nerve injury in relation to conventional endodontics would be anticipated as more discomfort than the average patient would experience.
In Sweden, a “no–fault” compensation system was also introduced, aimed to provide the patient the right to be compensated in case of treatment-related injury, regardless of whether the injury is related to a practitioner’s negligence or not [9]. However, the system can still pursue practitioners where they were responsible for medical negligence under tort law [2].
In cases where patients would like to appeal regarding the insurance system decision, they can do so by the Danish appeal board and later even bring that decision to a civil court [10].

Prevalence and Dental Areas of Malpractice Claims and Vertical Root Fractures

Should we expect vertical root fractures in conjunction with endodontic treatments? Facts are presented, indicating that the dentist needs to pay attention and awareness about this topic:

  • The frequency of root canal treatment has increased over the last decades [11], therefore the number of endodontically related malpractice claims are still a matter of concern.
  • Endodontically treated teeth are structurally more susceptible to root fractures [12].
  • From prevalence studies, vertical root fractures range between 8.9 and 10.9 % of the reasons for endodontic retreatments and extractions [13, 14].
  • From various observational studies world wide, root fillings are often of poor technical quality in a GDP environment [1517] rarely performed with the use of rubber dam [18, 19], and a high frequency of persistent periapical inflammatory lesions is noted. This complicates the history and diagnosis of vertical root fractures.
  • Nowadays, the molar is the most frequent tooth that receives endodontic treatment, and if only a few endodontic specialists are available to refer complicated cases to (as in countries without endodontic specialist training), malpractice claims are expected to reflect this situation and to a substantial part be associated with the results of defective root fillings and technical treatment complications.
  • Malpractice claims in relation to vertical root fractures are complex, as the cause of fracture may be due to several different causes, and typically the vertical root fractured tooth has been extracted prior to onset of complaint.

Prevalence of Dental Malpractice Claims

The prevalence of dental treatment-related malpractice claims seems to increase over the years, depending on the specific country being evaluated:
In Sweden, malpractice cases occurred in less than 1 case per 1,000 dentists, over the period from 1977 to 1983 [7]. However, in the USA, the number of malpractice cases per 1,000 dentists seems to increase over the years, from 11 to 27 malpractice cases in the period from 1988 to 1992 [20], and more recent studies from 2007 show that dentists with at least one filled claim increased from 27 per 1,000 dentists to 40 per 1,000 dentists in the USA [21].
In Denmark, the number of malpractice cases increased from 4 to 5 per 1,000 dentists, between 1995 and 2004 [8]. Dental malpractice claims evaluated per patient has been relatively constant over a the period from 1995 to 2004. However, in urban areas, the prevalence of claims was greater than the overall mean of the country (24.7 versus 13.1, respectively) [8]. A similar difference between urban and rural areas was reported also in Sweden [2, 7].
It can be concluded that regarding the claims prevalence, the medicolegal system varies between countries, and therefore direct comparisons are difficult to make, but in general complaints from patients about dental treatments are internationally rising [2].

Dental Areas of Malpractice Claims

Endodontic treatment–related claims are among the top three frequent reported complaint areas [2], and among specific causes for these complaints, are vertical root fractures [4].
Several subcategories of endodontic claims have been reported. Inadequate root filling quality is a major contributor to endodontics-related claims [8], Specifically, short root fillings appear’s to dominate. Iatrogenic root perforations represent another high-risk category followed by separated instruments. Also, the inappropriate use of outdated endodontic materials such as paraformaldehyde application was represented. In all reported cases in Denmark it led to a decision of malpractice [2, 8]. Altered nerve sensation following surgical and nonsurgical endodontic treatments is also associated with malpractice claims. A typical profile for a complaint of altered nerve sensation is a female patient having a second mandibular molar treatment associated with overfilling [22].

Vertical Root Fractures in Root Filled Teeth

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Nov 6, 2015 | Posted by in General Dentistry | Comments Off on Medicolegal Aspects of Vertical Root Fractures
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