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Professional Issues Supporting Your Practice

How to avoid being sued?


Man giving thumbs up at dentist officeIn the latest issue of Dispatch (August/September 2014), the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (RCDSO) published a brochure for dentists on how to avoid being sued by patients.The brochure contains valuable information that could help dentists across Canada improve their relationship with patients and avoid the threat of legal action. Here is a brief summary.  

Download the two-page brochure (PDF)

The threat of a claim for professional negligence hangs over every Canadian health practitioner. Though an unfortunate reality in our society, there are things dentists can do to mitigate that threat. The following are tips for minimizing the risk of being on the receiving end of an action for dental malpractice.

Why do patients sue?

  • Contrary to popular mythology, the primary driver of lawsuits against health care providers is not money.
  • Providing timely, accurate and complete information about the circumstances leading to an injury may undercut one of the incentives for seeking legal redress.
  • Patients who believe their injuries were caused by ongoing systemic or endemic deficiencies may also look to the courts to help prevent similar incidents.
  • Patients may also be inclined to take legal action or launch complaints against health practitioners who attempt to deflect responsibility.
  • A pervasive theme found in medical and dental malpractice actions is the breakdown of the clinical relationship due to the practitioner’s poor communication style.
  • The key elements in establishing and maintaining a healthy, non-adversarial therapeutic relationship with a patient include:
    • Accurately representing professional qualifications and credentials;
    • Acknowledging and, where appropriate, validating the patient’s concerns;
    • Showing respect for patient autonomy by informing the patient about the benefits, limitations and risks of any proposed treatment;
    • Ensuring that treatment recommendations are based solely on the patient’s best interests;
    • Taking the time to listen to and answer the patient’s questions;
    • Recognizing, acknowledging and attempting to relieve the patient’s suffering, especially in case of an adverse clinical result.

Dispatch is the official publication of the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (RCDSO). You can read the current and past issues of the magazine, here.



  1. John Wilson November 19, 2014

    Good common sense recommendations

    1. Don Allen November 25, 2014

      It is interesting that a lot of complaints are Dentist driven. I recently had a complaint that was obviously penned with a great deal of help from another Dentist. A lot of creative writing along with a lot of false accusations.

  2. Pasquale Duronio November 25, 2014

    Prevention is all good and well, however, many dentists have been sued because of comments made by other dentists or specialists. We should all remember the golden rule of Arthur Lampe. “If you weren’t present watching as the work was being done and you were not able to hear the entire conversation between the clinician and the patient, you have no right to criticize.”

  3. EWong November 29, 2014

    A great topic arrived in a timely manner. No one is perfect but ability to admit mistake and demonstrate empathy are characters clinican need to learn and does well. Thank you.


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