Oral Cancer: Risk Management Considerations

Due to the increasing public concern regarding oral cancer, it is important for dentists to be aware of proper patient assessment and documentation procedures so that they may provide timely and proper treatment to their patients.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that oral pharyngeal cancers affect around 30,000 people per year in the United States, with around 8,000 of those cases resulting in death. A good deal of malpractice claims against dentists in the United States involve oral cancer cases.

For every dental practice, correct patient assessment is the first step in minimizing any risk to future legal entanglements. When assessing a patient and planning a treatment strategy, dentists should first carefully review the patient’s medical history to note any predisposing oral cancer factors. Next, a comprehensive oral evaluation should be completed.

This full examination should be followed with a review of oral radiographic images in order to note any potential abnormalities in the bones and dentition of the patient.

Properly documenting the patient assessment is just as important as accurately assessing the patient. In order to satisfy the basic standard of care, all dentists are required to perform these evaluations and note all the results from the examination in the patient’s permanent record.

In cancer cases, it is crucial that a treating dentist contact the patient’s oncologist to determine if any special precautions should be taken for the patient before and after undergoing medical treatment, such as chemotherapy. It is also essential that the medical history dictated in the patient’s record include information regarding whether or not the patient has undergone such medical treatment.

Dentists must carefully follow all procedures in the practice in order to help them avoid legal pitfalls. Properly assessing and examining the patient and documenting the patient’s record will not only keep the dentist out of legal trouble, but it will also provide the patient with positive dental care service.