According to the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association, there are more than 31,000 dental hygienists in Canada, representing the sixth largest health profession in the country. And there is always demand for their expertise and services. As our population continues to grow, so does the need for dental care. Good oral health reduces the risk of many diseases, including endocarditis (inflammation of the inside lining of heart chambers and valves), stroke, and heart disease.

These oral health professionals work as part of a dental team, providing preventive dental care and promoting good oral hygiene practices to their patients. From performing dental cleanings, oral health assessments, and taking X-rays to applying preventative treatments and providing periodontal care, their primary focus is helping their patients maintain optimal oral health and prevent dental problems.

A dental hygienist with a young patient.

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There’s always a risk of making a mistake or injuring a dental patient. Although many dental hygienists have some liability protection through their employers, it may not offer complete protection from liability claims and lawsuits. It’s highly recommended that dental hygienists protect their careers and finances with a medical malpractice insurance policy.

What Liability Risks Do Dental Hygienists Face?

Also known as professional liability insurance, medical malpractice insurance for dental hygienists shields these professionals from the liability risks and claims they face. 

While the specific insurance requirements may vary depending on your jurisdiction and employer, here are a few common risks dental hygienists may face:

  • Treatment Errors: Dental hygienists perform various procedures and treatments, including cleanings, examinations, X-rays, and preventive care. There is always a possibility of errors or omissions during these procedures, such as inadequate cleaning, missed procedures, or accidental injury.
  • Infection Control Issues: Dental hygienists are responsible for maintaining strict infection control protocols to prevent the spread of diseases and ensure patient safety. However, a breach in infection control practices, such as improper sterilization of instruments or failure to follow established protocols, could lead to potential patient harm and subsequent claims.
  • Patient Communication and Documentation: Clear communication with patients and accurate documentation are essential aspects of dental hygiene practice. However, misunderstandings, miscommunication, or incomplete or inaccurate documentation can create potential risks. You could be sued if a patient alleges that there was a failure to communicate treatment risks, obtain informed consent, or maintain proper records.
  • Allegations of Negligence: Patients may make allegations of negligence or substandard care against dental hygienists. That includes claims of delayed diagnosis, failure to detect oral health issues, or improper advice or guidance.

6 Ways Dental Hygienists Can Reduce Their Liability Risks

Here are six ways a dental hygiene professional can lower their liability risks and avoid being entangled in expensive claims or lawsuits:

1. Maintain Accurate Patient Records

Keeping thorough records of patient assessments, treatments performed, recommended oral care instructions, and any communication with patients can serve as evidence of the care provided and support your defence in any claims or disputes.

2. Adhere to Established Standards of Care

Follow appropriate infection control protocols, use proper techniques during treatments, and stay up to date with the latest research and guidelines.  

3. Engage in Continuing Education

Continuing education and professional development are essential for dental hygienists to stay updated with the latest advancements, techniques, and best practices. By enhancing your knowledge and skills, you can provide high-quality care and reduce the risk of errors that could lead to liability claims.

4. Communicate with Your Patients

Clear and effective communication with your patients is vital for reducing liability risks. Listen to patient concerns, thoroughly explain treatments, risks, and benefits, and obtain their consent before performing any procedures. Encourage your patients to ask questions and voice their concerns. Doing so consistently helps establish trust with your patients, minimizes misunderstandings, and reduces the likelihood of dissatisfaction or claims.

5. Collaborate with Your Dental Team

Maintain open lines of communication with your colleagues, share information, and coordinate care to ensure you provide your patients with the treatment they need. 

6. Get Medical Malpractice Insurance

Medical malpractice insurance provides financial protection against legal claims or lawsuits related to your services. It helps cover your legal costs, damages, and other expenses associated with patient liability claims.

How to Protect Your Dental Hygienist Career

Getting the medical malpractice insurance you need through Zensurance to protect your career as a dental hygienist is quick and easy (and far less painful than having a cavity filled).

Fill out our online application for a free quote. Our licensed brokers will shop our partner network of over 50 Canadian insurance providers to find the low-cost policy you require and customize it to suit your needs.

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About the Author: Shelly Petrie

Shelly Petrie is a Team Lead, Digital Solutions Team, Zensurance.