Teeth trauma main reason for claims against anaesthetists

More than half the claims against anaesthetists in a 10-year period were allegations of dental damage mainly caused by laryngoscopes.

That’s according to experts at the MDU (Medical Defence Union).

Medico-legal adviser, Dr James Armstrong, looked into 130 claims notified to the MDU by its anaesthetist members and dental damage was a factor in 76 claims with an average payout of around £1,500 plus costs.

Dr Armstrong said: ‘While most anaesthetists learn early in their careers about the risk of damaging teeth and dental work with a metal laryngoscope, difficult intubations cannot always be anticipated, and securing the airway quickly may sometimes have to take priority over the patient’s teeth, particularly in an emergency.

‘A laryngoscope is not always the culprit; we have seen a number of cases where dental damage has been caused by the patient biting down hard on an endo-tracheal tube or other airway device. In all cases the risks are greater where the teeth are already in poor condition.

He added: ‘The MDU advises members to record the details of every anaesthetic assessment, as well as any warnings given to the patients about the risk to their teeth. Any claim is assessed by the MDU on its merits and this may include scrutiny of the records to see if the case can be defended. Of course, if something has gone wrong and the patient’s teeth are damaged, the possibility of legal action should not preclude an apology and explanation of how the damage occurred. Simply saying sorry is not the same as an admission of liability.

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