Dental Professional vs. Dental Expert Witness: What’s the Difference?

Jeff Rabinowitz

Post Publish Date

June 22, 2021

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When you’re representing either party in a dental malpractice suit, the testimony of a dental expert can provide invaluable support for your argument. But a dentist who works in clinical practice isn’t always guaranteed to be an effective witness, even if they’re extremely good at their job. So what separates a dental expert witness from other dental professionals?

I’ve provided informed second opinions and case analyses for many malpractice suits, so I’ve had plenty of time to learn what qualities (and qualifications) define successful dental expert witnesses. Below, I’ll explain what separates a suitable dental expert witness from other practitioners so you can find the support you need for your next case.

How Are Dental Expert Witnesses Different From Dental Professionals?

Here’s the bottom line: every dental expert witness should be a dental professional, but not every dental professional will make a reliable dental expert witness. That’s because “dental professional” is a much broader category, including people who work in a practice but don’t actually have specialized knowledge. In addition to dentists, dental professionals can include:

  • Dental hygienists, who are often responsible for cleaning patients’ teeth and gums.
  • Dental therapists, who typically provide dental education and may sometimes perform limited clinical dental services under a dentist’s supervision.
  • Dental nurses, who provide assistance and support to a dentist and their team.
  • Dental technicians, who construct dental appliances according to prescriptions written by dentists.

All of these positions are responsible for useful functions within a dental practice, but none of them actually practice dentistry. That means they won’t have the same clinical and academic knowledge that a dental specialist has, making them unsuitable as dental expert witnesses.

Can Any Dental Specialist Be a Dental Expert Witness?

Unfortunately, finding a reliable dental expert witness isn’t even as simple as hiring a dental specialist. Even a dentist with years of clinical experience may not be a suitable expert witness for your case.

Dental malpractice suits can fall into numerous categories, so it’s critical to hire a dental expert witness whose professional knowledge and qualifications are directly relevant to the case at hand. Malpractice suits commonly revolve around any of the following issues:

  • Alleged misdiagnosis or standard of care problems
  • Alleged failure of restorative treatments, crown and bridge work, prosthodontics, or cosmetic procedures
  • Alleged failure of dental implants
  • Alleged complications from endodontic, root canal, or periodontal procedures
  • Alleged nerve injuries after oral surgeries like wisdom tooth removal, root canal therapy, and bone grafts
  • TMJ, trigeminal neuralgia, or occlusal (bite) problems

Unless you happen to be an experienced dentist yourself, it can be easy to forget that dentistry is an extraordinarily diverse field of medicine. Your client will be much better off if you retain a dental expert witness whose specific experience provides direct insight into the issues your case is focused on.

What’s the Criteria for Choosing a Strong Dental Expert Witness?

In addition to specializing in the type of dentistry related to your case, your ideal dental expert witness should possess several other characteristics. Here’s a quick list of what I normally recommend lawyers and their clients look for:

Years of Experience

Dentists who are new to their field don’t always make strong expert witnesses. A dental expert witness should have an ironclad understanding of how the type of dentistry relevant to your case has evolved over time. This knowledge can help them distinguish current definitions and standards from outdated ones that might no longer apply to the case at hand.

A Diverse Career

A strong dental expert witness will have in-depth knowledge of the issues pertaining to your case, but an ideal dental expert witness will also possess broad knowledge of general dentistry. The more your dental expert witness knows, the more credible their opinions will be.

One easy way to assess the breadth of a potential dental expert witness’s career is to look at where their experience comes from. Is it all from going to dental school and working in clinical practice, or is their expertise supplemented by knowledge gained during hospital residencies, fellowship training, additional certifications, and faculty appointments at well-recognized dental institutions?

Dento-Legal Knowledge

You’ll also benefit from retaining a dental expert witness who has advised on similar malpractice suits before. Remember, a strong dental expert witness doesn’t just know dentistry—they can also communicate their knowledge in clear and compelling ways, in and out of court.

Your dental expert witness should be comfortable:

  • Analyzing and preparing cases
  • Writing reports
  • Providing strong testimony during depositions and trials

By hiring a dental expert witness with a long track record of success in these areas, you increase your client’s odds of achieving the outcome they want. Hiring a skilled dental expert witness can sometimes even help prevent a case from going to trial by resulting in a favorable settlement.

What’s the Criteria for Choosing a Strong Dental Expert Witness?

In addition to specializing in the type of dentistry related to your case, your ideal dental expert witness should possess several other characteristics. Here’s a quick list of what I normally recommend lawyers and their clients look for:

Years of Experience

Dentists who are new to their field don’t always make strong expert witnesses. A dental expert witness should have an ironclad understanding of how the type of dentistry relevant to your case has evolved over time. This knowledge can help them distinguish current definitions and standards from outdated ones that might no longer apply to the case at hand.

A Diverse Career

A strong dental expert witness will have in-depth knowledge of the issues pertaining to your case, but an ideal dental expert witness will also possess broad knowledge of general dentistry. The more your dental expert witness knows, the more credible their opinions will be.

One easy way to assess the breadth of a potential dental expert witness’s career is to look at where their experience comes from. Is it all from going to dental school and working in clinical practice, or is their expertise supplemented by knowledge gained during hospital residencies, fellowship training, additional certifications, and faculty appointments at well-recognized dental institutions?

Dento-Legal Knowledge

You’ll also benefit from retaining a dental expert witness who has advised on similar malpractice suits before. Remember, a strong dental expert witness doesn’t just know dentistry—they can also communicate their knowledge in clear and compelling ways, in and out of court.

Your dental expert witness should be comfortable:

  • Analyzing and preparing cases
  • Writing reports
  • Providing strong testimony during depositions and trials

By hiring a dental expert witness with a long track record of success in these areas, you increase your client’s odds of achieving the outcome they want. Hiring a skilled dental expert witness can sometimes even help prevent a case from going to trial by resulting in a favorable settlement.

Learn More About Hiring Effective Dental Expert Witnesses

As vital and valid as all dental professionals are, it takes much more than simply working in a practice to be an appropriate dental expert witness. Find out more about how to hire the ideal dental expert witness for your upcoming case by contacting me for a consultation.

Jeff Rabinowitz

After earning his Bachelors and Doctoral degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Rabinowitz completed residency training at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. He subsequently completed Fellowship training in Implantology and Periodontics at New York University and in Parenteral Conscious Sedation at St. Joseph and Brookdale Medical Centers. He established a multi-specialty group practice in Manhattan, he taught at Mount Sinai and he has pursued years of extensive advanced education programs and has maintained an active practice in implantology, complex restorative and prosthodontic care, periodontics, oral surgery, bone and soft tissue grafting, Invisalign and cosmetic dentistry. Dr. Rabinowitz holds a faculty appointment, teaching dental students at Touro College of Dental Medicine.

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