Background

In Robinson v Ng, 1 the plaintiff’s claim related to a complicated molar extraction performed by a relatively inexperienced general dentist who, during the course of the procedure, unintentionally pushed part of the root of the tooth upward through the wall of the maxillary sinus where it became lodged. As a result, the plaintiff was required to undergo remedial surgery performed by a maxillofacial surgeon, and developed facial pain, osteomyelitis and Bell’s Palsy. The primary issue for the Court was whether the dentist had breached his duty of care to the plaintiff.

Decision

Based on the evidence presented at trial, the Court concluded that the dentist’s decision to continue with the tooth extraction, instead of aborting the procedure when the crown of the tooth broke, was not the action of a competent clinical practitioner. The Court considered that the dentist ought to have ceased the procedure at that point and referred the plaintiff to an oral surgeon or a more senior general dentist with greater surgical experience.

On the issue of causation, there was some argument as to whether the dentist’s treatment could have been the cause of the plaintiff’s Bell’s Palsy. Ultimately the Court found the temporal link between the dental treatment and the palsy symptoms to be persuasive and that it was more likely than not that the stress and trauma surrounding the dental treatment was sufficient to trigger the onset of the palsy, rather than the symptoms having developed coincidentally around the same time.