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Malpractice Insurance for Dentists: Your Top Questions Answered

malpractice insurance for dentists

Insurance can be a complicated topic. What does malpractice insurance for dentists cover? Is it really required? And of course, how much is it going to cost you? Your profession is dentistry, not insurance. Luckily, Berxi can help.

In this article, you'll find answers to some of the most common questions about dental malpractice insurance, including why it's important, what it covers and doesn't cover, and how much it costs. You'll also get insight into common reasons that dentists like you are sued in the first place.

Your dental practice is critically important, and so are your insurance needs. This article can help you understand some of the factors to consider when choosing dental malpractice insurance.

What Is Malpractice Insurance for Dentists?

Dental malpractice insurance is a type of professional liability insurance designed specifically for dentists. It covers dentists for certain costs and damages associated with malpractice claims for alleged negligence leading to a patient’s injury, loss, or death. Examples include removing the wrong tooth, a crown falling off and needing to be replaced, a bad reaction to anesthesia, or an injury that results in a patient’s death.

Having dental malpractice insurance can’t stop a patient from filing a claim against you, but it can help you from bearing the costs that come with it. There can be enormous fees associated with defending yourself against a malpractice claim. Lost wages, attorneys’ fees, and possible settlement costs are just some of the expenses you could face due to a malpractice claim.

Dental malpractice insurance also gives you the chance to get ahead of claims. For example: Say you're supposed to pull a patient's tooth, but it breaks. Your patient needs to see a specialist and wants you to pay for it. You may be able to file an incident report with your malpractice insurance company. This way, the insurer can begin to seek a resolution, taking that stress and expense away from you.

Is Malpractice Insurance Required for Dentists?

Malpractice insurance is required to practice dentistry in most locations, although licensing regulations and insurance requirements vary by state. Laws and regulations can change overnight, so it’s important to check with your local dental board to see what the requirements for licensing are. Malpractice insurance plays a role in ensuring that both patients and dentists are treated fairly when mistakes happen.

Consider these dental statistics: According to the National Practitioner Data Bank, almost 6,600 dental malpractice payouts were made between 2018 and 2023, with 79 of these being for $1 million or more. Even on the smaller end, a dentist could be looking to pay out at least $50,000 or more.

What Does Dental Malpractice Insurance Cover?

Dental malpractice policies offer many different coverages.

But before diving into the specific features of a dental malpractice policy, it’s important to know a few terms you’ll likely run into when it comes to choosing a malpractice policy.

First, you’ll be asked to choose between a claims-made policy and an occurrence policy.

Claims-made coverage: covers incidents only if the claims were made against the insured during the policy period.

Occurrence coverage: covers incidents that happened during the policy period, even if the claim is made after the policy expires (even if the claim is made after you retire).

Second, you’ll need to select the limits of liability you need to adequately cover your financial exposure to a malpractice claim.

Limit of liability: the maximum amount of money you have available (i.e., per claim and/or per policy). The limits you choose may also depend on the type of dentistry you perform.

Now we dig into more detailed coverages you should expect from your dental malpractice insurance. Every policy and provider are different, so what one provides may not be offered by another. For example, in addition to dental malpractice (core coverage), a Berxi policy includes:

Board Action & License Protection Coverage

If the professional licensing authority is investigating matters related to your professional conduct, this insurance will provide you with a legal defense. Board actions typically come from complaints that are filed against a provider from one of their patients, but anyone, including state regulatory departments, can file a complaint with the board.

Defense Counsel & Legal Fees Coverage Outside the Limit of Insurance

Your insurer will retain an attorney experienced in dental malpractice to represent you. The insurance policy would then pay for the legal expenses and associated costs like court fees, expert witnesses, etc. Some policies, however, include these costs as part of your Limit of Insurance (which means the money spent defending you will reduce the Limit of Insurance that would be available for a settlement or judgment).

At Berxi, these defense costs are “outside” the limits of your insurance. This means that these fees don’t cut into the settlement amount you may need to pay the injured party. So, if you have a $1 million limit per claim and your legal fees cost $200,000, you still have $1 million to pay any settlements or judgments against you regarding that claim.

Good Samaritan Coverage

If you provide professional care to someone who is not your patient in an emergency situation, a policy with this coverage still covers you if that person later sues.

HIPAA Violation Defense Coverage

If you are investigated for potential HIPAA violations, a policy with this insurance will provide you with access to counsel and reimburse you for costs related to HIPAA proceedings — including HIPAA fines.

Peer Review Committee Coverage

This coverage applies to the expenses to defend a dispute, usually regarding treatment or billing decisions, that is brought by a dental peer review board or committee. The dispute might be between you and a patient, a third-party payer, or even your dental association.

Wage Loss/Deposition Expense Coverage

If you are asked to attend litigation activities (e.g., a deposition), a policy with this coverage will allow you to be reimbursed for actual lost wages and any necessary expenses you incur (e.g., travel, meals).

What Is the Most Common Reason Dentists Will Have a Malpractice Lawsuit Brought Against Them?

While a patient can make a dental malpractice claim for a variety of reasons, there are some that come up more often than others. Some of the most common reasons for dentists to be sued include:

  • Improper crown/bridge placement
  • Prescribing incorrect drugs or dosages
  • Improper tooth extractions
  • Endodontic procedures
  • Orthodontic treatment complications
  • Improper treatment after procedures
  • Failure to diagnose oral health issues
  • Dental anesthesia complications

This list is not exhaustive but rather highlights some of the events that dentists and dental professionals should consider when it comes to avoiding or mitigating their risk to dental malpractice claims.

How Much Is Malpractice Insurance for Dentists?

A variety of factors can influence the cost of malpractice insurance, including dental specialty, practice size and location, and malpractice claims history.

To get a sense of how specialty and practice location can affect costs, we compiled a few quotes for dental malpractice insurance from Berxi. Note that the prices reflect occurrence policies for dental professionals working full-time in the state of Massachusetts. Your rate may differ depending on where you practice, how many years of experience you have, how many hours you work, and what dental specialty you practice:

  • $100 for first-year dentists
  • Less than $2,100 for general dentists with less than 4 years of experience (significant discounts apply to new graduates for 3 years after graduation)
  • $2,100 for dentists 6 years out
  • $101 for hygienists
  • $3,465 for periodontists

You know that saying that “the best offense is a good defense”? Think of this annual insurance payment as lining up the best defense for your team. To understand how valuable this defense can be, compare it to the cost of the payouts from dental malpractice claims. From 2018 to 2023, more than a third of dental claims payouts were between $50,000 and $250,000. For a periodontist, that’s about 15 years’ worth of annual insurance dues paid out in one claim. But having a top-quality dental malpractice policy could help you get out in front of these costs, potentially keeping you from ever having to pay them.

Start your search today with a quote from Berxi and explore dental malpractice insurance coverage options that are best for you.

Final Thoughts

Now that you have answers to some of the most common questions about malpractice insurance for dentists, the next step is to assess which policy is best for your practice. Here are some things to consider:

  • Price. Keep an eye out for discounts that you may be able to apply, such as being a new graduate. It’s important to get quotes from several companies and compare what you pay against what you get. Buying from a direct-to-customer company could save you 15% year after year.
  • Coverage. Think about the risks that your dental practice faces on a daily basis, and look into policies that would cover those risks.
  • Claims. As a professional you work as diligently as possible, but sometimes patients will still file a complaint. And in that case, you want a team that truly has your back. At Berxi, for example, we have real team members assigned to claims who get to know you as a professional as well as a customer.
  • Financial strength & reputation. Look into the reputation, trustworthiness, and financial strength rating of the provider before making your final decision.
  • Ease & accessibility. Can you quote, buy, and get proof of insurance all online? What about renewals? Think about how easy it is to get ahold of support or the claims team when you have questions that can’t be answered elsewhere. Choosing insurance is not just about the policy you’re buying, but it’s the experience of the buying and managing process that should also be considered. Explore Berxi’s malpractice insurance for dentists, supported by a team rated 4.87/5 stars by customers.

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Last updated on Mar 04, 2024.

Originally published on Mar 04, 2024.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berxi™ or Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company. This article (subject to change without notice) is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute professional advice.

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