Hygienists Liability in a Dental Practice

Dental hygienists are hardworking professionals dedicated to providing excellent care to patients. However, hygienists are subject to liability when patients are harmed as a result of treatment or non-treatment. While dentists are sued for malpractice at a much higher rate, hygienists should consider carrying dental hygienist malpractice insurance.


According to the National Practitioner Data Bank, an average of 2,000 dentists are sued for malpractice every year. About 225 actions are taken against hygienists and assistants. Some of the top reasons hygienists are sued include failure to update medical histories, failure to detect oral pathology or periodontal disease, and injury to patients. However, CNA HealthPro estimates up to 80% of malpractice claims are not because of substandard dentistry but are related to money issues; the patient does not want to pay an outstanding bill or is angry over being turned over to a collection agency.

Hygienists are not always covered by a dentist’s professional liability policy (malpractice insurance). This is especially true if the hygienist is an independent contractor as opposed to a full-time employee. Many dental malpractice policies state that the hygienist is covered only if working under the “sole direction or supervision” of the dentist. If a hygienist is sued, a lawyer might try to show she was not working under a dentist’s direct supervision.

If a hygienist works for multiple dentists, or in other practice settings, she should confirm the coverage for each practice setting or location. Some dentists have unusually low liability limits which would expose the hygienist to liabilities above the limits of coverage. Additionally, a dentist’s malpractice insurance may not cover the hygienist if the dentist is not named in the lawsuit. Put another way, there is no insurance protection at all for a hygienist who is the sole party being sued.

Hygienists should always check with their employer to ascertain that the dentist has current professional liability policy and that it covers his or her employees.

The purpose of this article is to provide information, rather than advice or opinion.

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