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Dental Injury and Workers’ Compensation: What You Need To Know

California Workers’ Compensation Law allows for Dental Injuries.  Dental Injuries can have a significant impact on a worker’s ability to perform their job.   Dental Injuries can impact on an Injured Worker’s ability to perform Activities of Daily Living.  Dental Injuries can require expensive medical treatment.  

This article discusses work-related dental injuries.  The article will address issues of industrial causation for dental injuries, treatment for dental injuries, and permanent disability relating to industrially-related dental injuries.

Why is Workers’ Compensation Dental Treatment different from other Dental Treatment?

Access to Dental Treatment is unique. Unlike regular health insurance, many people do not have ready access to a dentist or have dental insurance.  Therefore, Injured Workers who have industrially-related dental issues may have to rely upon the workers’ compensation system for their dental treatment.

Dental Workers’ Compensation Treatment is unique in another sense. While other forms of dental insurance may have deductible or co-payment associated with it, workers’ compensation insurance pays 100 percent of the bill.

How Does One Have a Work-Related Dental Injury? 

Work-Related Dental Injuries can occur in a variety of ways.  These mechanisms of work-related dental injuries can range from specific injuries to cumulative trauma injuries. It is also not uncommon that Dental Injuries arise as a compensable consequence to an underlying industrial injury.

What is a Specific Dental Injury? 

A Specific Dental Injury usually occurs when there is some form of head trauma.  This can happen when there is a blow to the head or face.  These can occur as a result of a physical assault or being struck in the face by an object.   Sometimes, people can walk into a stationary object such as a glass door or wall and sustain a dental trauma.

What is a Cumulative Trauma Dental Injury?

A Cumulative Trauma Dental Injuries usually occur as a result of stress which can cause clenching or grinding of the teeth.   Teeth Clenching or Grinding can cause dental problems such as Temporomandibular Joint Disorders which are also known as TMJ or TMD.

What is a Compensable Consequence Dental Injury?

Compensable Consequence Dental Injuries can involve dental complications which can occur generally two ways.   Dental complications can arise from teeth clenching or grinding.   Also, dental complications can arise out of the taking of medications which can be damaging to the teeth.

Industrial Clenching of the Teeth can occur due to clenching because of pain or by stress. For example, someone suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from witnessing a shooting may start to clench their teeth. Sometimes, individuals who suffer from severe orthopedic pain may start clenching their teeth as a response to their experiencing pain.

Compensable Consequence Dental Injuries can also arise out of taking medications for other industrially injured body parts.   Frequently, Injured Workers take medications that can have harmful effects on one’s teeth. Some medications can cause damage to teeth.  Other medications can cause dry mouth which is also known as xerostomia.   Xerostomia is essentially dry mouth. This is caused by reduced or absent saliva flow.  Common problems from xerostomia can include a constant sore throat, burning sensation in the throat, difficulty speaking and swallowing, hoarseness and/or dry nasal passages. Xerostomia is an original hidden cause of gum disease and tooth loss.  Xerostomia can contribute to cavities.

Dry Mouth can be a work-related injury.  For example, Injured Workers who suffer from orthopedic injuries may be prescribed medications that may cause xerostomia.  Also, there are psychiatric medications that can cause xerostomia as well.

What are Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMJ)?

The Temporomandibular Joint is a hinge that connects the jaw to the temporal bones of the skull.  They allow a person to talk, chew and yawn.  TMJ is also referred to as a Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD.)

TMJ can be caused by a variety of ways.   It can be caused by a heavy blow or whiplash.  It can be caused by grinding or clenching of the teeth.  It can be caused by stress which causes an individual to tighten their facial and jaw muscles.

What are TMJ Complaints?

TMJ Complaints may include the following:  Facial Pain, Headaches, Pain while opening and closing the mouth, Noises when opening and closing the mouth, Clenching and/or Grinding of the teeth. Pain while chewing, or bite feeling misaligned.

What are TMJ Symptoms?

TMJ Symptoms can involve severe pain and discomfort.  The symptoms can include Pain or Tenderness in the Face, Pain in the Jaw Joint Area, Pain in the Neck and shoulders. It can include pain and in or around the Ear when chewing, speaking, or opening the mouth wide.

TMJ Symptoms can include problems when one tries to open their mouth wide.   It can include the jaws getting stuck or locked in an open or closed-mouth position.  It can include clicking, popping and grating sounds in the jaw joint when the mouth is opened or closed.   It also can occur when chewing.  There may or may not be pain during this popping and grating.  Symptoms can include feeling tired in the face, trouble chewing, having a sudden uncomfortable bite, and swelling on the side of the face.

Other Symptoms can include:

  • Toothaches
  • Headaches
  • Neck aches
  • Dizziness
  • Earaches
  • Hearing problems
  • Upper Shoulder Pain
  • Ringing in the Ears

It is very important that an Injured Worker see a Dentist who specializes in TMJ/TMD treatment to get a proper diagnosis.

Have Dental Injuries Been Litigated? Is there Caselaw concerning Dental Injuries? If So, What is it Concerning?  

Yes.  Dental Injuries can be a source of litigation.  Dental Care’s significant cost provides a tremendous incentive on behalf of Insurance Companies to seek to limit the nature and extent of dental treatment.

In Warfield vs. Wackenhut 2011 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 455 (Panel Decision), the WCJ issued her decision in which she found that reasonable treatment for the applicant’s industrial dental injury was dental implants, the current standard of care. The WCJ ordered the defendant to provide said treatment. (Note: Dental Implants are expensive and require significant dental care to provide.)

Can There be Permanent Disability relating to Dental Injuries?

Yes. There are impairments within the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, 5th Edition, which relate to dental injuries. The impairments can relate to mastication, speech/hoarseness/oral dryness, pain, facial palsy, and trigeminal neuralgia.

The AMA Guides considers Activities of Daily Living when assigning impairments.  Examples of ADLs which can be impacted by Dental injuries can include how one brushes their teeth, how one is able to eat, how one is able to speak, how one is able to taste, and how one is able to sleep.

Where Can I Get Legal Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding your workers’ compensation claim, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 26 years. Contact us today for more information.


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