A dental expert witness provides testimony and information in legal proceedings on dentistry matters. As with all expert witnesses, dental expert witnesses explain concepts or interpret facts with knowledge that the average person does not possess. Used in both civil and criminal courts, dental experts usually testify about dental records, forensics, or other specialty areas in the field.
It is very common for dental expert witnesses to be called in civil malpractice cases. In these circumstances, the plaintiff’s attorney might call upon the witness to explain how another dentist’s actions were harmful. For instance, if the dentist did not follow proper treatment protocol or missed an obvious complication, the dental expert witness will explain this to the judge and/or jury. Conversely, the defense may use the expert to explain why the dentist acted properly or was not negligent. In either situation, each side trusts that the expert’s testimony carries enough clout to help win the case.
Dental expert witnesses also appear in civil court for larger cases involving product liability. In these cases, an injured party may sue a manufacturer or supplier of devices alleged to cause harm. A dental expert could testify for either side of the case by supporting the plaintiff’s claims with medical knowledge or by helping the defense show that no harm was caused.
Attorneys also employ dental expert witnesses in criminal trials. In cases where dental evidence is important, the witness will offer an expert opinion to try to sway the jury or judge. For instance, consider an assault trial where the alleged perpetrator bit the victim. The prosecutor would use the expert to compare dental records of the accused with the bite pattern. The defense also could use an expert to dispute the prosecutor’s witness, offer an alternative explanation of the incident, or claim that the injury was not severe.
In more complex criminal cases, a forensic dental expert, for example, may be called in to testify about human remains where identification of a victim is only possible through dental records. The expert may also recreate dental features, such as jaw structure, or help bolster an argument about cause of death based on autopsy results or crime scene evidence. Forensic dentist experts are highly specialized professionals; not every dental expert witness is qualified to testify on these intricate criminal matters.
While the term dental expert witness implies that the expert will testify in court, this is not always so. Some dental experts simply provide background information for attorneys or provide a written, sworn statement about the evidence in a case, or give testimony in an out-of-court deposition. The expert may also help police investigators build their case by suggesting specific lines of questioning. The expert also may provide dental examinations or interpret records, and attorneys will use the information in court without necessarily calling the dental expert to testify in person.
A person must first earn a dentistry degree to become a dental expert witness. Opposing attorneys often call qualifications and experience into question in order to undermine testimony, so dental expert witnesses must build a solid professional resume. Thorough and accurate testimony also is a requirement, as attorneys will use any previous dishonesty or inaccurate testimony to undermine the credibility of the dental expert.