When you hear the term dental malpractice, it doesn’t necessarily warm your heart with feelings of excitement and passion. When I first planned to become a dentist, I never imagined being the posterchild for law firms across the country as a lead dental expert witness. However, like many things in life, my career evolved based on experience.

The practice of dentistry is based on five ethical principles which include: To do no harm, To do Good, Respect for persons, Veracity, Beneficence, Justice. In this article, I will share with you the secrets, truths, and hard facts of how I became a dental malpractice expert witness and I’ll explain how many of the lessons and truths that built my career can also improve yours.

How I Became a Dental Expert Witness

I got my big break as a dental expert witness by a cold call. An attorney from another state called my office because they needed a dental expert witness in the fields of temporomandibular joint disorder and oral surgery. She found me because my clinical expertise is pretty unique.

As a general dentist I have multispecialty training in temporomandibular joint disorder, cosmetic dentistry,  sedation dentistry, and oral surgery. That’s unusual. It’s that breadth of specialties that gave me my big break. It’s what initially got me noticed as an expert to testify for dental malpractice cases.

My position as a lead dental expert witness, however, revealed several truths about law, healthcare, and life. These truths were philosophies which I applied routinely in my career and everyday life.

I’ve been fortunate to help both defendants and plaintiffs in many high-profile dental malpractice cases across the country. For a while, I didn’t notice a pattern to my mindset, nor could I articulate why it was different. However, over time it became more evident to me of why I was exceeding as a lead dental expert witness so well in comparison to my peers.

I discovered there were truths and habits that I built my career on. I believe these habits were the reason why I became the most successful dental expert witness in the nation, but the reality is they can apply to almost anyone or any career. Let’s discuss.

The Details are Irrelevant Without the Big Picture

dental expert witness and dental malpractice its about the big picture

Have you ever zoomed in on a photograph to the point where you can see individual pixels? It looks like a blurred mess. That’s the building block of a picture. It’s not until you zoom out that you can visualize that those pixels are a nose. Zoom out a little further and you might realize the pixels are a nose and eyes. And it’s not until you zoom out all the way that you can tell it’s Mickey Mouse’s face. Without the details in context of the larger picture, the pixels could have formed any cartoon.

The fact is many dental expert witnesses think with the lens zoomed in, as do experts of many fields. We focus on the details.

Many experts think that by presenting as many details as we can, it builds a case and makes us look impressive. That’s the biggest mistake a dental expert witness can make.

The details are important, yes, but its building a clear picture with those details is what matters for a case.

Details and technical jargon are where most dental expert witnesses go wrong. The details are meaningless without context. The jury needs to see the big picture and understand the emotional context before they can embrace the details.

  • Lesson #1: Keep details within context whenever possible


Every Situation has a Linchpin

Almost all dental malpractices cases are won because of a single indisputable fact. The key emphasis is on the word: fact. I realized this pearl very early on and built my entire dental-legal career on it.

Here’s what I mean. In any given dental malpractice case, dental expert witnesses uncover a slew of findings in the medical record review. There’s some details that are incidental, some that are speculative, but usually one or two facts that undeniably are indisputable. Whichever side identifies the strongest indisputable facts and anchors their case to them typically wins.

Sounds simple right? Well it should be, but you’d be surprised how many opposing counsels get bogged down in the details. It’s not their fault. Dental expert witnesses are great at regurgitating the details of the case, but not at distilling them down to what really matters.

There are details of every case that are speculative. They could have happened, they could be against the standard of care, and they could be negligent. However, “could” is not easily proven. The key to a good dental expert witness is to find the facts that support that case. These facts drive the case forward. Everything else is a distraction.

This applies to my life as much as in my dental expert witness career. In life, there are numerous things that happen. I’ve realized I’m most successful when I accept the things I can’t change and focus on the things I can.

  • Lesson #2: Eliminate distractions. Every situation has a linchpin. Find it, and don’t ever let it go.

Stack the Blocks

Professional growth is like stacking blocks. As a dental expert witness, the way we are judged is by our curriculum vitae. However, it doesn’t tell the whole story. There are more important factors than a list of achievements. When you look at my CV, it’s one of most comprehensive skillsets of all dentists in the US.  Yes, I’m proud of that, but here’s the deal: That’s the result; It’s not the process.

When it comes to being a successful dental expert witness, a person’s character is equally important to their expertise. Character doesn’t particularly show on a CV. A curriculum vitae might indicate a dedication to the field, maybe even persistence, but it doesn’t show the charisma of working under pressure or the ability to articulate the complex into the simple.

I have found the most successful people have a foundation of strong character, and then they consistently stack experience and expertise on top. That’s how you build a remarkable career.

  • Lession #3: Be of authentic, be strong-willed, and then gain experience consistently

Pass When the Shot is Difficult

good dental expert witnesses pass on unjustified dental malpractice cases

If you’ve ever watched an elementary school basketball game, you understand that success is all about positioning. All elementary school basketball players share one fault: they are prone to force a shot or try to score when the defense is difficult. If the shot isn’t there, professional basketball players are much more likely to pass or maneuver into a better position.

The basketball analogy is true of many circumstances in life. When we force things, that’s when we volunteer for risk. It’s like saying, sign me up for a challenge. It comes down to seeing things the way they are and having the confidence to wait. There will always be a better opportunity. There always is.

What does this have to do with my success as a dental expert witness? A lot. If you google dental expert witness, you’ll notice that I’m a bit of an outlier for two reasons. I’m younger than most and I’m usually at the top of the google search. I say that not to boast but because the point is how I got there.

Why would that matter?

I don’t feel dependent. I serve as a dental expert witness not for income, but because of the underlying cause. Whenever you can decouple income and cause, that’s when magical things happen.

It’s common for dentists to become dental expert witnesses later in their career as a part-time career in retirement. I was able to build the breadth of my experience significantly earlier in my career.

I have a reconstructive dental practice, a medical device company, and I work as a healthcare journalist. It puts me in a position of taking on the dental malpractice cases I truly believe in. I’m able to turn down all the others.

Every month, law firms contact me as a dental expert witness. I do a preliminary review of each of their cases. If I feel I’m being retained by the losing side, I pass.

Passing on poor opportunities creates value. It built my reputation.

When my name is disclosed by a retaining law firm, it adds a factor of authenticity. The opposing party knows, I believe the case will win or that I can significantly limit any damages. That’s how I’ve developed an extraordinary track record. I’m not afraid to pass.

  • Lesson #4: Don’t force an opportunity when there’s a clear risk of loss

Wrapping Up: Dental Malpractice and serving as a Dental Expert Witness

When my dental peers first learned that I was a dental expert witness, many of them would ask how to get into it. I would tell them exactly how I did it, what I read, and how I started marketing myself. Do you know how many of them ended up serving as a dental expert witness? Go ahead, you can guess. Zero.

I think this speaks to the final universal truth that I’ve learned since becoming a dental expert witness for dental malpractice cases. Sometimes knowing how to do something is not enough. Many of my peers are equally as capable but didn’t succeed as a dental expert witness. There’s an additional factor that is required to do anything. For lack of a better word, most studies call it “grit.”

Grit means that you’re willing to find a way to succeed even when the path isn’t clear or when there’s challenges in the way. It means seeing things the way they are. It means never losing sight of the end goal.

For me, I knew I authentically wanted to help prove justice for dental malpractice cases. That became an identitiy.

I don’t know why my peers didn’t follow through with becoming a dental expert witness after expressing interest. I just know why I did. Being a powerful dental expert witness was an identity that I envisioned for myself. It became an authentic version of my identity.

  • Lesson #5: In a service business, if you want to stand out, you need to stand for something. A service business is an identity business.