Risk Management Tools & Resources


What Dentists Should Know About Medical Clearance


As people are living longer, it is likely that they will develop medical conditions over time that might be problematic for their dental care. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that dentists obtain, review, and update their patients’ health history at each visit. Dentists also should obtain complete medication lists from patients for all care, including routine oral healthcare.

Reviewing medical histories and medication lists is essential for patient safety as well as for avoiding any allegations of practicing below the standard of care. In some situations, dentists also might need to seek medical clearance from a patient’s healthcare provider before commencing dental treatment. Likewise, dentists occasionally are asked to provide dental clearance for a patient before medical treatment or surgery, such as cancer therapy, total joint replacement, or cardiac surgery.

MedPro’s insured dentists often ask questions about medical and dental clearance. To provide an easy reference, this article includes the most frequently asked questions from our insureds as well as answers from our experienced consultants in MedPro’s Risk Solutions Center.

What Is Medical Clearance?

Medical clearance is the communication between a dentist and the patient’s healthcare provider to validate and confirm that planned dental treatment is safe for the patient and to review possible changes to the patient’s medication regimen. This clearance may include laboratory tests, completion of a medical clearance form, and — in some cases — direct communication between the dentist and the healthcare provider.

When Is Medical Clearance Advised?

Medical clearance is advised whenever patients’ medical diagnoses and/or medications could compromise their safety for dental procedures, including risks related to sedation or anesthesia during the dental procedure. For example, dentists should seek medical clearance before dental treatment for patients who:

  • Use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device
  • Have been diagnosed with sleep apnea
  • Have any sort of pulmonary compromise
  • Have coronary artery disease with symptoms
  • Take anticoagulants
  • Use bisphosphonate (either intravenous or oral)

Dentists should use their best clinical judgment to determine the criticality of medical clearance.

How Should a Dentist Communicate With a Patient’s Healthcare Provider?

A dentist’s location and familiarity with a patient’s healthcare provider might determine how information is communicated. Smaller communities may allow for direct phone contact whereas others may require the dentist to send a form to the healthcare provider.

Regardless of the communication process, the dentist should document the results in the patient’s health record — either by documenting the conversation that took place or including the completed medical clearance form in the health record. Sample medical clearance forms are available on the internet for reference.

What Should a Dentist Communicate to a Patient’s Healthcare Provider?

The dentist should inform the healthcare provider about the planned dental treatment and use of local anesthetic (including the use of epinephrine), any anxiolytics, nitrous oxide, and/or any sedation.

The dentist also should specifically ask whether the patient is using any anticoagulants. If so, the dentist should ask the healthcare provider about the most recent international normalized ratio or prothrombin time and the provider’s interpretation of the stability of the blood tests. (Dentists should understand the appropriate range of the blood tests.) Additionally, the dentist might want to ask the healthcare provider for a recommendation regarding continuation of the anticoagulant.

Is It Acceptable to Rely on the Patient’s Interpretation of the Blood Tests for Anticoagulation?

No, in nearly all circumstances, a dentist should not rely on a patient stating that blood tests are stable or “okay” for dental care.

What Should a Dentist Do If a Healthcare Provider Does Not Follow Through With a Request for Medical Clearance?

MedPro strongly recommends that the dentist contact the healthcare provider’s office and ask to speak directly with the clinician. If the healthcare provider’s assistant is taking the message because the clinician is unavailable, the dentist should document the assistant’s name and title along with the message in the patient’s health record. It is the dentist’s prerogative to accept that message or insist on speaking to the clinician directly, depending on the patient’s health condition.

Has MedPro Group Had Malpractice Cases Involving Medical Clearance?

Yes, MedPro has had cases in which medical clearance was a factor. Most of these cases involved dentists who did not obtain medical clearances and patients who subsequently had adverse outcomes. Some cases involved anticoagulants, some revealed undisclosed pulmonary issues with a poor outcome after sedation, and some included patient cardiac arrest during treatment or grand mal seizure activity.

What Is Dental Clearance?

Dental clearance is communication between a healthcare provider and a patient’s dentist to validate that planned medical/surgical treatment is safe for the patient and to review the potential need for dental treatment before the medical/surgical treatment. This clearance may include a current dental examination as well as treatment and completion of a dental clearance form. In some cases, direct communication between the dentist and the healthcare provider may be necessary.

For Questions or More Information

To obtain assistance and recommendations from an experienced senior risk solutions consultant, MedPro-insured dentists may call MedPro’s Risk Solutions Center at 1-833-ASK-RISK (1-833-275-7475), email a request to AskRisk@MedPro.com, or schedule an appointment at www.medpro.com/dynamic-risk-tools (click on “schedule appointment with risk consultant”).

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