Background: There have been efforts to understand the epidemiology of iatrogenic harm in hospitals and primary care and to improve the safety of care provision. There has in contrast been very limited progress in relation to the safety of ambulatory dental care.
Objectives: To provide a comprehensive overview of the range and frequencies of existing evidence on patient safety incidents and adverse events in ambulatory dentistry.
Methods: We searched MEDLINE and EMBASE for articles reporting events that could have or did result in unnecessary harm in ambulatory dental care. We extracted and synthesized data on the types and frequencies of patient safety incidents and adverse events.
Results: Forty articles were included. We found that the frequencies varied very widely between studies; this reflected differences in definitions, populations studied, and sampling strategies. The main 5 PSIs we identified were errors in diagnosis and examination, treatment planning, communication, procedural errors, and the accidental ingestion or inhalation of foreign objects. However, little attention was paid to wider organizational issues.
Conclusions: Patient safety research in dentistry is immature because current evidence cannot provide reliable estimates on the frequency of patient safety incidents in ambulatory dental care or the associated disease burden. Well-designed epidemiological investigations are needed that also investigate contributory factors.