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Dentistry in the News: “Is Your Dentist Ripping You Off?”

Is this your dentist’s favorite move?

I recently read an article posted on Yahoo entitled “Is Your Dentist Ripping You Off?”

I think I’m supposed to be upset that the author could accuse my profession of such a thing. I wasn’t. I actually found the article to be reasonable and well thought out.

The author explains that his friend is going to need some dental work:

“Cost of the crowns: $1,395 apiece. Cost of foundation fillings, or ‘cores’ to put the crowns on: $326 apiece. Total bill, if you’re scoring at home: $3,442.”

The take home message here is “dentistry is expensive.” I can’t argue with that. That’s a lot of money to spend on a couple of teeth. The author went on to explain that this particular dentist was expensive for his region. The author called the office to ask why this they charged so much more and he seemed irritated at the response he got:

“The office assistant told me ‘not all dentists are created equal,’ and of course, this dentist is one of the best in the area, using a great lab.”

Perhaps he is an awesome dentist. As long as the friend of the author is O.K. with the fee the dentist is charging, I’m not 100% sure why the author cares. It seems that the author is using this particular situation to explain that dentistry is expensive. He goes on to ask the most important question in his whole article:

“But how can someone who is not a medical professional know if their dentist is worth their fees?

The author goes on to suggest some very useful and common sense ideas about how to evaluate if you’re getting the most for your money at the dentist’s office. My favorite point that he makes is about prevention:

“Prevention saves a boatload of money. Brush, floss, and use your fluoride rinse…”

Readers of this blog know that I completely agree. Prevention can keep costs down better than anything else. If you’re having dental professionals clean and evaluate your teeth on a regular basis it’s much easier to catch problems when they’re small. But what if you’ve already ended up needing some work? What if you’re too late for prevention?

This is reality for a lot of folks. Many people have stayed away from the dentist because they perceive that they can’t afford to have their teeth fixed and/or they are afraid of the dentist. Unfortunately once you’ve stayed away for awhile the cost of fixing things usually goes up. Further, dental insurance is not very much like health insurance. Dental insurance limits the amount that they will pay for in any given year. If you’ve been away for awhile your insurance will only help so much. So either you’re going to be paying significant amounts out of pocket or you’re going to do a little bit this year, a little bit next year and so on. Further, dental insurance won’t cover all treatments. They usually cover whatever fixes a problem most cheaply for them. They don’t take into account what may be better for the patient in the long run. (think dental implants vs. bridgework)

What you need is a relationship with your dentist. You need to trust the dentist’s diagnosis and you need to trust the dentist’s motives. You need to be able to let the dentist diagnose your problems and recommend treatment, but also you need to be able to let the dentist know what your financial limitations are. I read some of the many comments from readers about the article. Many of them were like this one:

“I don’t trust them either…went to the dentist for a cleaning…was told that I had a couple of cavities (understandable) and that my “bite was off.” What does that mean? I ask…your bite is uneven (side to side, not an over or underbite) and can lead to other problems down the road. Hours and hours and a couple thousand dollars later, nothing feels different at all. I got up sold like I was buying a car!”

It made me cringe to read some of the comments. So much of the anxiety and pain that these people go through could be avoided. If you’re not sure that your dentist has your best interests at heart, you need to ask. Let the office know! If you’re skeptical of the dentist’s diagnosis you need to get another opinion before treatment is started or perhaps you just need to find another dentist. Further, you need to require that your dentist’s office explains the costs of treatment to you before starting treatment. You shouldn’t be surprised by a bill. So much of our problem with health care in this country is caused by patients not making the decisions about how their health care dollars are spent. If you’re only finding out how much you owe for treatment after it’s done…it’s too late!

I was bracing to not like this article. I thought it was quite well thought out. It brings up a lot of good points and most importantly it reminds us that we need to have a relationship with our dentist and their office. If you don’t feel like you can ask questions and that you’re not being taken care of properly you need to find another dentist.

Questions of comments about this post? Do you have any questions you’d like to ask a dentist? Feel free to contact me at alan@meadfamilydental.com or call the office at (989) 799-9133. We’re always taking new patients and would love to be your Saginaw dentist!