Dentist Scams

Dentist Scams


Almost 10 years ago I was sitting in the patient's chair with my mouth full of my dentist's activity while I listened to him give one of his lectures on dentistry. He was a real character, making us a bit uneasy with his slightly bumbly, fumbly old man ways while charming us with his enthusiasm and wealth of knowledge in dentistry and many related fields. He usually gave useful advice for "what if" scenarios, such as what happens if the economy goes to pot, you're moneyless and need antibiotics. So what options would one have? He suggested going to the animal feed store, the place where farmers go for bulk supplies, and say you've got a calf about the weight of the patient (you or family member, for example) that needs antibiotic. He said you could get the exact same product in terms of safety and effectiveness as the much more expensive antibiotic purchased at your local pharmacy.

This particular lecture on this particular day was distinctly different in character: he warned of scams dentists were learning at none other than professional conferences on dentistry. He said that he had attended dentistry conferences for decades and noticed a strong trend in recent years in the inclusion of topics to improve income. Some of the more recent presentations included blatantly unethical and even fraudulent methods of convincing the patient that nonexistent dental problems exist: fabricating stories that cavities or other problems needing immediate attention.

I sat and listened to this fairly incredible conspiracy theory type lecture with interest as I had regarding his lecture on the conspiracy to cover up the mold problem making a substantial portion of the population in the Pacific Northwest sick. The mold story was interesting enough to me to check some facts. I wasn't sufficiently motivated relative to other time use priorities in my life, but skimmed the surface on the mold topic in Oregon and found much evidence supporting my dentist's claims, but not enough to be conclusive. My take-away on the topic is that I should be on guard, especially where I spend the majority of my time (home and work), for certain common molds that are known to be health risks in the area.

The dentist scam topic did not come to mind again until a few years later when my dentist's office sent a form letter to me and other patients announcing his retirement. I was sorry to hear he was retiring since I had gradually become fond of him and his provocative stories. And then there was the issue of finding a new dentist. His office had compiled a list of dentists each of which only required a conveniently short trip for each patient. That was quite thoughtful and I appreciated the help. However, they understandably could not rate each dentist on the list. This lack of endorsement triggered the memory of the lecture on dentist scams. But I didn't dwell on it, and my new dentist was on the top of the prepared list of convenience.

After the first or second visit to my new dentist, let's call him "dentist two," he identified a cavity that he implied needed immediate attention. Since my previous dentist had repeatedly told me I had particularly cavity resistant teeth due to minerals in the water in the artesian well I drank from as a kid, I suspected that I did not have a cavity that needed immediate attention. I casually asked about the current condition and likely rate of continued decay if I were to be vigilant about giving the associated tooth proper care. He seemed to somewhat reluctantly respond that the enamel was still in tact and perhaps would hold indefinitely, but we probably shouldn't take any chances. I then asked what did he think about maybe taking a "wait and see" approach, to keep an eye on how this beginning of a cavity might progress over time? He seemed a little more nervous to me at this point, and agreed we could keep an eye on it. This same conversation repeated itself over the next few semiannual visits with no change in the tooth. Finally, my dentist stopped bringing up this topic. I had no problems with my teeth.

Then, dentist two was out of the office on my next routine semiannual visit. In his place was a woman who shared the practice with him, dentist three. She was not very talkative. A full set of x-rays were produced. She silently had her back to me looking at x-rays I could not see and occasionally made grunt or tisk sounds showing general negative judgment responses. Then she announced that I had at least 12 cavities. She said there were multiple cavities in a wisdom tooth that, because of the locations, would nearly certainly fall out quite often and would have to be repeatedly replaced. She implied that she judged this as being quite an unfortunate fate for me, but it needed immediate attention so as not to suffer more dire consequences such as loss of all the associated teeth.

I asked for her to point these out on the x-rays. She seemed reluctant, but showed a tooth that looked OK to me, but I'm not a dentist. She did not show me the others, but pressed me for setting dates for starting the work. I expressed my surprise to hear this news since I have had no cavities all my life, have had no dental work and other than one pit in one tooth her colleague had pointed out years ago (which had not changed in years), it seemed quite unusual to me that without change in diet, lifestyle or anything else I was aware of, that such a dramatic change could take place. She pretty much shrugged off my skepticism.

I decided to get a second opinion. I asked around and found a well recommended dentist (we'll call him dentist four), made an appointment and was told I needed to contact the office of dentist two to get my x-rays sent over to dentist four. After many months of constant attempts to get the x-rays sent, after filling out permission forms multiple times, lot's of unanswered phone calls, etc. a fraction of the x-ray set was sent. The fraction that was sent, was offset, so that nearly half of the image was cropped. In other words, they did not really send the x-rays they had taken, but just a tiny bit that was mostly not useable. Hmm, that seems a bit odd...but quite consistent with a scam artist trying to cover up a scam....well in any case, I just wanted a second opinion. My teeth felt fine, so I had no discomfort motivating me, but rather it had been nearly a year since my last cleaning, so wanted to at least tend to that.

By now, dentist four had left the practice to his former colleague, dentist five. So now dentist five suggested that maybe we should simply give up and make a new set of x-rays, in part because enough time had passed to potentially make the old ones out of date. After viewing the fresh set of x-rays, dentist five gave me a clean bill of teeth health with no cavities. I brought up that dentist three said I had at least 12 cavities. Dentist five very calmly responded that x-rays can be misinterpreted and that dentists can also misinterpret discoloration due to eating things like blueberries. At the end of this visit, my teeth had been well cleaned and I was relieved to know I that not only would I not have the hassle of having fillings put it and fall out with great frequency, but I still had no need for any dental work whatsoever.

Then after a few visits, dentist five pointed out some quite worn areas of the enamel of a few teeth. I asked what could cause this wear. He responded that simply using too much pressure while brushing is typically the cause. No one had ever told me this before. I asked how long it typically takes to cause this takes dentists have been seeing the results of me causing damage to my enamel using too much pressure while brushing for YEARS and never bothered to say, "Hey, you might want to use a lighter touch when you brush because I see some signs of wear here and over time this could cause the enamel to be weakened to the point of making the tooth weak here, thus vulnerable to more severe damage." Nope, none of my dentists pointed that out. So, if I had never asked, I would have continued to brush with too much pressure to the point of certain severe damage of the effected five said we should schedule an appointment for him to add some cement on the effected areas. Years before I would be very cooperative with such suggestions, but at this point I was not feeling cooperative. I asked "what if I brush lightly from now on and we just wait and see?" We've repeated this conversation continuously, including during my most recent visit. At this point, perhaps I am taking chances that worst things will happen, but I frankly trust those chances more than I do dentists.

Because of the experiences with at least dentist three (12+ cavities not really there) if not the others, I am very thankful for my old dentist's lecture on dentist scams. I really miss my old dentist.

I hope his lectures can help you, too.