Trick or Teeth: How to avoid dental rip-offs

5 ways to avoid dental scams

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - As the cost of health care continues to rise, Americans are searching for ways to save. That goal could prove difficult if a doctor is pushing for unnecessary or costly procedures. The National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association says we lose about $68 billion a year to health care fraud, including dental scams.

The most recent Gallup Poll numbers indicate 59 percent of Americans rate the honesty of dentists as high or very high. While the vast majority of dentists are indeed trustworthy, WBRC asked numerous Alabama professionals for signs your dentist might not be looking out for your best interests.

The dentist cannot fully and satisfactorily explain why you need a treatment.

The dentists surveyed by WBRC had different opinions about a number of different treatments including the necessity of fluoride treatments for adults or a nightguard to protect a person from teeth grinding. However, each agreed that a good dentist should be able to defend his or her professional opinions.

“I wouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. I wouldn’t be accusing them of anything but just say ‘hey can you explain that to me a little bit?’ If there is something legitimate, usually the dentist is going to be able to explain that and show it to the patient," said Dr. Thomas Dudney at Alabaster Cosmetic Dentistry.

You don’t trust the office staff.

A patient should feel free to ask questions of anyone from a hygienist to an office accountant. If your question is better directed towards someone else at the practice, the staff member should be able to point you towards the correct person without sounding like there is something to hide.

“In our office we just say ‘whatever you need is what you need,’” said Dr. Burton Gooch of Gooch Family Dental. “I think the level of comfort that patients have with our office, with our team, goes a long way.”

Your dentist and office staff do not take the time to listen to your needs.

If you are someone who just wants to get in and out of the dentist chair with a cleaning and minimal drilling, but your dentist constantly pushes an elective treatment and won’t hear you out, it could be a warning sign.

“We have patients all the time I know would benefit from veneers. We may say ‘hey it’s available,’ but we’re not pressuring anybody into doing something if they’ve shown no interest in doing it. Some people, their smile is very important to them. Other people, their teeth don’t look great but it doesn’t seem to bother them,” said Dr. Dudney.

Your mouth feels fine but the dentist insists on redoing a bunch of old fillings immediately.

“This has been one of the most discussed topics in dentistry,” one Birmingham area dentist told WBRC. “In 2009, the FDA reclassified dental amalgam (silver fillings) from a Class I (low risk) to a Class II (moderate risk) product. There is much more science behind it, but that should be enough evidence for now.”

“Doing things small is always going to be better for the patient,” countered Dr. Dudney. “Just because it’s a silver filling doesn’t mean it has to come out. I wouldn’t recommend taking out a silver filling unless I saw something obvious either in the mouth or on the x-ray.”

The dentist discourages you from seeking a second opinion or is reluctant to hand over your x-rays.

In the days of hard copy x-rays, it may have been more difficult to share images but in our digital world, most dentists have a way to share your records electronically. If you have moved practices, often the new dentist will want to take new x-rays but even still, your former doctor should not hesitate to send whatever the patient requests.

“There’s no reason they [the dentist] shouldn’t be able to give out the x-rays. If the dentist is confident in your treatment plan and a person wants a second opinion, they have a right to that. In fact I encourage that,” said Dr. Dudney.

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