Unfortunately all industries are plagued by fraud and dentistry is no different says Santa Ana dentist Dr. Danial Kalantari of Smiles on Bristol Dentistry. Because dentistry requires a certain amount of expertise, some dentists take advantage of people’s lack of knowledge and will try to exploit it for profit. At Smiles on Bristol, we want you to know the signs of dental scams so you can find a dentist that is truly looking out for your best interests.
One of the most common dental fraud schemes is insurance fraud. Dentists will bill procedures that were never performed to get insurance money for it. They may also list simple procedures as more complicated procedures to increase the fee. Most dental insurance plans have payment caps of a max of $2000 so, unlike medical insurance companies, dental insurers have less pressing need to thoroughly review all claims. Patients should keep a close track of their bills and should ask questions about anything that seems out of place. If the dentist is honest, they should be happy to review the information and will be able to give you a detailed answer about every claim. Dentists that blow off questions should be avoided.
While dental care strategies can vary a bit from dentist to dentist, the overarching theme should be protecting the natural teeth over artificial replacements every time. Teeth have an ability to heal minor decay with remineralization, but teeth will never be able to grow back if large parts are damaged. Fillings and crowns should only be used when decay is past a margin for remineralization and action must be taken to prevent further decay. Natural tooth can last you your whole life, but most restorations will wear out during your life time and will need to be replaced. Restorations are sealed and bonded to the tooth to keep out decay but if that seal breaks, decay can reach far into the tooth around the restoration. Dishonest dentists may try to make a profit by recommending a huge amount of work which will often be outside coverage provided by insurance. A journalist for Reader’s Digest traveled around the country, trying out dentists in every state. He checked with multiple dentists before he left, who settled upon a consistent diagnosis. As he traveled the country a number of dentists found the same diagnosis and recommended treatment with on average cost less than $1500. Many other dentists, however, “found” a huge number of problems and prescribed treatments that cost up to $29,000.
If you have been to a dentist consistently and have had minimal issues and then switch to a new dentist who suddenly recommends lots of expensive work and treatments, they may not have your best interests in mind. Like insurance fraud, this is one of the most common types of scams. Patients will come in for their first appointment with a new dentist and the dentist will inform them that they’ve been able to spot a number of issues that need to be addressed immediately. Patients should ask their dentist to walk them through their x-rays and point out the different cavities and issues. Cavities will show up as very dark spots on the enamel of the tooth which should ordinarily be fairly light on an x-ray. They most commonly show up where two teeth meet. Serious cavities will extend from the outer areas of the teeth inwards toward the root. Patients who have doubts about dental diagnoses should get second opinions from other dentists. Some patients who have not been to the dentist for many years may need a lot of work when they go back, but better to have a second opinion confirming a diagnosis than to blindly accept expensive and invasive treatments.
For people with old mercury amalgam fillings, some dentists will recommend patients have all of those fillings replaced. Unless there is a noticeable issue like an allergy, this is unnecessary. Many studies have been conducted to find out whether the mercury can “leak” from the amalgam and cause poisoning. The answer is no. Patients studied with amalgam fillings had essentially the same mercury levels as those without. Removing the fillings, however, will remove parts of the healthy tooth the filling is bonded to. This means the replacement filing will have to big bigger and you will have less natural tooth. Silver fillings can be replaced for cosmetic reasons, but dentists should never try to scare patients into getting them replaced.
Some dentists also over prescribe side treatments such as deep cleaning treatments, fluoride treatments, sealants, prescription toothpastes, and night guards. These tools all have essential functions, but should really only be used when truly needed. Deep cleaning treatments are needed when someone has severe or worsening gum disease. The deep cleaning will get deep under the gums and tackle infection and decay that cannot be ordinarily reached. It is an expensive, usually multi-appointment treatment and is not usually covered by insurance, so only patients who know they have gum issues should accept a dental recommendation for deep cleaning.
Fluoride treatments and prescription strength toothpaste can work wonders for patients with consistent cavity issues. Like a medical prescription, fluoride treatments and prescription toothpaste should only be recommended once patients have shown a consistent struggle with decay and greater measures need to be taken. Dentists should never try to simply sell patients on products. Patients who rarely have decay will receive almost no benefit from fluoride treatments or prescription toothpastes and should not feel they need to pay for them.
Sealant treatments are a standard treatment for children and adolescents because they often do not have the best oral hygiene routines. The sealants can particularly help protect back teeth that children may struggle to reach. Sealants, however, are not generally prescribed for adults. Most sealants last years after their application in so a child should not receive a new sealant treatment every appointment.
Tooth grinding can be a serious issue that can cause thorough damage to teeth. In these cases, a night guard is highly recommended and the highest quality, best fitting ones are made by a dentist. However, the majority of people do not have serious grinding or jaw pain and do not need a night guard.
Patients should also trust their instincts. If something feels off, ask questions and get a second opinion. Your teeth and your money are important and an honest dentist should want you to hold onto as much of both as you can.