I have noticed something really strange when it comes to dentists. I generally find that I am unwilling to pay $30,000 for a car when I can find a perfectly good one for much and I am not as concerned with brand names as I am about just being clothed and warm. However, lately my friends and coworkers have been mentioning that they have just paid thousands of dollars for root canals and other expensive dental procedures, like it is just part of life.
Every time someone starts to tell me about this I cringe and ask if they had gotten a second opinion. This is where it gets weirder because 100% of the time people resist the idea. “Oh, the dentist came highly recommended. I trust her.” Is it really that much effort to go to another dentist and see if they come up with the same diagnosis and cost? Since when did people so blindly drop thousands of dollars with little thought?
I think that financial wisdom should apply to every area of your life. It is no good to have a great mechanic to rely on, limit the cost of your college, and to save all your pennies in other areas of your life if you are just going to fork all that savings over to the first dentist who tells you that you need a lot of dental work. It’s important to use common sense in all your purchases.
I had been seeing the same dentist for over 20 years when we moved 2 hours away a few years back. To this day I still drive 2 hours, every 6 months, to see my dentist because I have yet to find another one I could trust.
It started with our move and when I asked for an opinion of a good dentist in the area. Off with my recommendation I was looking forward to testing out a new dentist and to find someone trustworthy in the area. Since I have hardly had any problems with my teeth in the past, I didn’t expect much but the usual cleaning. However, I walked out of the dentist’s office with an estimate for $3,000 worth of work which included replacing all of my fillings and a root canal among other things.
To me, the root canal didn’t make any sense at all to me so I went back home to my dentist for a second opinion. He looked in my mouth and said:
Insurance would never cover any of this. I could replace your fillings but the more they are replaced the more drilling is done to your tooth. I generally don’t like to replace them prematurely. You could have years left in them. If it isn’t broke, why fix it?
It was then a light bulb went off in my head that maybe I was taken advantage of because I did not have insurance. I don’t have dental insurance. How would I know if the insurance company would have never covered it? All I know was that this $3,000 expense came out of nowhere, I wasn’t prepared for it, and it made little sense.
I then asked my boss for a dentist recommendation and told him my previous experience. He recommended his wife’s dentist because she had some very bad experiences and had fallen victim to quite a few dental scams. However, she had found a wonderful local dentist. This sounded perfect.
I went in, but I guess I wasn’t as shocked this time when I walked out with another $3,000 estimate. This time the cost was for root planning and replacing all fillings (again). Since the diagnosis was entirely different this time, a red flag went off in my head. I went back to my dentist and pretty much had the same discussion again. Insurance wouldn’t cover it and this new dentist was out for a buck.
I started to have doubts though. Was this dentist we had gone to all these years really taking good care of my teeth? Have I put too much faith in him? I had never gotten a second opinion on him! My husband had a friend fresh out of dentistry school so we decided to chat with him for a 3rd opinion. He never looked in my mouth but we had an interesting phone conversation. He told me unless I had been homeless in the streets for years and I didn’t have terrible gum disease (obvious) he could assure me that I did not need root planning.
He shed a little light on the topic and told us some things to look for in our dental search:
1. Look for dentists who attended a public university. He told us that the way dentists are trained in public school versus private school was different. That private school dentists overall were more likely to push more aggressive, money-making procedures. Public school dentists on the other hand are more likely to just stick with the basics. I hesitate to say either is right or wrong, but the two different kinds of schools have very different philosophies. I am sure there are many exceptions to the rule as well, but wanted to note it as a general insight.
2. Look for dentists who own their own practices rather than going into large centers, if you want quality care. A dentist out on his own has more of his own reputation and livelihood on the line.
3. Whenever you get a quote for expensive dental work, get a second or a third opinion. Better yet, don’t even tell the other dentists about your first opinion. You will get more objective opinions this way.
4. Always ask if the work in necessary. Often dentists present treatment as if it is necessary, but will be honest with you about how necessary it really is when you ask more questions.
As far as my own dentist, I would not say he is a perfect. I was told as a teen that I needed jaw surgery; that I would never have a correct bite and I would have to wear braces for the rest of my life otherwise. The surgery was legit as it was completely covered by my insurance. However, these days when I go in he looks at my mouth and wonders aloud if this procedure was really necessary. With time, technology, and knowledge, things change. I am not sure if today I came in if he would have recommended the same course of treatment.
I think this really illustrates a point why it is good to get a second or third opinion when it comes to the dentist. You may come across a doctor who has found an easier or more affordable way to solve the problem. I don’t think it is necessarily always a bad dentist/good dentist issue. It seems to be the nature of the industry. Of course, with any industry, there are always scams to look out for too.
In addition, I have found a dentist recommendation means little most of the time. Even other recommendations from my own trusted dentist have not gone over well. I would put far more weight in an actual second opinion than another dentist recommendation, after my own experiences.
I came across this interesting article which really says it better than I can. This article was written a good decade ago, but has some valuable information and describes much of what I experienced. It is about an individual who went to 45 random dentists in Canada with a set of X-rays and asked for opinions on any work needed. She got about 45 different answers.
Next time you are told you need some dental procedure, whether is covered by insurance or not, it is good to get more opinions. It might just save you thousands of dollars.