Friday, October 3, 2008

Blame the Dentist or The Victim?

According to an Associated Press story hitting the local media, “the state attorney general's office has sued three former dental offices in the state whose workers allegedly persuaded low-income patients to get expensive and often unnecessary dental work they could not afford.”

I had three people tell me that the promo to the evening’s local news was about dentists scamming patients.

Of course, I was interested in finding out more. Since I was working – not scamming patients – I couldn’t see the story on TV and had to search for it online after I had finished with patients.

As a dental professional, I do not defend this action at all. I am sure the charges are serious if the AG’s office is involved.

However, the sensationalist promo made it seem as if all dental healthcare professionals are crooks. I resent this. And more important, did the dentists being charged hold a gun to these patient’s heads and make them take out a loan? Were these people taken advantage of – in much the same way as those who have lost their homes to foreclosure? Or, are they just as responsible as the dentists?

The local Boston media does not run many stories on advances in dental medicine – of which there are many. Lord knows I’ve spent a good few years sending out press releases and other information in the attempt to educate consumers – only to be met with dead silence.

However, let those who are less fortunate get taken advantage of, and the media is quick to do a story.

People, I admit it, there are bad dentists, doctors, plastic surgeons, etc. out there. You simply *cannot* assume that just because someone has a framed diploma hanging on the wall that he or she is competent. You *have* to ask questions including:

What types of continuing education classes have you taken? (Don’t be afraid to ask for evidence of this ongoing training in the form of certifications.)

How long have you been practicing? How many hours have you put in?

Are you certified by any of the leading industry associations, such as the American Medical Association or the American Dental Association?

What other doctors do you work with? Can you give me their contact information? (You want to see who is in the doctor's network.)

In addition, ask for five references -- including references from people who had work done two or three years ago – and call *all* of them. If someone is having any problems with the outcome of the procedure, it will show up after the first year.

You'll also want to ask around to see if anyone in your circle of friends or co-workers has heard of the doctor or dentist.

Unfortunately, it does behoove consumers to protect themselves. To paraphrase Bill O’Reilly, no one is looking out for you. You have to do it yourself.


Tara Robertson said...

“…did the dentists being charged hold a gun to these patient’s heads and make them take out a loan?”

Probably not, but I wouldn’t doubt if the patients were intimidated into it. Let’s assume you are a low income person in a lot of pain. You don’t want to insult the dentist by refusing his/her treatment recommendation. You just want the pain to end without pissing off the individual who will shortly be holding the drill. Whether you want to admit it or not, the majority of your colleagues are egomaniacs with inferiority complexes. I guess you guys think that the public isn’t familiar with the rigors of dental admissions, dental school, etc. Most of us know you had to work to get where you are, but we just don’t give a shit. We have to work hard too, and most of us get paid a hell of a lot less for it even when we have equivalent (or more rigorous) performance standards to meet… When I refused to have an unnecessary whiting procedure done because I couldn’t afford it (note: I left the unnecessary bit out although I was thinking it) and told my dentist to just replace my lost filling (the sole reason I went to the dentist in the first place), she said, in a haughty and defensive tone, “As the doctor, I’m telling you this [the unnecessary treatment] is what needs to be done.” She was so insecure that she took my refusal of treatment based on inability to afford it as a challenge to her intelligence/professional competence (probably because she knows she doesn’t have any). I didn’t realize just what an idiot she was until she demonstrated it, but I’m glad she revealed her true colors because now I know it’s time to try to find a new one who will hopefully be less of a crook. Anyhow, I was forced to lower my pride a bit and give her a sob story about being a poor reentry student who is living on a PT income with no insurance (which is actually true). She changed her attitude a bit (I guess she wasn’t completely evil although she was close), and repaired my filling only (although she didn’t do a very good job – I think it was out of incompetence rather than spite, though).

“People, I admit it, there are bad dentists, doctors, plastic surgeons, etc. out there. You simply *cannot* assume that just because someone has a framed diploma hanging on the wall that he or she is competent. You *have* to ask questions…”

Believe me lady, few people assume your diploma means s**t unless they are young and naïve or mentally retarded. Despite what you think, the public isn’t stupid. A person can learn A LOT about life and even academic topics without ever setting foot on a college. Although the training may be lots of hard work (just like nearly everybody has to do regardless of their job), it isn’t rocket science and you know it. Getting into dentistry has gotten competitive recently, but only because it pays so well (members of your profession are ridiculously overcompensated). Medical doctor (who are mostly crooks too) are also overcompensated but not to the degree that you dentists are. A lot of you dentists make more than primary health physicians even through their professional training (MD + internship + residence = 7 yrs vs. your 3-4 yrs) is often more than 100% longer (literally). Professors (who actually usually beat you both in terms of training time when you account for all the postdocs) really get screwed. You people aren’t special. You aren’t even that intelligent (just ambitious, hard working, competitive, and greedy) – I’d love to see you try to match wits with a professor of one of the sciences, math, or even some in humanities fields. Most of you have lead a charmed life i.e. daddy set up a college fund which enabled you to earn good grades since you didn’t have to work your way through college, you went straight into dental school after college and never had to get a real job – the kind where you break a sweat, you were raised to think you’re special, you were raised as one of those rich naïve kids who think effort is sufficient for “success” (which justifies your belief that those who are “unsuccessful” are piss-ons), etc. I hope gene therapy renders you honorless crooks obsolete. In the mean time, I guess I’ll drive down to Mexico. If I’m going to get bent over in terms of having unnecessary root canals, etc. forced on me (wounded egos with drills = danger), I’ll at least make sure I save some money on them…

I know I probably sound emotional. Well, it’s because I am – I’ve been taken advantage of so many times by dentists. Even when I KNOW they are screwing me, I often still don’t have a choice because I can’t afford to go to another one for a second opinion (I can’t afford yet another exam fee, another set of x-rays, etc.). I honestly hate you people (I’m generally not hateful – I am a soft spoken down-to-earth person who is genuinely nice and probably just as intelligent as most of you dentists – just not as privileged or competitive)… The sad truth is, you are hurting your own profession. YOU guys are making it nearly impossible for the public to trust or respect you.

*Go ahead a delete this post. The truth hurts. I hope you're a big enough person to leave it, though. Maybe it will inspire at least a few of your colleagues to make positive reforms.

Helaine Smith, DMD said...

Thank you for sharing your story about your filling.

As I tried to state in my post, and as I've stated elsewhere on my blog, some dentists -- and health professionals, including medical doctors -- do terrible things, ranging from poor or even illegal treatment to blatantly ignoring OSHA regulations.

However, things are changing within the dental community. No, being a dentist isn't the same as being a NASA engineer, but we do need specialized training.

In addition to four years or more of dental school training, many dentists go on to receive advanced training. A periodontist, for example, receives an additional three years of training. With technology changing so rapidly, and with the advent of medical and dental coming together to treat the overall health of a patient, dentists can no longer simply "fix teeth."

This is one reason I named my column, "The Mouth Physician." Dentists cannot see themselves as "tooth plumbers" anymore.

Regarding dentists' income, many dentists earn relatively high incomes because they own their own businesses (although they aren't earning multi-million dollar bonuses the way some financial banking execs do).

Dentists are small business owners, and small business, which, if you read the news, is what drives our economy and keeps a fair number of people employed.

In many practices, dentists employ associates, practice managers, office managers, hygienists, and even RNs who assist with advanced procedures. Paying these people healthy wages does require a dental practice to generate healthy revenues.

In addition, dentists must also pay for malpractice insurance, workman's comp insurance, etc. plus continually update technology -- which isn't cheap.

I know you must feel angry about your treatment. I would too. This is one reason I write my blog on DrBicuspid -- because I want dentists to talk about these issues.

Believe me, I know more than a few dentists who gets taken to task by their dental colleagues for questioning the status quo.

Those of us who attend LVI, for example, are considered "quacks" by some of our colleagues -- all because we want to provide advanced care to patients.

Thank you for sharing your story. I hope you find a better dentist. Please keep looking for one -- they are out there.