Dentistry – The Potential for Abuse
Just like any profession, the potential for abuse exists in dentistry. Being armed with a little knowledge can save you monetary expenses and unnecessary physical pain. I’m going to share with you some experiences I have had with dentists to help make you aware of some of the potential abuses to watch out for.
While I was in the Navy, I had an unfortunate experience. I was about 20 years old at the time, perhaps younger. I went in for a dental check up and was told that I had some gum loss around the area of a particular tooth. The dentist said that he could do what was called a gum graft.
The gum graft consisted of removing a section of gum tissue from a ‘good’ area and flapping it over the area of gum loss with the hope that it will fuse to the gum tissue and tooth in the receiving area and eliminate the gum recession there.
I was told the gum graft did not take when I returned after the surgery. The dentist was eager to ‘try again’. Fortunately for me, I declined. Later the assistant let it slip out that the dentist had just learned this procedure.
I realized that this doctor was actually experimenting on me. There was no emergency or crises here and my tooth and gum line have continued to survive many years since with no problems whatsoever. And there were no cosmetic problems with the affected area either.
So what was going on here? It seems to me that this dentist saw a young, healthy candidate for him to practice on. That is why he was so eager to ‘try again’. There are so many things wrong with this scenario. He didn’t have the proper experience to be doing this kind of procedure without supervision from someone who was accomplished in it. Yet, he never disclosed the fact that he had just learned this procedure to me.
I’m so happy that his assistant was able to level with me. I think she realized what was happening too, saw my distress and the fact that I was unwilling to ‘try again’. This also taught me a valuable lesson: licensed professionals can’t always be trusted to adhere to the highest ethical standards.
Later, after I left the military, I went to visit a dentist who had taken care of me as a child. When I went in for the checkup, I told this gentleman that I was experiencing some pain from a particular tooth. It was an on again, off again type pain. He looked at the tooth for a total of about 5 seconds. He said, “I don’t really see anything wrong, we could do a root canal.” I had just enough sense to know that a root canal is fairly serious. Fortunately, I declined.
I later learned that it is sometimes normal to experience temporary pain from your teeth. This pain in many cases disappears without treatment of any kind whatsoever. And that is exactly what happened, the pain went away after a few days, never to return.
Had I allowed him to treat me, it would have cost either me or the insurance industry an expense that was unnecessary. Furthermore, he would have dug out the root of my tooth, which is what a root canal essentially is. What this means is that the tooth dies. It no longer receives what it needs to survive and it dies. The dead tooth will eventually turn brown, which is why they must put a dental crown over the tooth.
Recently, I had another experience. I visited my dentist for a routine check up. She took her dental instrument and found a “sticky’ area, she jammed her instrument up there and dug around a bit. This didn’t hurt at all because essentially there was no problem. But she wanted to, “open it up and make sure there was nothing wrong in there”.
I felt that something was amiss at this point and I declined treatment. But I asked her some questions and as I did so, she began talking faster. Then she finally let it slip that there are two kinds of possibilities, reversible pulpitis and irreversible pulpitis. This sounded an additional warning in my mind. Reversible to me means that it could go away without treatment. When I returned home I looked up reversible pulpitis and sure enough, the prognosis is good without treatment.
At the end of my cleaning she reiterated that her ‘recommendation’ was to, “open it up and see how deep the problem goes”. She tried to scare me a little with some talk about little pinpoint problems going all the way into the tooth and sometimes you don’t feel anything. She said that by that time it is ‘too late’. Then she said that, “we believe in preventative dentistry here”. My gut feeling was not good at this point. Six months later, another dentist told me that she saw no problem in the area.
I never had a problem with this dentist before and I had been with her for about 2 or 3 years. What happened? I can only speculate. At the beginning of our session, she mentioned that she was getting married in a couple of months. I suspect that she was feeling the financial pressures of the wedding and moving into a big house, honeymoon expenses, and the list goes on. I think she was trying to find creative ways to increase her income.
If true, it is possible that she is not the only dentist to succumb to this type of temptation. I remember a coworker of mine who said that she had gone to a dentist who found so many cavities in her mouth that it seemed odd. Another dentist informed her that she had no cavities at all.
I have been to many dentists and there are many who have used a very gentle touch when examining my teeth. This tells me that there is no reason to be forceful with a dental instrument and if you ever experience this you should be on your guard immediately.
In today’s world, with the ever declining moral standard, you can’t be sure about the professionals you put your trust in. Take your time when making decisions, do some research and consider consulting with a couple of other professionals in the same field but with no ties to the original person you talked to.
A profession has specialized knowledge which essentially puts the consumer at the mercy of the professional. They have knowledge that patients do not. This means that they could potentially take advantage of you in ways that might be a ‘grey’ area legally, medically or ethically. What I mean is that they could easily explain away certain choices or decisions to others in their profession or if questioned in a court of law.
As in the example of my experience, the dentist might say something like, “I believed I saw a problem there so I chose to take appropriate action to protect my patient”. On the surface this sounds very noble, as if she were taking good care of me, etc. But the reality is this is a grey area. However, if this is reversible pulpitis then there really is no need for her to do anything. But, she can’t ‘be sure’ that it isn’t, so drilling into the tooth to check it out might sound plausible.
Not to me, this is my money and my body. I’m not going to just say yes to a treatment without taking my time and making sure I know what is really going on.
Having said that, here are a few tips to consider:
Tooth sensitivity to cold is considered normal, tooth sensitivity to warm or hot may be cause for concern.
If your dentist likes to take a lot of x-rays, ask if it is really necessary. You may be surprised. You can always sign a waiver that you don’t want to be x-rayed. This protects the dentist against suits for not finding a problem.
However, X-rays can show problems that may not be visible from the surface. There could be an infection brewing that you can’t see with just a visual exam. There could also be cavities between the teeth that might not be easily visible.
You always have the right to consult with another dentist from a completely different office that has no association with your dentist.
Ask your dentist if he or she thinks it might be a reversible condition that could go away without treatment. Ask other questions too, you have a right to know and understand what is going on. If the dentist becomes impatient with your questions, consider consulting with another dentist to see if they have the same opinion.
Look for clues that a dentist might make unethical or grey area choices. Dental offices can be expensive, as is a dentist’s education. And many dentists may feel the need to live an above average lifestyle that must be paid for.
I personally like to get my teeth checked and cleaned by the dentist and hygienist every six months. Just be aware of the potential for ‘grey’ areas.
I am not a dental professional and this article is not meant to prevent you from seeking dental advice or treatment. The article’s only purpose is for information. You definitely should take care of your teeth and gums and get regular checkups from your dentist. I am not against dentists or dentistry, this article is only to share my experiences and perhaps make others aware of potential problems. If you have or think you might have a dental or health condition of any kind, seek the advice of a licensed Doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
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