Upselling at the Dentist’s Office

son be a dentistOn a recent weekend, I learned that one of my friends had just begun dating a dentist, and later, at a party we all happened to be at, my friend L. wondered aloud if it would be rude to ask him questions she had about her fillings.

“What about your fillings?”

“Just if I should get them replaced for porcelain ones.”

L. asked the dentist if it was rude to ask him work-related questions, and he replied that he loved his job, and therefore loved answering questions. His answer: No, it’s not necessary, especially if its only for cosmetic reasons. You’ll know when you’ll have to have your fillings replaced.

Later we told our friend that the dentist was “one of the good ones”—someone who seemed like a good person to date, but also a good dentist.

A recent Mother Jones piece warned about “upselling” in dentistry—dentists who encourage you to go through unnecessary procedures (i.e. a deep cleaning when a regular cleaning is all you need) in order to increase profits:

So what should you watch out for when you go for your next cleaning? First, beware of specials: That laser dentistry and whitening package may be a ploy to get you in the door so the practice can upsell you on more-profitable procedures. Van Dyk also advises caution if your dentist insists on replacing all your old fillings or always recommends crowns instead of fillings. And look out for excessive X-rays: The ADA says healthy patients need a full set (14 to 22) every two years at the most. If your dentist recommends a special “cone-beam” X-ray, get a second opinion, since, along with a 3-D picture of your mouth, it delivers a dose of radiation up to 18 times that of a traditional dental X-ray. While the Food and Drug Administration has approved cone-beam scanners, some radiation experts worry that dentists are using them when a standard X-ray would do just as well. Finally, when it comes to children’s dentists, make sure to find a board-certified pediatric specialist, since not all dentists that cater to children have special training.

And if you’re not sure, you can always get a second opinion.

But perhaps the most interesting thing I got out of my conversation with this dentist was that he only worked three days a week.

“How do you pull that off?” I asked.

“Own your own practice,” he said.

Photo: Donald Lee Pardue

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