How Clean is Your Dentist?
Usually, the biggest worry I have before going to a dentist is being self-conscious that my teeth are not white enough to stand up under scrutiny. Never mind that the whole point of going to the dentist is to make your teeth cleaner. It’s kind of like Marge from the Simpsons, always taking extra pains to clean her house on the show before the maid comes because she doesn’t want to be embarrassed.
But the truth is that your dentist’s hygiene should just as big of a concern as your own. Here are 14 surprising facts and stories you should know about dentists before you make your next appointment.
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Your Dentist May Be A Drug Addict
This may sound like hyperbole, but past studies have shown that dentists are more likely to be addicted to drugs than one might think. According to a 2002 report from the American Dental Association (ADA), between 15% and 18% of dentists were addicted to drugs or alcohol, and about 10% admitted to using drugs in the previous year. Then, in a 2005 study, the ADA sought to clarify this finding, arguing this number was on par with drug use rates of other types of practitioners, and should not be taken as an indication that dentists are more disposed to drug use. I’m not sure how comforting that is, and to make matters worse, the ADA also stated that dentists have more “alcohol-use problems” than physicians.
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Sex in the Office
Next time your dentist asks if you’d rather be put under or just be given some laughing gas, may I suggest you choose the latter? One woman awoke from anesthesia in a New Jersey dental office to find her dentist “clad only in a pair of high black socks.” Another dentist in the UK was charged with sexually assaulting a female patient while she was unconscious. And then there was the case of the 77-year old Boston dentist who would hand out drugs to “patients” in exchange for oral sex.
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It doesn’t take too much Googling to find customers complaining about being overcharged for dental work. One consumer complained that his dentist charged $600 for gum care even though others advertised the same treatment for $140. Another complained about paying $609 to get a filling, when it should only cost around $200. Meanwhile, Associated Content argued that a dental office may use several qualifications to decide how much to charge you including your zip code and your appearance. Then, there's the incredible story of a Massachusetts dentist who used paper clips for root canals only to bill Medicaid for stainless steel posts.
While we could not find a definitive number for how much dentists overcharge consumers each year in America, we did find that dentists in the UK overcharge by 109 million pounds (more than $200 million) a year. Much of this is due to the next issue on our list…
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Earlier this year, the U.S. Justice Department accused the Small Smiles dental chain of performing unnecessary procedures on patients, including “removing teeth, x-rays, and pulpotomies – also known as baby root canals.” The chain’s goal was allegedly to “compensate for Medicaid’s low reimbursement rates.” Some studies have shown that dentists are too quick to take X-rays and replace fillings in general.
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Removing Wisdom Teeth
One other big example of an unnecessary treatment is getting your wisdom teeth removed. As someone who has paid to have this procedure done (and spent a week after struggling to chew on food), this one hits close to home. Patients are often told to get their wisdom teeth removed at a young age even if they aren’t actually causing them any trouble at the time, with the logic that it may prevent trouble down the road. But according to a 2005 study, there is no proven benefit to removing wisdom teeth if they are healthy. I should note that more recently, some have argued it’s easier to extract wisdom teeth at a younger age (though still unnecessary in the long run, perhaps).
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The Myth of the Regular Check-Up
Despite what your dentist says, if you have healthy teeth, there is no reason you need to go for a checkup more than once a year. In fact, according to Smart Money, the whole idea of visiting the dentist twice a year does not come from any medical handbook, but rather from a 150-year old comic book called The Toothache. But with that in mind, it’s good to be diligent taking care of your teeth. Just make sure to have an honest conversation with your dentist about what you need to do individually, rather than abiding by a general rule of thumb.
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Is Your Dentist Up-to-Date With Technology
Before you let your dentist go to work on your teeth, check to see if their equipment is up-to-date. According to DailyFinance, there is no excuse for a dentist’s office not to have digital x-rays, ultrasonic cleaning (they vibrate and clean your gums so your dentist doesn’t need to use that awful scraper) and a device called the CEREC system, which can quickly plant a ceramic crown on your teeth with “fewer injections… and no annoying temporaries.”
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Does Your Dentist Talk to You About More Than Teeth?
DailyFinance also argues that dentists should be focusing on more than just your teeth. Dentists should also be screening you for ailments like sleep apnea and hypertension. In fact, your dentist may also have good insights on migraines since they can be caused by problems with your jaw. If your dentist is going to overcharge you anyway, at least make you get your money’s worth.
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Dentists Only Care About One Thing
Unfortunately, dentists, like men, only seem to have room in their brains to focus on one thing. For dentists, that thing is cosmetics. According to SmartMoney, Americans have healthier teeth now than ever before, which means that dentists have been forced to shift their focus from health to cosmetics in order to continue making a profit. Approximately half of all the money Americans spend on dental work is for cosmetic work. Smart Money argues that this has effectively transformed dentists from health care professionals into “pitchmen.” Quackwatch urges consumers to avoid dentists whose ads primarily focus on this kind of work.
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The Mercury Problem
Why is it that we fear mercury in food and thermometers, but we are OK putting it in our mouths? Mercury is a primary ingredient in amalgam dental fillings and was recently declared by the FDA to not be harmful, though the FDA had previously declared these same fillings to be dangerous for children and pregnant women. Some have argued over the years that these fillings pose an unnecessary risk to patients. Talk to your dentist about the risks if you are concerned. You should have the final say about what does and doesn’t go into your mouth.
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Beware the Deadly Dentures
Earlier this year, a Miami man died because of toxic dentures. The dentures, which were produced by GlaxoSmithKline, contained “deadly levels of zinc,” which the man unfortunately ingested. In a statement, the company claimed that the dentures would have been fine except this case involved “excessive use or misuse.” So the problem wasn’t the “deadly” amount of zinc, but rather the fact that the man liked to use his dentures too much? Not terribly comforting.
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What Do You Mean All My Teeth Are Gone?
In 2006, a woman from South Carolina went to her dentist to have three teeth pulled. Not exactly fun, but she was told it was necessary. Unfortunately, the dentist ended up pulling all 13 of her top teeth by mistake. Talk about getting carried away. The woman eventually won a $2 million settlement.
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The Side Effects of Local Anesthesia
No one wants to endure a dental treatment without some kind of anesthetic, but you should know the side effects of local anesthesia before you allow your dentist to administer it to you. According to the Mayo Clinic, local anesthetics can cause your heartbeat to increase and can even lead to convulsions or seizures. Meanwhile, nitrous oxide (or laughing gas) can affect the flow of oxygen to your brain if too much is used. While none of this conditions will kill you, it’s obviously better avoid these side effects if possible.
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Dentists Scare Us
The Dentist’s office has always been a scary place. One New York Times article from 1882 describes a dentist’s office as being like “the torture chamber of the Inquisition.” And if this video is any indication, that has not changed much in the last century. According to CBS, as many as 8% of Americans currently avoid going to the dentist out of fear.
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Hospital Horror Stories
Dentists aren't the only ones to mess things up sometimes, hospitals have made plenty of mistakes as well. Check out MainStreet's coverage of hospital horror stories here. Also, be sure to tell us about your own dental complaints in the comments section.
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