Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cavity Emptor

This story is a little embarrassing to post, but I'm going to post it anyway, because it's important. I am going to name names, too.

I was blessed with perfect teeth. I have never had a cavity filled. I have never had braces. My teeth have been trouble-free my entire life. In fact, they're pretty much the only piece of me that's trouble-free, but I digress...

Several years ago, BJ and I found a deal in the paper that said (name and location redacted) would do an initial cleaning and x-rays for $99. Neither of us had dental insurance, and it had been a while since we'd had our teeth cleaned, so we went together.

I went first. They took x-rays, then told me I had twelve cavities. I asked them to show me the cavities on the x-ray, but they said that I wouldn't be able to see them. When I asked them how someone who had never had a cavity could possibly now have twelve, they said that it was from drinking soda.

BJ gloated (he says he didn't but he totally did) when I came back into the waiting room. I cried.

Then it was his turn. They said he had 13 cavities. He had never had a cavity in his life, either.

It was going to be over $1000 each to get our teeth fixed. That was $2000+ that we didn't have.

So, (this is the embarrassing part), since we weren't in any pain, and we didn't have the money anyway, we did.... nothing.

Ever since then I've had dreams where all my teeth are falling out, and I can feel myself spitting them out.

After MG was born I decided to try a different dentist - (name and location redacted) (even though we still didn't have insurance). I went for a cleaning and x-rays. They said I had three cavities.

What happened to the other nine? They were bullshit.

Another $300 on top of a new baby, and the stress... I had postpartum depression and that whole year was a mess. I had planned to get them fixed, then I got pregnant with Claire. Then I was really busy. Long story short, I didn't get around to going back to the dentist until today. And now we have insurance. Another new dentist. I didn't tell them my history. Guess how many cavities I had this time?


Total number of bullshit cavities - TWENTY-EIGHT.

Either I have miraculous self-healing teeth, or there's a lot of bullshit in dentistry.

What really makes me livid, though, is that if I had believed the first dentist, and if I had had any money back then, they would've drilled twelve holes in my perfectly healthy teeth!!!

I wonder how often they pull this scam. I'll tell you what, if they hadn't been greedy - if they'd just told me I had a cavity or two - I would've had them filled. But there were never any cavities there.

I was telling this story to MG's ballet teacher today, and she said that she has an appointment next week with Aspen. I told her to be VERY careful. Since others of you might find yourselves in a similar situation, I'm sharing this story. If your dental bill is going to be over a reasonable threshold, get a second opinion - or a third!

I am so furious I could spit nails. I am trying to decide the best course of action. Do I write to the dentists? To the newspaper? The BBB? All of the above? I'm mad enough that I'd like to stand outside their offices and picket.

The way this new place (redacted) does business is strange. I walked in and the receptionist handed me the new patient paperwork. Then she flipped to a second page that looked like a credit card application. She said something like, "This is for our office manager, so he knows that you're able to pay..." Hold it right there, Toots. I had seen the name of the company before (of course, I can't remember it right now or find it on google). "That's a credit card application," I said. "No," she said, "It's not a credit card, you can only use it for medical expenses..."

Um... That doesn't mean it's not a credit card. It's just a limited credit card.

"Yes it is," I said. "I was offered one of those when my dog had surgery. I don't need a credit card. I can pay for this. I have insurance. I am not filling that out, and I don't want you to run my credit."

"Ok," she said, but what she meant was, "Just shut up and fill out the papers like I told you to, bee-yatch."

So, I filled out the paperwork, but not the credit application, and returned the paperwork. Then they took me back to the exam area (which was a big room, sort of like a hair salon, with areas that were divided by cabinets but not doors). They took the x-rays and the dentist looked at my mouth, briefly.

Then she took me out to talk to the office manager about my "treatment plan" and payment options.

After it was agreed that I could afford the $24 (after insurance), they cleaned my teeth.

I'm not sure if I had to have the little meeting with the office manager because I refused to fill out the paperwork or what, but it seemed routine. I was pretty annoyed that they wanted to run my credit before treating me... Every time your credit is pulled, your credit score goes down (which is idiotic).

Is this how everybody does business now? What have your experiences with dentists been like?

(Edited to remove names and locations of dentists, and to add parenthetical comment about BJ gloating, which he totally did.)


Anonymous said...

Well ... it would never occur to me to seek the services of a healthcare professional based upon an ad. Just sayin'. I always get a recommendation from somebody, usually from another healthcare professional. (Can't your family doctor recommend a dentist?)

That said, doctors typically have me provide my insurance info over the phone before they'll even schedule an initial appt. to see me, and the office staff calls my insurance company to verify my coverage before my first appt. I've never broken in a brand new healthcare professional unless I had insurance to offset the expense. I have lost my insurance after commencing a business relationship, and then the healthcare professional is sometimes willing to cut his rate for me.

I've never used an HMO. I've never been asked to apply for some sort of credit card. If I don't have insurance, then I'm required to pay in full before I leave the building. Actually, most of my doctors don't deal with insurance, so I'm still required to pay in full before I leave the building, and then it's my responsibility to seek reimbursement from my insurance company myself.

I think if you're going to a dentist who hasn't been highly recommended by somebody you trust, then you shouldn't be surprised to get shoddy service. Your best bet is to go to the dentist that your family doctor goes to.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what prices generally run in your area, but if the charge was $99, it's possible you got a bad cleaning job and/or bad X-rays, as well as an invitation for additional dental work that didn't need to be done.

If you can't get a recommendation from somebody, then don't you have Angie's List or some other resource? I don't think it's the norm for a dentist to advertise. How bad does the guy have to be if he needs to advertise in order to keep busy? When it comes to your health care, shopping for the lowest price isn't necessarily the way to go.

And if you want to know how to deal with the bad service you got from the previous dentists, ask your current dentist for the name of the appropriate professional organization, if the BBB would be appropriate, etc.

And be sure to go back to your previous dentists to demand the return of your X-rays and medical office notes so you know exactly which teeth they determined had cavities. Don't call them ahead of time. Just show up unannounced and don't leave without your records. You paid for them; they're yours.

Amy said...

Anon 6:50 - you're apparently lucky to have always been insured. I didn't have dental insurance from September 1998 until January 2009. That kind of limited my choices to dentists who were affordable.

I also didn't have health insurance during a great deal, but not all, of that time. From 1998 (when I returned to school) until 2003 (when I took a job that provided health, but not dental) I didn't have insurance. I had insurance for about a year and a half, until I quit that job to work for BJ. We couldn't arrange insurance for our small company (self-employed, only two full time employees, who are married to each other...) until December of 2004.

So, if my math is right, I was without health insurance for 5 or 6 years during that time. No family doctor, then, either.

When you don't have insurance, preventative care, like teeth cleanings and check ups and well baby visits (not that I had babies then, just sayin') kind of go out the window. You don't have a family doctor - you go to the Doc in a Box (urgent care) when you're so sick you can barely stand up anymore. You get antibiotics, and you get sent home, and you hope to God that nothing serious (broken leg, car accident, appendicitis, cancer...) happens before you can obtain insurance.

Anon 7:42 - This new place, where they were weird about the credit card, is the ONLY place that accepts our dental insurance (as of when I called to schedule the appointment in January). And I gave them all of my insurance info over the phone when I made the appointment, too, Anon 6:50... They still wanted me to get the credit card. Bizarre. And since they're the only place in town that takes our insurance, it doesn't make any sense to get a referral from my family doctor, who, incidentally, hasn't lived here half as long as I have and would be more likely to ask me for local referrals.

Let's use names, guys, even if they're fake. It's so much easier.

strwberrryjoy said...

wow. talk about ridiculous. fake cavities. what next?!? yes, your child needs a cast when s/he doesn't? and i think anon. comments are absolutely annoying as well, so i changed my blog settings to prevent them!

The Moniak Family said...

I am thoroughly freaked out by your story. I'm also feeling blessed that I have a dentist that I trust, and who has only told me I've had one cavity in the entire 20+ years I've been seeing him. (And yes... he showed it to me, and I could see it for myself.) There is no reason you couldn't see a cavity for yourself, whether in a mirror or x-ray... if the dentist can see it, you can see it. Anyway, if you ever need a great dentist recommendation, I've got one for you!

Erin said...

I didn't have dental insurance for 3 years so therefore I didn't go to the dentist during that time. Once Matt & I got married, I was on his dental plan. I think...or maybe I had gotten a job that actually had benefits by that point. Anyway....I went to my old family dentistry in Rossville and I think I had pits (instead of cavities) that needed to be filled, which I had taken care of. But the kicker for me was that my gums were receeding. Yuck. I think I had to go in 2 different times for them to use a water-pick on my gums. I don't know what else to call it, but it basically shoots water between the gum and tooth to get the area really clean. In 2004 it was an extra procedure. By the time we moved down here, it's standard and they do the whole mouth at once. Go figure!

Ever since I've been faithful about going in every 6 months. My next appt is in June and I'm hoping I don't get read the riot act for not flossing as much as I should while being pregnant. Sigh, but knowing my luck, I will.

Angie's List said...

Thanks for the shout-out from “anonymous” above. Angie’s List started accepting health reviews last March, and you’re definitely not alone when it comes to needing help choosing a dentist. We've received more reviews on dentists than any other health category we rate! While the majority of the health reviews we receive are positive, one of our favorites was “My doctor said I needed three fillings; I think he needed a new boat.”

Erin said...

Amy, I told Matt about what happened to you guys, and have you thought about reporting the first place you went to to the BBB or Chamber of Commerce? Seriously, medical or dental crackpots are scary!

If you did report it and mentioned it, my apologies. I can't remember squat right now.