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Dental Insurance Unnecessary Dental Procedures

Marianne Wolff

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Is there a new trend in dentistry toward a higher incidence of dental fraud? According to the Surgeon General's report on oral health last year, a century ago most Americans lost their teeth by middle age. Today though we have widespread fluoridation and most middle-aged Americans can expect to keep their original teeth for the rest of their lives. I am 48 and I know that is exactly what one of my dentists told me. Also unlike when I was a child, most kids today have few if any cavities.

Since dentists have fewer cavities to fill, they have had to find other ways to increase their income. According to Dr. Marv Zatz, a New Jersey dentist who works as a dental insurance consultant for Towers Perris, a health welfare and retirement consulting firm, “Dentist have changed their whole paradigm. Today, much of what they do is elective including tooth whitening, braces for adults and replacing dark fillings with white ones. "

There are reports that some dentists are telling their patients to have old amalgam fillings replaced even though it is a practice that the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research does not recommend. What makes matters worse; according to dental industry sources dentists have fewer national guidelines on specific practices. Additionally, dentist are more likely to work alone hence there is less professional scrutiny. These factors give dentists an increased opportunity to over charge patients.

Also there are a lot of gray areas in dentistry. My son's dentist recommended he have his wisdom teeth out when my son was 17. Americans spend $2 billion a year on wisdom tooth extraction and it is the main income for oral surgeons. Many dentists advise it should be done in teenagers to avoid cysts or infections. Also they say young people heal faster.

Actually there is no hard evidence of a long term benefit to routine extraction of wisdom teeth that are not problematic. Currently the most recent government recommendation is age 22 for wisdom teeth extraction. Even that advice is questionable given the results of a study published in 1990 in the International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care. The article suggested that “instead of routinely pulling healthy wisdom teeth, it might make more sense in terms of both economic costs and disability, to extract only those teeth that are impacted and clearly causing problems. " My husband has all his wisdom teeth and other than one cavity, he has had no problems.

Not all dentists are just in it for the money but some are. My advice is if you or a member of your family needs an expensive dental procedures, get a second opinion. Also choose your dentist carefully.

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