If you’re reading this, chances are you’re less than trusting when it comes to establishing yourself with a health care professional. Whether you had a bad experience, or just heard a horror story from a friend, it can be a daunting task to entrust someone with the care of your dental health. The first thing you might ask yourself when reading this is, “Wait, isn’t this a dental practice’s website? What credibility does this article have?” The answer to that revolves around the fact that patients talk about their experiences constantly. We’ve heard innumerable questionable situations from our patients, and, like all healthcare professionals, are constantly self-evaluating our own ethics to make sure they line up with what is best for the patient. So while, like always, we can’t guarantee that this article will lead you to the trustworthy tooth heaven promised land, (unless you come to our office, of course) hopefully it can illuminate some shady practices common in less scrupulous offices.
A few red flags:
Do they accept multiple HMO insurance plans?
HMO(sometimes called DMO or DHMO) plans require dental offices to either under-diagnose patients or operate at a loss. Any office that is still in business has a hard time operating at a loss. For more information, check out our article on dental insurance here.
Do they offer to not charge you your insurance copays as an incentive to get you to start treatment? Do you receive EOBs(Explanation of benefits) in the mail showing payment for services that you didn’t have done?
This is a pretty significant red flag because either one of them involves defrauding the insurance company, which is bad for you, bad for other patients, and bad for dentists. Not charging your copays is a breach of contract between the insurance company and the dental office, if they are contracted. Why is it a bad thing? Think of it this way, one of the fine lines involved in dental insurance is financial commitment on the part of the patient. Insurance companies don’t want to have to pay for something the patient wouldn’t be willing to pay a reasonable amount for either. While this sometimes gets taken too far, to where insurance companies lack coverage for important procedures, it does bring up the interesting concept of personal commitment to dental health. The unfortunate reality is that patients that have 100% coverage for every procedure are less likely to floss at home by a significant percentage margin. As a result, many insurance companies changed to a 100% 80% 50% split on procedures based on how necessary they were if you took the recommended steps at home to care for your teeth. Things like checkups and cleanings are covered at 100%(typically) because patients who get biannual checkups and cleanings are significantly less likely to get cavities, which are typically covered at 80%. Patients who fill their cavities before they become more serious dental health issues get to enjoy that 80% coverage. Once a tooth gets to the point where it needs a crown, bridge, or implant after extraction, you’ll typically see insurance coverage rates drop to 50%. Even worse than patients who don’t do their home care because they’re relying on the catch-all of good dental insurance are offices who bill insurance companies for procedures they didn’t do. This is illegal, but is cited as a large reason why premiums for dental insurance continue to rise year after year.
Does the treatment staff use the same pair of gloves with multiple patients?
Cross-contamination is something that patients tend to think about less often than staff, but its a very serious issue. If your doctor or dental assistant or hygienist enters your treatment room with gloves already on, you would be well within your rights to question if they have been used already. (Even if they touch a door handle with them, you would have plenty of reason to be horrified). When you first walk into your treatment room, glance around and look for signs of it not being clean. Especially for things like bodily fluids, used instruments, etc.
Do you see different staff members every time you go to their office?
High employee turnover is a bad sign in almost industry, and dental is no exception. If you don’t recognize any of the front desk or assisting staff, or worse, the doctor, it might be time to find someplace more consistent.
What century does their equipment seem to be from?
This is perhaps slightly less important, but the reality is that digital(non-film) xrays use significantly less radiation, are easier for both insurance companies and other offices to make use of, and are of higher diagnostic quality on average than their film counterparts.
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