Is Your Dentist Giving Your Bank Account A Root Canal?

We had to take out a loan earlier this year to pay for some dental work that our insurance wouldn’t cover. It sucked. What’s worse is that as we shared dental stories with friends, we quickly realized that our dentist is what you might call a “premium” service provider, in that she charges awesomely high fees for her work. What we should have done was the get a second or third opinion, among other things, says Personal Finance Advice website.

The article also advises that you look for dentists who attended public university rather than private schools because they tend to be less aggressive about pushing more profitable cosmetic procedures (although at least one dentist has said that his profit margins are the same regardless of procedure type). We’re doubtful this is the most accurate way to evaluate your dentist, but it does highlight a disturbing trend in dentistry today, which is that in many cases it’s closer to cosmetic surgery than health maintenance.

Ryan C. Allen offers another insider’s view of what to look for in a dentist. He suggests you ask your dentist directly, “So, why did you want to be a dentist?” Then try to gauge the sincerity of his response. He also suggests you take the condition of the office into consideration – the more expensive it looks, the more profit-minded your dentist may be. And if you’re bombarded with images of cosmetic dentistry as soon as you walk in the door, you might want to turn around immediately. (N.B.: we can’t verify that this man is actually a dentist, but his advice made sense, so we included it anyway.)

Last year, SmartMoney published “10 Things Your Dentist Doesn’t Want You to Know,” which included the hilarious but unsubstantiated claim that “15 to 18% of dentists are addicted to drugs or alcohol.” The ADA wrote back a terse letter which, interestingly, didn’t address the addiction claim. Now we’re wondering why our dentist laughs so much when we’re in the chair.

How to Save Money at the Dentist – Get a Second Opinion [Personal Finance Advice]
10 Things Your Dentist Doesn’t Want You to Know [SmartMoney]

(Photo: antjeverena)


Edit Your Comment

  1. mopar_man says:

    ARGH! That picture is awful. That’s going to haunt my dreams for days to come. Stupid “grills”…

  2. SadSam says:

    I have a good friend who is a dentist and he told me that if a cash patient (no insurance) asks him for the insurance patient pricing (way less) he agrees to give the cash patient a discount but down to the insurance patient pricing. His point is that he takes insucance patients and agrees to the low reimbursements due to volume so he can’t give the insurance discount to cash patients, but he will give them some discount if they ask.

  3. lincolnparadox says:

    When I had just graduated from college, my brand new dentist wanted to fill in a “cavity” that he saw on my tooth. My tooth didn’t hurt, and I didn’t have dental insurance through my folks anymore, and a drill and fill was a huge chunk of change for me, at the time. So, I went back to my old dentist and asked him to have a look at my chompers (which he did for free).

    The cavity was a coffee stain. Needless to say, I was upset and I found a new dentist, using the coffee stain as a litmus test until the dental hygienist was able to polish it off.

    With any professional (doctor, lawyer, dentist, accountant, mechanic, etc.) test them out to see if they’re honest.

  4. says:

    maybe he just smokes alot of cigarettes and says it’s a “grill”

  5. ekthesy says:

    Enough of this…I want to know which dentist will give me boar-tusk implants.

  6. Mom2Talavera says:

    “And if you’re bombarded with images of cosmetic dentistry as soon as you come, you might want to turn around immediately.”

    This is sooo true. sounds like my old dentist’s office! I just switched dentists because he was too $$$.I have dental insurance and a “cafeteria plan” with an annual $1,000 cap. what happens to me is I needed work on 4 teeth but I reached my cap before I even got a chance to fix the 3rd and 4th tooth. So I then need to wait till next year to fix the last two teeth. For one it was too late and needed to be removed.

    / my new dentist is much cheaper and has all the same gadgets that my old dentist has.

  7. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    Dude everytime I see dumbass sheeple with those stupid ass grills I want to hit them with a baseball bat. Does anyone seriously think thats cool? Come on you look like a total idiot.

  8. wring says:

    I just get my teeth done when I visit the folks in the Philippines. Sure it might cost $1500 both ways but I get to go on vacation and I get my teeth done for less than $50.

  9. danger the pirate says:

    i wish more poeple would rock old school grills, george washington style… (never mind. i checked wikipedia. his dentures were never wood.)
    “my grill is solid oak!”
    my dentists name is Dr. Love. true story.
    his name says it all. best. dentist. ever.

  10. juri squared says:

    I know most doctor’s offices will agree to a payment plan on expensive procedures. I’ve never tried it with a dentist, but it’s worth a shot.

    We currently have repayment plans of around $50/month with at least three different doctors’ offices (thanks to an emergency C-section). It’s much, much better than paying interest on a loan!

  11. kimdog says:

    After six year with my NYC dentist including routine cleanings and x-rays, about 5 fillings (most replacements for ones I got as a child), a root canal, and a crown. The only thing I’ve ever paid was $425 for the portion of the crown not covered by insurance. Not that I have the best insurance, but he managed to work around my yearly cap, and always takes what they pay on the small stuff. He’s seriously awesome.

  12. Godz says:

    I told my dentist my tooth hurt. He told me not to worry about it because the cavity is too small. Two years later he wants to do a root canal.

  13. aparsons says:

    @KIMDOG: who is your dentist? I’m looking for one in NYC…

  14. acambras says:


    I thought it was “grillz.”

  15. stpauliegirl says:

    When I didn’t have dental insurance, I had the world’s best dentist. A couple times, he filled two cavities but only wrote down one on the billing sheet, knowing that I was paying out of pocket. He also worked superfast because I skipped the Novocaine. Mmm, so glad I have dental insurance again.

  16. etinterrapax says:

    I have had fantastic experiences with the Harvard Dental School clinic. Free fillings if you’re chosen for the board exam, and everything else half what I pay at my regular dentist now. The work’s all supervised/checked. My regular dentist is faster, which is his only real advantage.

  17. Youthier says:

    When I was in high school, we left our dentist office after the father retired and the son began to take over and all of the sudden everything was “the latest technology”. Six months later, a friend of my mom’s who still saw that dentist was advised to take out a second mortgage to pay for her dental work.

    She changed practices with us.

  18. Kurtz says:

    @Mom2Talavera: Just because a dentist advertises cosmetic services doesn’t mean you should look elsewhere. My dentist is a prosthodontist, meaning he specializes in reconstructive surgery and implants. But I go to him because he has great chairside manner and he does excellent work. He once told me that he considers crowns and implants as last resorts, since in his words, “the worst thing a dentist to a tooth is work on it”. Seriously, would you run from a eye doctor just because they advertise LASIK?

  19. Codis says:

    I had 11 cavities last year I needed filled (they said it was hereditary, not cause i dont take good care of my teeth.) The first dentist i went to wanted to charge around $300-$350 per tooth, putting the price at over $3000. The second dentist was $150 a tooth, cutting my overall cost in HALF! Also, the first dentist immediately started talking to me about teeth whitening, and invisiline, and tried to make me feel bad about my teeth and get me to spend more money. Scam artists!!!

  20. any such name says:

    i don’t know about drug or alcohol addiction, but doesn’t the dental profession have the highest suicide rate?

  21. mermaidshoes says:

    i too hate paying a lot for dental work, but i definitely understand wanting to receive the big bucks in exchange for having to look at people’s nasty teeth all day. gross.

  22. alicetheowl says:

    @stpauliegirl: No novacaine?

    I’m going to have nightmares about that now.

  23. josh1701 says:

    @any such name:

    B.S. on the highest suicide rate. However, according to a World Health Organization press conference on suicide prevention last year, “dentists, doctors and veterinarians were a high-risk group, because they had easy access to lethal methods and knew how to use them.”

    From having worked at a dental school and interacting with students and alumni, I can tell you that they are not any different from you and me. There will always be bad apples in any group but the vast majority are hard working and committed to doing their best for their patients.

  24. xskeptictankx says:

    I agree with the part about not even bothering with a dentist who appears to lean more on the cosmetic end of the spectrum. They don’t want to mess with a root canal where they have to go through the insurance company to get paid when they can spend that time doing two or three sets of veneers that the patient has to pay for on the spot.

    I was referred (by a friend) to a dentist like this who caused me MONTHS worth of frustration after she charged me a ridiculous amount of money out of pocket for a few very routine fillings, which she also screwed up and charged me MORE to fix. She claimed that my insurance didn’t cover the fillings even though I have had Care Choices insurance for as long as I have had teeth and they had ALWAYS covered it before. It ended with threats of lawsuits from both parties and eventually getting my money back.

    Upon returning to a reputable non-cosmetic dentist, he ordered new x-rays for FREE because the ones she took were so poorly done that he couldn’t even “read” them. He questioned if I had really even needed the fillings she gave me at all. The crappy dentist clearly had no recent experience doing anything but veneers and crowns.

    I reccomend going to cosmetic dentists ONLY for cosmetic procedures. Just because they have (supposedly) more dental training that doesn’t mean that they are masters of basic dental procedures.

  25. xskeptictankx says:

    @danger_the_pirate: My dentist as a kid in Michigan was Dr. Love. Small world.

  26. kimdog says:

    @aparsons: Stewart Lantner on w 57th.

  27. amalgamator says:

    I’m a current dental student. I totally agree with seeking a 2nd opinion. As they say there are many ways to skin a cat and dentists differ in their opinions and diagnosis. Oftentimes there isn’t a “right or wrong” answer, just probabilities and risk.

    One way to save money is to see if you can get your work done at a dental school. It will take 2-3 times as long, but it will cost 1/2 as much and you will usually get pretty good quality because the student wants to get a good grade and the procedure is checked at many points by a professor. There isn’t the pressure of a dentist being behind with patients stacking up in the waiting room and needing to make a profit.

  28. geeniusatwrok says:

    can someone ‘splain why medical and dental insurance are two completely disconnected planets? because when the two collide as in oral surgery it gets really, really messy. um, financially, I mean.

  29. WolfDemon says:

    I’m glad my dentist is pretty honest. When it was time to see whether I “needed” braces or not, he told me that my teeth are perfectly fine and the only reason I would get braces is if I wanted to push a certain tooth back that sticks out a little more than the others

  30. Auntie M. says:

    Boy, I wish I had thought about getting a second or even third opinion a couple of years ago. My dentist is one of those “lastest technology” guys, and I knew I was probably paying extra for that. But a few years ago he told me that I needed to have my jaw rebalanced or something for $4,000 (I have mild TMJ). Since I’ve been going to him for about 15 years I just trusted him and did it. Afterward, doing more research on the internet, I found that it’s a very controversial thing, and that not all dentists even think it’s ever necessary. Looking back, I really don’t think I did. I felt like a real (poorer) fool.

  31. Jasmo says:

    I was referred to a dentist’s office that gave me a super-hard sell on cosmetic services in the form of a “survey” that was worded to make the reader feel extremely self-concious about not having their teeth whitened, etc. Do you often feel afraid to smile because you feel your teeth are not as white as they could be? I’m not making this up … then the receptionist read my “survey” and asked me, straight up, “You aren’t interested in whiter, brighter teeth?” I told her I’d prefer to get that suspect filling taken care of first… never went back.

  32. gruffydd says:

    My childhood dentist was Dr. Chew.

  33. AcidReign says:

        My father was a dentist, so I look at these sort of posts in a different light. I know there are a number of fluoride-haters among the Consumerist community, but… I was fed the stuff from an early age, and our local water system started fluoridating around 1970. My father (ten years retired) still maintains that it’s the single best thing you can do for your teeth. Now, if you suck on coffee, Mt. Dew, or bottled water all day long, you won’t get the benefits. But for the tap water drinker, he says they get about 75 percent less cavities. No kidding.

        It’s my contention that my dad retired too early. With the sugar/acid mouths of the 21st century, he could have made a LOT of money! There was a comment above about letting a cavity turn into a root-canal, above. Make no mistake. Dentists make a killing on crowns. Typical price is $1500 a pop. The lab gets half, the dentist gets half. And it takes no more time than a good cleaning. Plus, you’re going to have to pay another $750 at the endodontist for a root-canal. On the other hand, crowns and root canals are pretty much preventable. In most cases, you (or maybe your dentist) screwed up with your dental care, if it gets to that point…

        My father’s view on cosmetic dentistry was general disdain. Coverings and such were suspect, because covering over a problem makes it worse in the long run. Kind of like the stucco/drivet house-building debate in the 1990s. Stuff that whitens by burning off a layer of enamel is risky, especially if you drink a lot of acids. You’re going to pay, down the road.

  34. iheartconsumerist says:

    I’m sure there are a lot of dentists out there that overcharge, but sometimes you get what you pay for.. I recently had my wisdom teeth removed and paid about twice as much as my sister did. My extraction was completely pain free – went to sleep, woke up and my wisdom teeth were gone. My sister on the other hand didn’t opt for iv sedation, and went to a much less skilled oral surgeon – it was a pretty traumatic experience. I’m one of those people that will cut costs by not going to the movies, and not eating out, but when it comes to my body I’d rather pay some extra and error on the side of having a really skilled person messing with my insides.

  35. jwissick says:

    My dentist is tops… A bit pricey, but I am willing to pay for that as there is hardly ever any discomfort.

  36. loueloui says:

    I have a dentist that belongs to the Coast Dental chain. During your initial visit, they give you a brief exam and then draw up a course of treatment with the approximate cost of each item. I was okay with this until my next visit.

    I was scheduled ostensibly for a cleaning which would have costed $40 under my insurance. Instead I was told I needed an antimicrobial treatment which was not mentioned anywhere on the course of treatment that cost $700 and was ‘maybe’ covered under my health insurance. It turns out that this was an outright lie. This treatment is completely optional, and not covered under any insurance. I found out later that this was a common tactic among this chain after reading about several other people this happened to.

    This is a variation on the 5 O’Clock surprise borrowed from the auto mechanics’ bag of tricks. Bring you in under false pretenses, and then turn on the high pressure sell. I am usually extraordinarily immune to sales pitches, but I have to admit I didn’t expect this from a medical professional. I feel like a sucker for having been swindled like this.

  37. synergy says:

    It’s the maniacal laughter he uses when he heads to the bank with your money. :D

    I just dumped a periodontist I saw who went from handing me a $1000 estimate to over $1200 when I questioned the $1000. At least he only got $90 out of me.

    I don’t get this for dentists, but my insurance gives a bar showing how much PCPs charge, below or above average on a simple scale without actual prices. Very helpful!

  38. synergy says:

    Oh and that dentist’s financial manager or whatever she was called was trying to sell me what amounted to a high interest loan to pay for the exorbitant price I was somewhat sure I shouldn’t pay. Screw that. I didn’t go back. She even called me two or three times trying to get me to schedule the work. Ugh.

  39. Pinget says:

    I’ve met 4 of these kind of dentists over the last 12 years. Within the field, they talk about dentists morphing from healers to entrepreneurs. There’s not much info out there about this diturbing trend, but here’s a [url=]prospectus[/url] for a seminar coming up in Boston for endodontists. You’ll find the key ideas in there. “Increase your bottom line by 8-10 Million dollars!” “Reduce patient resistance to payment in full at completion of treatment.” Oh yeah. If the practice looks more like an Escalade than a ’95 Camry, find another dentist/endodontist/orthodontist.

  40. ATL003 says:

    I am so happy that I’ve found this site. Earlier today my husband and I visited a dentist with the Coast Dental chain and we were both in shock when we received the “Proposal” of treatment that they suggested. My total bill was a little under $1,700.00 while my husband’s came to a whopping $13,500.00!!!! This is a scam if I’ve ever seen one! Loueloui hit the nail on the head; the whole experience was reminiscent of a shady auto mechanic or greedy car salesman.