Are Dentists Diagnosing More Cases Of Gum Disease As A Way To Charge More Money?

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having-dental-work-done-by-termie.jpg Jim and I have been going to the same dentist for the past 8 years — twice a year, every year.

Altogether, I’ve actually been going to the dentist religiously for the past 30 years. (Jim’s regular dental care started after we were married 10 years ago. Before that, it was hit and miss.)

And just because I’m the most organized person you’ll ever meet, I keep all of my health and dental records in a file at home.

I have the documentation for every filling I’ve received, all x-rays and root canals (which only became necessary after I chose to replace all of my silver fillings with white ones). I even have the handwritten note from my very first dentist when I was 7 years old that says something to the effect of “stop chewing on ice – it’s bad for your teeth.”

Needless to say, my teeth have been properly cared for ever since I was a very young child.

As an adult, I’ve always had dental insurance which paid for 2 teeth cleanings each year, including x-rays every other year. So I always took advantage of that. My pearly whites have thanked me.

Even after Jim and I quit our full-time jobs to work from home (3 years ago), we’ve still continued to go to the dentist twice each year — even though we no longer have dental insurance and we pay for it out of our own pocket. Why? Because we know it’s important (and we like the way our teeth look and feel after each cleaning).

I said all that to say this… all of a sudden, I supposedly have gum disease! So does Jim.

Technically, I think it’s called gingivitis in these very early stages.

Gingivitis is due to the long-term effects of plaque deposits. Plaque is a sticky material made of bacteria, mucus, and food debris that develops on the exposed parts of the teeth. It is a major cause of tooth decay. If you do not remove plaque, it turns into a hard deposit called tartar that becomes trapped at the base of the tooth. Plaque and tartar irritate and inflame the gums. Bacteria and the toxins they produce cause the gums to become infected, swollen, and tender.  Source

Suspiciously, Jim and I were both diagnosed on the same day by the same dentist as having “2 tiny pockets of gum disease” on exactly the same teeth (the back molars that are hard for most people to reach).

The dentist told us that these “early stages of gum disease” must be cleared out and treated first, before he’ll do a routine teeth cleaning on either of us.



75-80% Of Adults Have Gum Disease

Knowing that I’d been taking great care of my teeth (and brushing regularly and flossing regularly and seeing him twice each year for teeth cleanings) only to suddenly be diagnosed with “early stages of gum disease” led me to question the likelihood that most people you pass on the street probably have early stages of gum disease.

So I called him on it and said, “I bet the majority of people who come in for a teeth cleaning and sit in this chair will be diagnosed with gum disease then. Am I right?”

He said, “Yes, about 75%.”

According to the National Institutes of Health:

If you have gum disease, you’re not alone. About 80% of U.S. adults currently have some form of the disease … Most people can reverse this with daily brushing and flossing and seeing their dentist regularly. Untreated gingivitis can lead to periodontitis. The gums pull away from the teeth and form pockets that are infected. If not treated, the bones, gums and connective tissue that support the teeth are destroyed.

On first glance, it appears that this dentist has found a way to take advantage of the fact that most Americans have some form of gum disease.

How? By requiring that even the slightest sign of gum disease be treated (in a multi-step, multi-visit process, mind you) before those basic, ever-popular teeth cleanings would be done.

This “treatment for early stages of gum disease” seems like it could be a cash cow for some dentists — a way to charge more money and require more office visits. (Especially since our dentist said that he will always be checking for gum disease in this way before every twice-a-year teeth cleaning from now on!)


Maybe It’s Just Us

I don’t know, perhaps we are part of a segmented group that this particular dentist decided to focus on.

We are self-employed, so we don’t have health insurance. Instead, we’re self-pay, so that means more cash in the dentist’s pocket and no insurance forms for him to file.

So anyway, there’s a bit more to this story (that’s not in the dentist’s favor), but I’ll spare you all the details. Here’s the short version: Jim and I went in for our regular 6-month teeth cleaning and came out with gum disease (…and we were $81 dollars poorer and we didn’t get our teeth cleaned!).


We Got A Second Opinion…

So we did what anyone who questions a particular doctor or dentist’s practices or diagnoses does: we got a second opinion.

Jim and I were both eager to see how things would go and if this new dentist would notice our “early stages of gum disease.”  In addition to our (extra-long) initial meeting with the dentist, we also got x-rays and a teeth cleaning all in the same appointment.

And what do you know?… NO gum disease! Neither of us.

So what does that tell you?…

If anything similar has happened to you, feel free to share in the comments below (without mentioning any dentists’ names).