I have been battling with a question for the past year. Not for a year, because I would have gone crazy if it had been continuous, but on and off. It has to do with a dentist and whether or not to report him to the State Board of Dentistry. I wrestle with this and whenever I think about it, I think, “Something should be done,” but I also don’t want to get an emerging dentist into serious trouble or damage his reputation. And I certainly, don’t get (and don’t want) anything out of it – he’s not my dentist anymore. The reason I consider this, and why it still bothers me is because I’m afraid he’ll keep being reckless and do what he did to me, with someone else. And it won’t work out so well for him or his patient.
So, what did this guy do that was so bad? For most people, he probably would just be considered a rip off. He tried to convince all of his patients that they needed to replace every filling they ever had before they came to him, and that they needed a bunch of nonessential, but valid services like a deep root cleaning, which helps fight gum disease and is necessary for people with certain gum inflammation. But he recommended this to anyone who walked in his door. I mean I felt leery from the get-go, but I kept him as my dentist for a year, before I finally had to face facts. This guy was only thinking of the bottom line, and that’s fine, it’s a business, but it becomes not so fine, when it is at the expense of his patients.
Why it was a big deal for me, and could be a big deal for a quarter of his patients is something that is a dirty word in the healthcare industry (or at least the insurance industry): preexisting conditions. In my case, I have certain heart conditions that make any dental procedure a big deal. I have to take antibiotics beforehand and even that doesn’t mean whatever was done won’t came back to bite me. And to be clear, I have had a simple dental appointment be the direct cause of a heart infection that actually killed me, and stole a year of my life away thanks to the strokes and seizures it brought along with it. I have blogged about that experience before, but in a happy upbeat “Whatever kills you makes you stronger, but please let’s not do this again,” post. And this dentist knew my history, not just from my records but I mentioned it every time he suggested something. “Is this absolutely necessary?” And every time he assured me that whatever I questioned was.
But while I like to believe in my healthcare providers, I’m not stupid. So the only thing he ever did with me was replacing all of my fillings. And that was stupid enough. Some of the fillings were only a year old, but he went on and on about how they were causing damage to my teeth and how if I wanted to keep them, my teeth depended on their replacements. He made it seem dire, when now, under the care of a wonderful and competent dentist, it turns out they weren’t even necessary. I didn’t get sick under his care, but if I had done the deep root cleaning like he kept pushing me to do, the end result may have been worse than just getting very sick. My husband Roy did the deep root cleaning, and he is the healthiest person I know, with zero preexisting conditions, and he was sick for four weeks after he had his done!
When I asked my new dentist if I needed a deep root cleaning he looked alarmed. “Your teeth would need to be on the verge of falling out before I would have you do that,” he said. And then he went on to say, “You don’t even need it right now, even if we didn’t have to consider your heart.” See they measure your gum’s inflammation by measuring pockets on a scale of 1-5. If you have a 4-5 you are in trouble and genuinely need to consider it. I was almost all 2’s with a few 1’s and fewer 3’s. I was good. And this made me incredibly angry. My old dentist was so bent on getting as much money as he possibly could, he didn’t care what kind of situation he was putting me in. For me, the more invasive the procedure, the bigger the risk is for my heart and what he kept trying to bully me into a procedure as risky as they come.
I’m not angry anymore, I haven’t seen him in two years, but I am scared for his other patients. Anyone with a heart murmur, pacemaker or who has any other kind of heart surgery can be affected by the infection I am talking about. We all take the same premed, to my knowledge and share a common risk. And that isn’t a small minority of patients; it could easily be as much as a quarter of them, maybe more.
I don’t want to get him in trouble, and since he has been practicing for less than five years I don’t want to hurt his reputation. But I know he won’t listen to me, he didn’t before and certainly won’t now that I’m not even his patient. He was always so arrogant and proud of his flashy practice, which boasted flat screen TVs near every dental chair, that he had dollar signs in his eyes, and nothing else. We went to him because he was recommended and nearby, not for all that flash. It was unnecessary.
For me, I am certain (or at least very hopeful) that he will “see the light” and know better as he gets more experience, like a decade’s worth. But I just can’t stop thinking about the time until that happens. What happens if someone like me allows themselves to be bullied into these unnecessary procedures that actually can put their health, and lives at risk? Sometimes I think filing a formal complaint would be better for everyone, including him. He doesn’t get sued by the next patient for malpractice, and the next patient isn’t put in any jeopardy. But I still feel bad when I think about turning over the complaint. Like I’m tattling and like it will seem like a personal attack, rather than a warning.
In a perfect world he would listen to me, and just get it. And he would look at his patients as people instead of how much he can make off bullying them into specific services. He would stop putting patients in risky situations unless absolutely (and legitimately) necessary. At the end of my struggle on whether to report him or not, this is all that I want. I want him to be a good dentist, and to not put his patients at unnecessary risk for the sake of his paycheck.
And I’m still no closer on figuring out what I should do.
A link to a post I wrote earlier about how a routine dental appointment can turn deadly for me – because it’s happened before, and I’m pretty keen on it never happening again: When The Filling Falls Out – Please Don’t Let History Repeat Itself