It seems like a thing of the past. Second opinions have gone by the wayside. Sure, we look at Yelp reviews and Google reviews, but do you still ask for a second or third opinion anymore? I mean really ask for one.
Last year, for the first time, I signed on to a health maintenance organization (HMO) dental plan. My daughters are in that phase where critical dental work may be necessary. So I figured I would give it a shot. Boy, was it an eye-opener!
It’s not that the HMO gave me a limited selection of dentists… That’s something I can deal with. It was more the experience with the dentist that shocked me. And I tried two of them.
One of my daughters does not take great care of her teeth. I know that. So her first appointment for X-rays and a cleaning resulted in a diagnosis that required more intensive cleaning that cost more than $800. I balked at it and said that I would think about it. What I really wanted to do was get a second opinion. The first dentist did take the X-rays but didn’t do a cleaning.
I took her to another dentist, someone not on the plan, to get a second opinion. He concurred with the first dentist, the one on the HMO. I called the first dentist, negotiated the price lower by more than 50% and scheduled her for the cleaning.
On the flipside, I take very good care of my teeth. For a long time, I was traumatized by the horrible dentistry I experienced while at boarding school in England. It’s where I had my first fillings, and I can still remember the scene. I am still convinced they used no anesthetic! All I recall was the sound of the drill, the smell of “tooth being eviscerated” and what seemed like never-ending pain. I was eight years old.
After leaving boarding school at 13, I didn’t visit a dentist again until my 20s when I needed a root canal. Apparently root canals are less painful today. Since that root canal, I have taken care of my teeth fastidiously. They are in excellent condition, as are my gums. (There is a reason for sharing this with you.)
I made an appointment with the HMO dentist for myself… just for kicks and giggles. I have a regular dentist who I visit religiously. I made the appointment for X-rays and a cleaning, both of which are covered “free of charge” under the plan.
I walked into the room and sat on the chair. The tech did the X-rays. Moments later, the dentist walked in. He said that he saw the old root canal and crown and noticed that I was experiencing “bone loss” in my jaw. I asked if that was abnormal for someone my age. He said we should keep an eye on it. He also said that my gums looked a little inflamed and asked if I was clenching my teeth or grinding them. I replied no to all the above.
Then the second tech came in. She was going to probe my gums to see how deep the pockets were around my teeth. The probe is like a tiny ruler. Anything more than three millimeters is of concern, and when you get up to five or six, it’s an indication that the gums are in bad shape and gum disease may be an issue.
First off, I noticed that the tech’s glasses were really smudged… I notice these things as someone who wears glasses. She proceeds, and lo and behold, every measurement was a four, five or six.
The prognosis was bad. I needed deep cleaning – again to the tune of $800. Of course, it was not covered under the plan. Further, I needed a bite guard. They determined that I was either clenching or grinding my teeth. That was another $250. Finally, I would need to get my teeth cleaned every four months. And these were the deep periodontal cleanings that were not covered.
I called my regular dentist and scheduled an appointment for “as soon as possible!” As I suspected, I needed none of what the HMO dentist prescribed. My gums were great, as were my teeth.
My dentist told me he was embarrassed by how these “dental mills” were getting away with murder. The scam is clear. The patient rarely understands what is going on because they believe the medical professional is telling the whole truth all the time, especially when there is pain involved and technical terms are being thrown around.
He had one patient who came in to him after an HMO dentist prescribed that all his crowns needed replacement to the tune of $18,000. He told that patient that they were fine and functional. If he wanted to replace them for cosmetic purposes, that was a different story entirely.
The episode with the dentists reminded me again of the importance of a second opinion or even a third opinion. Make it a rule!
It could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Next year, I will be dropping my HMO dental plan. The $45 per month is far too expensive!