Red flags that say your dentist may be ripping you off: Internet Scambusters #881
A visit to the dentist is never fun, but it could be worse.
How do you know if you or your insurance company are overpaying for dental procedures or, indeed, whether the work is necessary at all?
We'll give you some answers this week, along with guidance on what to do if you think you're being ripped off.
Let's get started...
$12.5 Billion Annual Price Tag for Dentist Scams
Visiting the dentist can be a painful experience -- but how much worse would you feel if you discovered you were also being ripped off?
When you visit the dentist, it's a lot like taking your car into a shop for repairs or service -- you take whatever you're told by the "expert" on face value.
We all know that, in both cases, the final bill is rarely if ever less than we expected. More often, it threatens to break the bank!
And just as with auto mechanics, there's also a bad breed in the dentistry profession -- people who perform unnecessary procedures, sometimes even causing damage to our teeth along the way.
Last time we wrote about dental fraud, back in 2015 (see 5 Biggest Dental Fraud Scams), we told of a researcher with healthy teeth who visited 28 different dentists and got cost estimates ranging between $460 and $30,000!
Things don't seem to have changed much since then. In some respects, they've worsened. One reason cited by dental fraud experts is the drive by younger dentists to pay off their student loans.
While that may evoke a tad of sympathy, enough to fill a tooth perhaps, there's no way this is acceptable. It's unprofessional, it's illegal, and it breaks the professional code of dentistry.
Sometimes, dental offices have been known to lure patients into a fraud conspiracy where the patient agrees to sign off on more work than was actually done in return for skipping copays.
All in all, the National Healthcare Anti-Fraud Association estimates that dentists are cheating customers and insurance companies out of about $12.5 billion every year.
In addition to the five scams we reported last time -- unnecessary work, overbilling, incomplete procedures, selling worthless dental plans, and being unlicensed -- here are four more dental scams currently in operation:
1. Causing damage to teeth and gums in one procedure that later requires further work later. This may be done accidentally or intentionally, but the result is the same: you end up paying more than necessary.
2. Replacing silver fillings. This is a controversial subject. Silver-looking "amalgam" fillings contain tiny amounts of mercury as well as other metals, and the dentist might claim the mercury, which is poisonous at certain levels, is leaking.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends replacing of amalgam only if the wearer is allergic to any of the metals.
If you're worried about mercury in your fillings, see this FDA guidance: About Dental Amalgam Fillings.
3. Upselling. In this case, the dentist outlines the procedure and materials he plans to use and then offers some sort of additional work which he/she says will considerably enhance the result.
This is not strictly illegal, since the dentist is simple offering options, but you may feel under pressure to accept his "recommendation."
A common trick is to tell patients their teeth need "deep cleaning," which requires several visits to the hygienist. Unless you haven't visited the office for a considerable time, deep cleaning is probably unnecessary.
Some dentists have been accused of bullying patients into accepting more expensive procedures.
4. Unbundling. This trick is aimed at insurers rather than customers. Complex procedures are normally billed as a one-cost complete package. However, in this case, the unscrupulous dentist breaks the whole process down into its individual components and bills separately for each of them -- which usually adds up to considerably more than the single, bundled cost.
The process is regarded as illegal by the American Dental Association.
What To Do
The scale of the losses to fraud suggests that dental malpractice and cheating happens quite often.
The most important step is to check out the reputation of your dentist. Even if you've been seeing them for quite a while and they're really nice folk, that doesn't mean you're not being ripped off.
See what other people are saying about your favorite dentist as well as any new provider you're considering using.
If you have dental insurance, your insurer may provide a list of approved and recommended dentists. Or you can use the search service offered by the American Dental Association.
You should also check that your dentist and their staff are fully licensed and insured for the services provided. You can check this with your state's Board of Dentistry.
For more information about dental fraud, check this useful site operated by the corporate website (i.e., not a non-profit site) from the Dental Health Alliance.
If you're unsure about a diagnosis or whether you need the treatment that is being recommended, get a second opinion. You're free to go to any other dentist (or one within your insurer's approved list).
If you still feel uneasy, you can talk to your insurer or, if you don't have insurance, file a complaint with your state's Dental Board.
Alert of the Week
You send an email to a friend who replies that they're out of town at the moment and can you do them a favor? They want you to buy a gift card for a relative and will repay you when they return.
Seems reasonable? But if you buy it, the "friend" will want you to send them the card security number. They'll immediately spend the money, and you'll never hear from them again.
Or at least you won't hear from the scammer who's posing as your friend after hijacking their email account.
It's a sneaky trick that you can't check by email if the account has been hacked. You might try phoning the friend to check but, if they really are away, you may not be able to contact them.
But, in a worst-case scenario where you end up buying the card, if the "friend" subsequently asks for the card number, it's a scam. Don't give them the number!
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!