Frontline is one of the most respected investigative journalism programs in the country. Produced by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), it is free from the restraints that advertisers might place on its investigations, and it often explores controversial topics to identify concerns that might threaten the health and wellbeing of individuals and the nation.
So when it turned its focus to corporate dental chain Aspen Dental, it should come as no surprise that Frontline found major potential problems with the way the practices were being run.
Trying to Talk People out of Their Teeth
One of the major concerns about corporate dental chains is that they might recommend unnecessary tooth extractions just because it’s a good way to maximize profits. Aspen Dental, for example, focuses on dentures as the core of its business, and, some allege, once it lures people in with a “free exam,” people receive treatment plans that include extraction of their teeth so they can be fitted with dentures.
This often includes the extraction of teeth that are so firmly anchored in the bone that dentists find they can’t remove them all in the time allowed by dental anesthesia. On reviewing some of the cases, dentists point out that treatment plans called for pulling half a dozen teeth that could have been saved.
The Frontline piece includes interviews with both patients and dentists that formerly worked for Aspen Dental. One dentist said that he left because, “They spend most of their time trying to talk people out of their teeth.”
“Relatively Small” Complaints and Disgruntled Workers
For balance, Frontline also spoke to Robert Fontana, founder and CEO of Aspen Dental. He dismissed many of the claims, pointing out even the 1000 complaints the company had online were “relatively small” compared to the 12,000 patients a day that the chain saw. And he said that the statements from former dentists should be taken in context because all companies have disgruntled workers.
He does acknowledge that the average treatment plan at “top-producing” dental offices was $4550. But, he says, that’s because the type of people that come in tend to be middle-aged people who have let their dental care slide.
How to Protect Yourself from Poor Corporate Dentistry
Not all corporate dental care is necessarily bad, but there are things you can do to find out if the practice you are seeing might be putting your teeth in jeopardy.
First, ask your dentist how long they’ve been working with the chain. Dentists aren’t happy with the standard of care they’re forced to give at some corporate chains, so they leave after a couple of years.
Second, find out if your consulting dentist will be performing the treatments they prescribe. Continuity of care is a complaint at some practices, and dentists often complain about having to follow treatment plans written by other dentists.
Make sure you understand financing options before you agree to treatment. “Interest free” plans sound good, but some of them have restrictive conditions and exorbitant penalties.
Most importantly, get a second opinion before going ahead with treatment. This is a good idea for any major treatment, including extractions, root canals, and dental implants.