Sunday, May 14, 2006

EXPOSED: Dentists who charge for work you don't need


DENTISTS are charging patients thousands of dollars to carry out unnecessary treatment.

A Sunday Mail investigation has revealed huge differences in the work dentists want to perform.

The discrepancies came to light when a reporter posed as a patient and booked check-up appointments with dental practices in the Brisbane area.

Costs ranged from $40 for a routine examination with no further appointments needed, to as much as $1500 for fillings and oral surgery.

Some dentists said teeth needed deep fillings and wanted to carry out expensive extractions, which others said were unnecessary.

Many favoured "fissure sealants" – a type of protective coating applied to the tooth surface – as a preventative measure against decay and a less aggressive alternative to fillings.

Australian Dental Association Queensland president Robert McCray said there would always be dentists making money by carrying out extensive work on people's teeth.

"I think with any large group of people you will get some who will say they are going to finance their practice with hard-end treatments, and others who are just happy to help people maintain their oral health," he said.

"You can't go around looking over every person's shoulder at all times to check what they are doing."

Last year 334 people in Queensland complained about dental services – an increase of 16 per cent on the previous year.

Of those complaints, 305 were recorded by patients' watchdog the Health Rights Commission. The remainder were dealt with by the Dental Board of Queensland – the body responsible for the registration of dentists.

An annual dental board report revealed half the complaints handled concerned inadequate or inappropriate treatment.

A similar report by the Health Rights Commission states that complaints "frequently involve questions of clinical judgment", and other areas of concern included misdiagnosis.

Dentists have also been caught overcharging for treatment, and making false advertising claims about products such as "super floss".

During the investigation, The Sunday Mail reporter was given conflicting information about work needing to be done.

Despite only having requested a check-up, some dentists also pushed to clean the teeth and administer a fluoride coating at an extra cost of $120.

A particular problem identified concerned wisdom teeth which were said by two dentists to be poorly aligned and so "creating a food trap", causing decay in the neighbouring molars.

One dentist was keen to remove both the wisdom teeth and perform fillings in the molars at a cost of up to $800.

"By the time you get any pain in the tooth, it will be too late to do a filling and it will have to come out," he said.

However, another dentist laughed off his colleague's warnings.

"If there was a problem with the tooth, we would always be able to do a filling – you wouldn't lose any teeth," he said.

Another dentist said: "You would feel pain if there was decay, and then we could fill it for you."

Following the investigation, X-rays of the wisdom teeth were shown to an impartial dentist, who confirmed there was no need for extractions.

He said decay was only present in a molar on the right, so it was not necessary to treat the teeth on the left.

"Personally I would just fill the molar on the right and leave the wisdom tooth, as once the filling is in place it will protect it from further decay," the dentist said.

Dr McCray, who has a practice in Mansfield in Brisbane's south, said differences in treatment were "philosophical".

"Dentists have their own personal preferences for what treatment they like to carry out in certain situations and so there are always going to be some differences, but they are philosophical ones – there is no right or wrong answer," he said.

"Some dentists are more conservative and others are more aggressive, but all of them will believe the recommended treatment is in your best interests.

"The smart consumer has a part to play in the relationship with their dentist, and if they are not comfortable with the dentist's philosophy then they should find another dentist."

Dr McCray also said differences in opinion were a positive sign.

"Differing opinions is how the industry progresses because it enables people to discuss different options for treatment which leads to advancements," he said.

No one from the Health Rights Commission was able to comment when contacted by The Sunday Mail.

A spokeswoman for the Dental Board of Queensland said there were likely to be more people with grievances who had not made an official complaint because they weren't aware of who to contact.

"We would certainly encourage people who have an issue with a dentist to get in touch with us or the Health Rights Commission," she said.

The Health Rights Commission can be contacted on 3234 0272 or 1800 077 308.

Alternatively, telephone the Dental Board of Queensland on 3234 0187.


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