Why Dentists Tell You Different Things

If you’ve ever been to more than 1 dentist in a short period of time, for whatever reason, you’ve probably been a little surprised that one told you there were several problems, one didn’t say a thing, and maybe the third suggested something entirely different.  This question has been discussed in several major news articles over the last couple decades, but usually with a major hidden bias or agenda that the public never gets to see, but which has a big influence on how the issue is presented.  At our Charlotte NC dentist office, this is something we encounter on a regular basis, so why not address it head-on?

Dentists Are People, Too

In simple terms………dentists are like everyone else!  And like people in every other field, that means there is a huge variety from which you may choose, such as:

  • Some are experienced but don’t stay up-to-date; others push the envelope of cutting-edge techniques
  • Some are young and driven to be the best; others don’t have a clue
  • Some love technology and buy every new gadget that comes out – others don’t know how to use email
  • Some are passionate about always learning more; others struggle to reach the minimum requirements to maintain their license.
  • Some understand research and base their recommendations on solid science, others are quacks and couldn’t read a research paper to save their life
  • Some dentists are more “aggressive” and some more “conservative”

You get the idea, right?  This is no different than in any job – some people really want to be the best, others couldn’t care less, and then everyone in between   Look at your co-workers, and you can probably figure out how to apply this list to them.

There Is Often More Than One “Right” Answer

So the hard part for you is to figure out what is the “right” recommendation, isn’t it?  Well, let me throw another wrench into the gears – there might be more than one perfectly good recommendation!  This is usually because more than one treatment can resolve a problem; mostly the differences are in cost and time, but also sometimes they’re due to a dentist’s level of mastery or knowledge of a certain skill.  Alternately, sometimes it depends on how well each dentist can see, as I discuss in this article about dentists and microscopes for awesome vision.

Some Answers are Definitely Less Good

On the flip side, just because there might be more than one option, that doesn’t mean that all of them are equally good, and some of them might be down right bad for you.  By “bad,” I mean that they may not actually resolve your problem, or cost you significantly more than other options that would get a better or equally good result, etc, and some might truly make you worse off than you are now.

Different Philosophies of Care

Lastly, there is the fact that there are 2 basic “philosophies” of dental care, as I wrote about nearly 3 years ago, but let’s review.  Bear in mind – these are generalizations, and most dentists fall somewhere in between these extremes.

  1. If it ain’t broke or hurt, don’t fix it.  This is a more old-school approach that basically doesn’t recommend any treatment until a tooth actually breaks or starts hurting.    The benefit of this approach is you don’t pay for anything until it is obviously a problem.  The big downside to this approach is that, once it’s broken or hurting, it’s usually more expensive and time-consuming to fix than if it had been caught early.
  2. You’ve got a problem – let’s fix it now.  This might be considered more “aggressive,” but usually isn’t.  IOW, let’s catch and fix things when they’re small, because it’s less expensive to fix and you’ll spend less time in the dental chair.  Think of it like this:

Small filling (small $) => medium filling (a little more $) => big filling (medium $) => crown (big $$) => root canal and crown (bigger $$$) => lose the tooth, get a bridge or implant (LOTS of $$$$) => etc etc etc……

Most Dentists are Good, Hard-Working People Who Care

So what’s the take-home message?  Here you go:

Just because you get different opinions and fees from different dentists, doesn’t mean that one dentist is a crook and the other one honest.  Just because they have different fees for the same thing, doesn’t mean the cheaper one is worse ; it doesn’t automatically mean the more expensive one is better, either.

Are there dishonest dentists?  Of course!  Just like in every profession, there are some bad apples, and sadly, they’re the ones you read about in the news.  However, most dentists really care about their patients and want to do the right thing.  But since dentists are people too, with different levels of training, experience, and dedication – it makes sense that you’ll get different opinions.

YOUR responsibility as a patient is to do your best to choose the right dentist for you.  Ask questions, ask to see their work for other patients, ask them why they recommend something, and if it doesn’t make sense, ask if there are other options.  If it still doesn’t make sense, get another opinion – or more than one.  It’s ok – any good, honest dentist will have no problem with that and will actually welcome it.

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