As a patient, you have rights, including:
to be treated with respect
to ask questions to make informed decisions
to stand up for yourself if you have concerns about your care
to get second opinions, even if you have a great relationship with and trust in your first provider
One of your Healthcare Hustlers, Kirsten, recently flexed her rights at her dental appointment. We are sharing this experience in hopes that it empowers you to stand up for yourself if needed.
We believe that all patients should be respectful and should strive to be a great patient.
Dental insurance can be confusing. Learn more here.
The first appointment
I started going to a new dentist about a year and a half ago. I did my research, searching multiple sites for reviews, making sure the dentist was in-network, and checking with the receptionist to see what procedure codes they would use so I could confirm the benefits with my insurance in advance. The dentist I found was perfect. He was close to my apartment, in-network, and based on the reviews, seemed to be hyper cognizant of his patient’s personal finances (a Healthcare Hustler’s dream) and made an effort to be transparent about everything.
I went in for my first routine cleaning and things were great. I did the x-rays (they checked to make sure they were covered by my insurance), had the cleaning, and talked to my dentist. My dentist, who we will call “dentist A”, said that I had some teeth to watch for cavities, but otherwise was healthy. He also advised me to get my wisdom teeth taken out for a couple of reasons, including that I had some cavities forming on them and I would eventually need them removed either way.
When it all started to go south
Fast forward six months…
My insurance covers two cleanings per year, so I booked an appointment with Dr. A for another cleaning. When I arrived, I was surprised to be seen by a different dental hygienist and dentist. This was the same practice I went to before— the practice door has dentist A’s name on it — so while I was annoyed no one told me about the new dentist in advance, I didn’t think too much of it.
The dental hygienist completed the cleaning, gum check, etc. She then told me I needed to get more x-rays, which I politely declined because I had previously completed them six months prior and my insurance wasn’t going to cover another set of x-rays in the same year. I felt comfortable declining because I didn’t have any health changes in the past six months (note: this was a personal choice that should be made based on individual’s personal situation and preferences). I agreed to sign the form stating x-rays had been offered and I opted out. The dental hygienist did not care for my x-ray refusal. In fact, she made it very clear that she did not agree with this decision.
After the cleaning my dental hygienist told me that overall my gums looked healthy. There was one section of gum above one tooth which she recommended I get a shot of medicine, because it could become infected. I had never been offered this type of treatment before, and only after asking about cost and whether it was covered by my insurance did I learn it would be $200+ charge out-of-pocket. Also, only when pressed did I learn it was recommended to prevent potential infection, and that it was not necessary at this time!
Finally, the new dentist, dentist B, came in for 5 minutes. I told her I was planning on getting my wisdom teeth taken out later this year, per my previous appointment discussion. She made a few private comments to the dental hygienist and quickly excused herself. The dental hygienist then informed me that I had SIX cavities. SIX! I was in shock. How does someone get six cavities in six months with proper brushing and flossing? I asked her if there were any that were more serious than others, so I could prioritize my fillings. She told me they were all bad and needed to be fixed quickly. That didn’t sit well with me, but they were the experts, so I made an appointment to have the first three filled the following week.
Round one of fillings was done by doctor B. Before the procedure I had to sign a form essentially saying I agreed to whatever the dentist needed to fill these cavities. I asked dentist B to do the worst cavities first, in case I wanted to delay the others. She told me that they all needed to be filled quickly and that my insurance should cover all the fillings. Overall the procedure went fine, though there were a few questionable moments. The dentist told an odd and unprofessional story about her brother to the hygienist while I was in the chair and my bite felt off for a bit. I scheduled appointment number two to finish filling the other three cavities later that month with dentist B.
Back to Dr. A
A couple weeks later I was having some sensitivity with one of my new fillings, and given my general uneasiness with dentist B, I canceled the appointment and asked to see dentist A.
I went to my appointment, where I refused to sign the treatment form before speaking to dentist A. I recounted the highlights of my experience and raised my concerns about whether these cavities actually needed to be filled. He reviewed the notes, examined my teeth, and seemed perplexed. He stated that two of the cavities he was supposed to be filling were on my wisdom teeth, which I was planning to get removed - something I told dentist B several times. The third was on a filling that had been filled four years prior, and while he noted a slight concern, it was something he recommended monitoring, not filling.
I was shocked, as was dentist A. I asked him about the previous three fillings that were filled and he said that he hadn’t seen how they had progressed, so he didn’t feel comfortable making an assessment on whether or not they should have been filled. I ended up leaving the appointment with no costs (dentist A told reception not to charge this appointment) and with no additional fillings.
I do not like conflict, and while raising my concerns to doctor A about doctor B made me uncomfortable, I am SO glad I did it. Second opinions with a different provider are not uncommon in healthcare, and may be useful if you have doubts or unanswered questions from your first consultation. Can it be awkward to question the doctor? Sure. Is it worth it to save hundreds of dollars and get better care? Absolutely.
I like to think that dentist B was doing what she thought was best for me, and different doctors have different approaches to care and patient interaction. However, it wasn’t the approach I like to take with my healthcare and ultimately it made me feel uncomfortable. I am glad I realized it and asked for a second opinion from a doctor whose approach to healthcare was more aligned with my own.
I hope this experience inspires you to make sure you are comfortable with your healthcare practitioner, and to stand up for yourself if you do feel uncomfortable. For more resources, check out these articles!
Have you had a similar story? Leave a comment below.