Mar 27 2012

Being upsold at the dentist?

I went to the dentist recently — the first time I’ve been in for a check-up since I was pregnant with Vivienne.

We don’t have dental insurance, because Shane’s employer’s plan is expensive and doesn’t actually cover much. Instead, we bought a discount plan that costs about $130 per year. The catch? We have to go to specific providers.

I looked at the list of available dentists near me, and settled on a company that seems to have a nationwide presence. They advertise heavily and seem to have a volume business model.

I had x-rays and was passed off to the hygenist where she immediately asked if I had trouble with tooth sensitivity.

“Sometimes,” I told her, “when I have ice against my teeth.”

She rummaged through a cabinet and pulled out a tube of toothpaste for me to use. It was $27. For a tube of toothpaste! She went on to say, “You probably spend $5-6 per tube, and it might only last a few weeks. Just use a pea-sized amount out of this tube and it should last you four months.”

Though she wasn’t the best saleswoman, I thought I’d go ahead and buy the tube. Yes, I know. $27. I just have weak spots on my teeth and I’m prone to cavities. I’m also an easy sell, I’m ashamed to admit.

Then, she handed me an electric toothbrush and demonstrated the settings.

“How much do you think something like this might cost?” she asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe $50?” I guessed. She pointed up, looking uncomfortable. “$75?” Up some more.

“It’s normally $200, but we could give you a half-off coupon and you could get it for $99.”

Yay, I could get a toothbrush I didn’t even want for $99! No thanks. I may be an easy sell, but I’m not that easy.

She looked disappointed and then went to work scrubbing my teeth. Roughly. Ow.

The dentist came in and reviewed my x-rays with me. She told me there as a tiny cavity on one tooth, and she wanted to redo a filling. The filling had been giving me trouble, and it was difficult to floss that tooth.

Well. I went back to have those cavities repaired. The dentist said the one cavity was so itty-bitty, she was hesitant to even numb me — the shot would be more uncomfortable than the drill. I said bring it on, and to stop if I yell. I tried to remember some of my Hypnobabies stuff, heh. It was fine and over in a few seconds.

The other side of my mouth — the side that required her to take out a filling involving two teeth and replace it —  yowza. She numbed me and the shot hurt quite a bit. After the meds wore off, my jaw ached. I took ibuprofen and had relief. Still, at times I had intense pain on the entire side of my face, radiating all the way to my ear.

I went back to the dentist and she filed the filling down some more in case the bite was too high. She explained that the nerves inside the teeth were inflamed and it can take several weeks for them to totally chill out. Lovely! And seriously, several weeks? Wish I knew that beforehand. Not sure what I would have done differently, but it would have been helpful to know.

It has been about a month from the initial filling and I’ve gone from taking ibuprofen several times daily to once per day or not at all. Kind of ridiculous, but at least it helps get rid of the pain and lets me get on with my day. I haven’t needed it at all today and I’m hopeful it really was an angry nerve instead of something requiring a root canal. I’m not in the mood for that.

I do understand that the office is a business and they exist to make money. I was just uncomfortable with the upselling and the way they seemed to want to squeak more money out of me.

I plan on going somewhere else for my next cleaning.

15 Responses to “Being upsold at the dentist?”

  1. Sorry to hear about your dental problems. I visit my dentist twice yearly since I have good dental insurance. In September, I was told I had some softening in one molar, which bummed me out. They recommended a sealant to protect the tooth from possible decay.
    Nerd that I am, I researched and found Dr. Ellie’s blog ( I exhaustively read through all her questions and asnwers then decided to cancel my appointment and try a couple components of her plan (xylitol throughout the day after eating/drinking and ACT fluoride rinse before bed). I have very good oral health otherwise, so I wasn’t going to bother with the other rinses.
    I had my next checkup just yesterday and was fully expecting someone to mention my cancelled appointment, but nothing was said and everything looked great. Too bad I didn’t have to explain why I didn’t follow his recommendation, because I’m a little peeved an easy prevention like this wasn’t ever mentioned.

  2. Ugh, this ticks me off so much. There is nothing worse than a sales-y medical provider. How are we supposed to know the difference between a genuine medical recommendation and a sales pitch? It should be illegal, I think.

    I was up sold at the optometrist before. They said I could have my eyes dilated the “old” way, OR they could use a fancy machine to scan my retina for just a little more and it would be covered by insurance! I was like, “Okay, whatever.” Received a bill in the mail for $130. It wasn’t covered. Dilation, which would have accomplished the same result i terms of my exam, would have been covered 100%. Pfft.

    I called to complain and said they lied and told me the scans were covered They said they’re not responsible for knowing the ins and outs of my insurance. They told me they looked it up and it would definitely be covered! I would have declined if I knew I’d have to pay out of pocket.

    Seriously, a doctor’s office should be one of the one places you don’t have to question whether they’re just trying to sell you something. :(

  3. Wow, talk about leaving a bad taste in your mouth! My dentist gave me a small tube (bigger than a sample size) of sensodine when I mentioned mild sensitivity, and a travel-size bottle of special mouthwash that should help with gum bleeding (due to pregnancy), both for free.
    I HIGHLY recommend an elecric toothbrush, especially if you’re going more than 6 months between visits, but you can get a perfectly decent one for $30-$40 at the store. I got our last one for $12 after coupons and a rebate (originally $75). You can share them because they have removable heads with color-coded bands. I share one with my husband, and the 2 kids share one. Our first one lasted us 7 years before the rechargable batteries went kaput. I can tell the difference in how clean my teeth feel if I use a regular toothbrush for just a weekend trip. Two different hygenists have told me they can instantly tell the difference between people with regular toothbrushes and electric. But $99…?

  4. Shane is SUCH a fan of electric toothbrushes. He wants me to get one. I probably will. But yeah I can just pick out one at the drugstore and find a coupon or something for way cheaper than $99, and it’ll work just fine!

    #1 Karen — thanks for that link. I think doing preventative stuff is a good idea instead of jumping into crazy expensive, painful dental work!

    #2 Karen — YEAH. You really should be able to trust medical people to not be salespeople! That is so stinkin’ lousy when they do that. I’d be so mad about the dilation thing. GRRR!

  5. Ouch. I have been lucky to make it without a cavity my whole life. Dental problems sound painful. (Did have an infected wisdom tooth socket in high school)

    I would shop around and not just buy from them. See if you can find the toothbrush or toothpaste they suggested online. You might be able to buy it for a lot less.

  6. Dentistry is a business. I was in Peace Corps with a dentist who left the field in disgust. Every kid who came into the practice he had been with was told they needed braces. Most were on welfare, but many had working parents. That’s not to say that all dentists are bad, but shop around. Don’t just pick the fashionable ones. I know a few in Indy who are decent if you want to email me.

  7. Wow that experience sounds awful all the way around. I would definitely choose a different dentist. Even if you pay out of pocket for the whole thing, it might not be that much more than the $130 you paid for the plan (if that is per person.)

  8. Sorry to hear about your experience. $27 for toothpaste sounds awful…so does $5, but I’ve hardly ever paid for it thanks to coupons/rebates.

    I second Karen’s suggestion to check out Dr. Ellie’s blog and book and give it a try. I’ve been reading her blog for 3 years and have learned so much about oral health.

    I’ve used her system for a few months and it took care of the sensitivity that I was experiencing. I loved the way my mouth felt and wish I could continue on it. The only reason I don’t use it now is because I can’t get the products here and they are too expensive to ship overseas.

    I do occasionally buy her mints and gum to give my son and I do have my mom send me large bags of xylitol and since Dr. Ellie says that if there were only one product you could use, she’d suggest xylitol. (I buy the NOW brand granulated xylitol on amazon)

    My son brushes his teeth with it twice a day and at night uses ACT flouride rinse (just a dab on his toothbrush). I also put a teaspoon of xylitol in his water bottle. Oral care isn’t common here and his teeth do look great compared to his classmates. And to my untrained eyes, I don’t see any spots or causes for concern.

    You might also try a dental hygine school for your next cleaning. I’ve had good experiences with them but appointments take about 3 hours since teh student does the cleaning and then the dentists has to check it. But for $24 is was worth it when I was in college and had more time than money :)

  9. When I was in high school, I was swimming and broke off my front two teeth on the bottom of the pool. The last dentist I went a few years ago asked me what had happened, hinted that it looked bad, and asked me if I wanted to get them redone. (I will admit, I can definitely see where my teeth aren’t perfect. I try not to think about it. I was in a third world country at the time and used the only dentist available to fix it.) I got a little excited about getting my front teeth fixed, but when I checked into my insurance I found out they considered it “cosmetic” and wasn’t covered at all. :-( I felt a little like he was trying to sell it to me.

    I haven’t had very good experiences with dentists, so I haven’t gone in years. *sigh*

  10. Doesn’t sound fun, but going to the dentist is never a fun filled party. Every time I’ve been to the dentist, I usually got a toothbrush and floss for free. In your case, the company’s trying to increase it’s profits. But at $27 a toothpaste, that’s insane.

  11. I hate that experience you had! I sound like such a pessimist, but it is so difficult to find someone who truly has your best interest at heart. I had a bad time at the optometrist–they told me I had 20/20 vision and then told me I should purchase glasses and/or contacts. What the hey?

    I’ve found an OB/GYN, a nurse practitioner (I’ve never had an MD that I genuinely liked) and a dentist that I legitimately like and trust. With a dentist your life may not be in his/her hands, (though in cases of being put under for any reason your life could be in his/her hands), but with a regular doctor or an OB it very well could be!

  12. It is one thing giving away free samples or recommend a certain brand because they truly believe in that brand, but to sell a particular brand seems like a violation of ethics because they are profiting on what they are pushing and I wouldn’t want to go back their either.

  13. I can’t even believe this. I’ve been going to the same dentist since I was a kid, so I guess I’m living a “sheltered” life when it comes to dentistry.

    Still, I’ve never even heard of a dentist office selling products like toothbrushes and toothpaste. Free samples are all I’ve ever been given. Plus, whenever I mention sensitivity, my hygienist just puts some gooey flouride stuff on it for me (no charge!).

    The pain with your filling also sounds really suspicious. I’ve had a lot of fillings in my life and have never had the problems you’ve mentioned. My temporary crowns gave me the kind of pain you’re talking about, but once I went back for my permanent crowns, the pain quickly disappeared. I’m very glad you’re going to go somewhere else next time. :)

  14. I know! I’ve only had free samples at other places, too. I DID pick up a free dental floss, but whoopdedoo. I bet they’re like that since they’re a big chain instead of a private practice but who knows.

    I’ve had plenty of fillings as well and this is the first time that I’ve ever wanted to pull my own teeth out. Luckily the pain is gone and I haven’t needed ibuprofen for awhile. But GEEZ. No idea what that was all about, though I know I’m not an isolated case. When I was grumbling in pain waiting for ibu to kick in, I did some Googling and found out plenty of other folks have had a similar issue. Might have something to do with the white resin. dunno.

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (7), Vivienne (5) and Amelia (2) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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