Updated on February 9, 2024
8 min read

Warning Signs of a Bad Dentist

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While most dentists are ethical and professional, some may engage in unethical practices like scamming patients or insurance companies for financial gain.

Knowing what to look for at the dentist is essential to protect your oral health and bank account from common dental scams. We’ll review some dental scam warning signs and discuss how to prevent it from happening to you.

12 Warning Signs of a Bad or Fraudulent Dentist

These are the various warning signs of a dishonest or fraudulent dentist:

1. They Charge You for “Phantom Treatments” 

Phantom treatments refer to any service that your dentist bills on your behalf but never gives you. Some dentists charge for treatments they haven’t performed or have billed more than once.

To protect yourself from this type of fraud, always ask for an itemized bill containing the name and cost of each procedure received during your visit. Compare the bill with the services you received to ensure they match up.

2. They Perform a Non-Comprehensive Dental Exam

Your oral health links to overall health. A good dentist takes a holistic approach to understanding all the factors in your body.

A comprehensive dental exam can lead to the prevention and early detection of oral and general health conditions. It often includes:

  • A thorough review of your medical history
  • An oral cancer screening
  • Examination of your head, neck, and face
  • Assessment of your teeth, gums, and bite

If your dental exam is brief or the dentist doesn’t ask about any changes in your health or medications, it’s a potential warning sign.

3. They Don’t Gather Your Dental History/Records

One of the most crucial steps in visiting a new dentist is to give them old dental records from your previous clinic. If your new dentist doesn’t ask for previous dental work, it’s a sign that they’re not taking your dental health seriously.

4. They Recommend a Cone-Beam X-Ray Instead of a Digital X-Ray

Cone-beam X-rays and digital dental X-rays perform similar functions. These X-rays expose the inner areas of the tooth and the roots, but a cone-beam X-ray is more expensive.

If your dentist insists on a cone-beam X-ray rather than a digital X-ray, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re trying to make you pay more. Cone-beam X-rays are typically for specific dental procedures that require a three-dimensional view of the teeth and surrounding structures. 

These procedures may include dental implant planning, orthodontic evaluation, or diagnosing complex dental conditions. It’s important to discuss the necessity of the cone-beam X-ray with your dentist to understand why they recommended it in your case.

5. They Give You a “Creative Diagnosis” 

Creative diagnosis often involves exaggerating dental problems or inventing conditions that don’t exist. This can result in unnecessary treatments to scam money from you.

If your dentist diagnoses you with numerous dental conditions on one visit, it’s best to get a second opinion. It’s also wise to seek the latter if they recommend extensive dental work without showing evidence of why you need it.

6. They Try to Upsell Products 

Dentists can sell dental products to help maintain your oral health, such as toothpaste and mouthwash. However, if they try to sell you unnecessary and expensive treatments, it’s a red flag.

Be wary of dentists who recommend costly procedures like teeth whitening or veneers without explaining why they’re essential for your dental health. It’s also a warning sign if they continuously pressure you to undergo these treatments.

7. They Charge You for Extra X-Rays

You only need complete sets of X-rays every one to two years. If your dentist tries to charge you for more, this is a sign of a scam. You do not need X-rays at each dental visit if you have good oral hygiene and a low risk for cavities. 

8. They Rush to Treat “Microcavities”

Microcavities or surface cavities are the earliest signs that a tooth is decaying. However, they don’t always indicate a need for an expensive fill and drill treatment. Beware of dentists who insist on performing procedures without giving you clear explanations and time to think about it.

9. They Use Outdated/Old-Fashioned Tactics

If your dentist uses outdated treatment methods or old technology, that’s a red flag. Many newer dentistry methods provide more affordable services for customers.

A dentist who uses old technology or treatments may be looking to charge more money or provide a lower-quality service. Examples include using outdated metal fillings or not offering modern alternatives like Invisalign for orthodontic treatment.

10. They Recommend Unnecessary Procedures

If a dentist suggests various expensive treatments, some⁠—or even all⁠—may be unnecessary. Your dentist may be offering these procedures to charge you more money. Consider getting a second opinion if they recommend dental treatment each time you visit them.

11. They Have Poor Hygiene

Everything in a dental office must be clean and sanitized. This includes:

  • Receiving area
  • Inner clinic
  • Dental lab (if they have one)

Dental clinics that aren’t clean may suggest that the staff isn’t following specific protocols and standards. One of the most critical responsibilities of healthcare workers is ensuring the tools they use are clean and sterilized. If not, unclean tools could put the patient at risk of infection.

12. They Have a Bad Online Reputation 

If a dentist has a bad reputation, this is a major red flag. If the people you know don’t recommend them and they have consistently negative reviews online, it’s essential to find a new dentist.

4 Tips for Preventing Dental Scams

Here are some ways to prevent dental scams and find a good dentist:

1. Get a Second Opinion

Dentists should never sway you from getting a second opinion. If they have nothing to hide, they won’t discourage you.

If you’re unsure about a diagnosis, visit another dentist for a second opinion. Or, you can set up a teledentistry appointment for one.

Visiting Denteractive is an excellent option, providing easy access to professional board-certified dentists in your area. 

2. Talk to an Online Dentist Beforehand 

If you have a minor toothache or another dental problem, it might be best to check with an online dentist before visiting a dentist’s office. Getting an online opinion can help prevent unnecessary treatment.

There are plenty of teledentistry services that provide access to high-quality board-certified dentists in your area, including:

3. Only Pay for the Treatments You Need 

Sometimes, dentists recommend several treatments at once when not all are necessary. Only pay for urgent dental procedures that you can’t put off.

4. Do Your Research Before Choosing a Dentist

Ask for recommendations before arranging a dental visit. You can ask your friends and family for suggestions to see if they have a professional dentist you can trust.

How Common Are Dentistry Scams?

Like any industry, dentistry has the potential for dishonesty to achieve financial gain. According to estimates, around 3% of healthcare expenditures in the U.S. are lost to fraudulent activities.1

Although that may sound like a small percentage, consider that dental spending could reach $203 billion by 2027.7 These numbers would put the monetary loss to scams and frauds in the billions.

Why is Dentistry Vulnerable to Fraud?

Certain factors in dentistry leave the profession particularly vulnerable to fraud. The decision as to whether you require dental treatment is typically in a gray area.

One dentist may give different recommendations compared to another with the same expertise. Because dental diagnoses involve some subjectivity, signs of potential insurance fraud may be harder to recognize compared to other fields of healthcare. Determining whether a procedure is essential can be ambiguous at times.

Are You Safe From Fraud If You Have Dental Insurance?

A dental office staff member will typically contact your dental insurance company to determine what’s covered under your dental plan. This can help them quickly list everything you must pay for during your visit.

However, this can leave you vulnerable to receiving treatments that may not be the best for you but are most likely to be reimbursed by the company. It also makes you vulnerable to receiving unnecessary treatment.

Some insurance providers request little proof of the need for many procedures. A dishonest dentist may use this to charge you for procedures you don’t need.

Do Dentists Lie About Cavities?

Research suggests that, in many cases, there’s no need for the traditional ‘fill and drill’ technique to fix cavities, which has defined dentistry for decades.2 In many circumstances, people don’t need fillings.

Following the protocols from the Caries Management System (CMS), researchers say you can stop, reverse, and prevent tooth decay long before a cavity happens.9 While this doesn’t necessarily mean dentists lie about people having cavities, the research suggests the need for a significant change in how dentists manage tooth decay.

It also suggests that dentists may request unnecessary procedures to make more money. This may also extend to other treatments, such as dental crowns.

Is A Dental Crown Unnecessary?

When it comes to crowning teeth, many dentists are eager to perform the procedure because it pays well, even when unnecessary. If you’re considering a crown, don’t agree to the treatment without good reason.

Consider seeking a second opinion. A crown on a healthy tooth isn’t good as it puts the nerve inside under a lot of stress. 

Summary

  • Some dentists may be dishonest and try to scam you out of your money by charging for unnecessary treatment.
  • It can be challenging to know if a dentist is scamming you because it’s hard to determine what dental procedures are necessary.
  • Although cavity treatments and dental crowns can be essential to your dental health, a dishonest dentist may use them to charge more money.
  • There are various red flags if your dentist is scamming you. These include charging for “phantom” treatments and performing non-comprehensive dental exams.
  • Getting a second opinion and checking online reviews can help you avoid bad dentists.

Last updated on February 9, 2024
9 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 9, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. The Challenge of Health Care Fraud.” National Healthcare Anti-Fraud Association.
  2. Evans et al. “The Caries Management System: are preventive effects sustained postclinical trial?” Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, 2015.
  3. Moore et al. “Advantages of Teledentistry Technologies.” The Journal of Multidisciplinary Care, Decisions in Dentistry, 2017.
  4. Rashidian et al. “No Evidence of the Effect of the Interventions to Combat Health Care Fraud And Abuse: A Systematic Review of Literature.” PloS One, 2012.
  5. Joudaki et al. “Using Data Mining to Detect Health Care Fraud and Abuse: A Review of Literature.” Global Journal of Health Science, 2014.
  6. Kisely, S. “No Mental Health without Oral Health.” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Revue Canadienne de Psychiatric, 2012.
  7. Ellis et al. “Exploring dentists’ professional behaviours reported in United Kingdom newspaper media.” British Dental Journal, 2020.
  8. Edwards, T. “U.S. dental spending projected to reach $203B by 2027.” DrBicuspid.com, 2019.
  9. Evans et al. “The Caries Management System: an evidence-based preventive strategy for dental practitioners. Application for children and adolescents.” Australian Dental Journal, 2009.
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