Updated on February 9, 2024
8 min read

Is Your Dentist Doing Unnecessary Dental Work?

NewMouth is reader supported. We may earn a commission if you purchase something using one of our links. Advertising Disclosure.

Effective dental care is a cornerstone of good oral health, and it helps to know that your dentist has your best interest in mind. However, unnecessary dental work is a concern you should be aware of.

Unnecessary dental procedures can negatively impact patient health and the field of dentistry as a whole. If you feel pressured to say yes to an expensive procedure you may not need, read this article first.

It explains what unnecessary dental procedures are and their implications. It also covers red flags to look for and how to get a second opinion for dental treatments.

What Is Considered Unnecessary Dental Work?

Unnecessary dental procedures include any treatment that isn’t essential for your overall health. There are many cases in which your teeth may need treatment, such as fillings, to keep your mouth healthy. Without fillings, teeth may continue to decay until a more invasive and costly procedure, such as a root canal or extraction, is needed. 

dentists assistant examining teeth of patient 1

In this example, filling a cavity before it worsens is considered necessary dental treatment. If a dentist recommends a root canal and crown when a filling would suffice, that would be considered unnecessary.

Why Would a Dentist Recommend Unnecessary Procedures?

Some dentists perform unnecessary work to charge your dental insurance — or you — and make extra money. There are many reasons this might occur, including:

  • The need to repay debt incurred during dental school
  • Lack of oversight and enforcement from the dental board
  • Difficulty billing insurance companies for more conservative procedures

However, just because this occasionally happens, it doesn’t mean all dentists are unethical. Most dentists are honest and have your best interest in mind. Unfortunately, poor practices by some affect the reputation of dentistry in general.

What Are Signs That a Dental Procedure May Not Be Needed?

When avoiding unnecessary care, a lot depends on trusting your instincts and asking the right questions. Here are the signs to watch out for:

  • Your dentist won’t explain why they recommend a treatment ⁠— Always ask your dentist to explain, and even show you, why a procedure is necessary.
  • A new dentist prescribes a lot of work ⁠— Be wary of the recommendation of intensive dental work that comes out of the blue, especially if you’ve never needed it before.
  • They won’t show you your X-rays ⁠— It’s your right to ask your dentist for your X-rays, as they legally belong to you.
  • The office advertises free exams ⁠— This is often a scam to get patients in the door and may result in spending more money than you would by paying a trustworthy dentist to examine your mouth.5
  • Your dentist pressures you to undergo urgent treatment ⁠— Unless you’re having a dental emergency or are in severe pain, getting a second opinion from another dental office is worth it.

Common Unnecessary Dental Procedures

A dental procedure becomes unnecessary depending on the context in which your dentist recommends it. It’s crucial to use your better judgment when determining this.

These are the most common dental procedures that may be unnecessary:

1. Replacement Fillings

A filling is a common treatment for cavities, which are holes in the teeth that form due to tooth decay. Fillings don’t last forever and often must be replaced when they break, decay, or fall out.  

However, if your dentist suggests removing and replacing an old filling that isn’t causing pain or bothering you, this may be unnecessary. You don’t need replacement fillings just because they’re old or made of silver (amalgam).4

2. Custom Night Guard

Your dentist may prescribe a night guard to protect your teeth from grinding against each other in your sleep (bruxism). Some people benefit from a night guard, especially those experiencing jaw pain.

Night guards are big money-makers for dentists, so it’s important to question whether you need one. Research shows that teeth grinding is a behavioral problem, not a dental one, and may be treated with therapy and relaxation techniques.6

3. Dental Sealants

Dental sealants cover a tooth’s surface, creating a barrier between the tooth and acids that cause decay. Though the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends sealants for children and adolescents, be wary of a dentist who prescribes them for adult patients with a low cavity risk.7

4. Veneers

Veneers are a cosmetic dentistry procedure and are rarely medically necessary. A dentist who pressures you to get any kind of elective cosmetic procedure is a big red flag.

If you want to improve the appearance of slightly misshapen or unevenly sized front teeth, veneers can help. However, if you’re more concerned about the shade of your teeth, whitening is a less invasive and more economical option.

5. Dental Crown

A dental crown is a tooth-shaped cap that fits over your natural tooth. It can be a necessary treatment to strengthen a tooth weakened by decay or other dental treatments like a root canal.

If your dentist recommends a dental crown to restore a decayed tooth, it’s worth asking them about potential alternatives. They may be able to use a large filling or partial crown (onlay) instead.

While onlays and large fillings will cost less and preserve more of your natural tooth structure, they may not last as long as a dental crown. A good dentist will discuss the risks and benefits of each type of treatment to help you decide on the best option.

6. Root Canal

Root canal treatment involves removing infected, irreversibly inflamed, or dead (necrotic) pulp from the inner chamber of a tooth. Then, the pulp chamber is disinfected, filled, and sealed. 

Root canals are necessary when trauma, severe decay, or extensive dental procedures cause a tooth’s pulp to become infected, inflamed, and necrotic. It’s the last line of treatment before an extraction.

A root canal isn’t necessary if the pulp isn’t dead. Your dentist can do a sensitivity test to confirm this. If you have mild, non-lingering sensitivity to cold in the affected tooth, that’s a sign the pulp is still alive. In this case, a pulpotomy and/ or filling is a more conservative approach.

7. Extraction

Extraction means getting a tooth pulled. When a tooth is extracted, you will likely need a dental implant or bridge to fill the empty space. Altogether, this can be very expensive.

Alternatives to extraction include fillings, dental crowns, and root canal treatments. You can seek a second opinion if your dentist claims the tooth is beyond saving.

Wisdom teeth extraction is common in young adults and adolescents. Extraction may be unnecessary if your wisdom teeth aren’t impacted or causing pain.

Effects of Unnecessary Dental Work

Unnecessary dental procedures can negatively affect your health, finances, and the entire healthcare system.

Effects on Your Dental Health

Receiving unnecessary root canals and dental crowns involves removing healthy tooth structures. This leaves the remaining tooth structure vulnerable to damage.

Additionally, dental crowns can accumulate debris along their edges, leading to tooth decay. Unnecessary extractions are bad for your dental health because the surrounding teeth can shift into the space left by the missing tooth.

Effects on Your Finances

Paying for dental care that doesn’t significantly improve your health can be a major financial burden. This can cause strain in other areas of your life and affect the lives of your family members.

Effects on the Healthcare System as a Whole

Unethical dental practices contribute to larger systemic issues in the healthcare system by degrading patients’ trust in their providers. This especially damages dental health, a key factor in overall health.

When Should You Seek a Second Opinion?

Getting a second opinion about dental work is never a bad idea. This is especially true if you suspect the recommended procedure isn’t necessary. 

It’s fully within your rights as a patient to tell your dentist any of the following:

  • No
  • Not right now 
  • I need to think about it

Your dentist should respect your personal preferences. If they try to push you to make a hasty decision about a procedure, that’s a red flag. Many patients seek a second opinion and research price ranges before undergoing dental work.

Keep in mind that dental diagnosis is subjective. It’s common and normal for one dentist’s treatment plan to differ from another’s, which isn’t necessarily a sign of fraud. If this occurs, opt for the dentist and plan you prefer.

What to Do If You Suspect Unnecessary Work

If you think you’ve received an unnecessary dental procedure, you should talk to your dentist first. They may be able to explain the situation and resolve your concerns.

If your dentist won’t talk to you or ignores your attempts to contact them, you should consider calling an attorney. 

Summary

Sometimes, dental work is necessary to maintain a healthy mouth. However, unnecessary procedures can adversely affect your dental health, finances, and the healthcare system.

To help avoid unethical practices like unnecessary dental work, ask people you know to recommend a trustworthy dentist. Be wary of dental offices advertising free exams and deals, as these are often designed to lure you in.

Always ask your dentist if a procedure is really necessary and have them explain why. Feel free to get a second opinion at any time.

Last updated on February 9, 2024
7 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. Lin et al. “Assessing Patient Experience and Healthcare Quality of Dental Care Using Patient Online Reviews in the United States: Mixed Methods Study.” Journal of Medical Internet Research, 2020.
  2. Sheiham, A. “Minimal Intervention in Dental Care.” Medical Principles and Practice, 2002.
  3. Dhar et al. “Evidence-based clinical practice guideline on restorative treatments for caries lesions.” JADA: The Journal of the American Dental Association, 2023. 
  4. Sharif et al. “Replacement versus repair of defective restorations in adults: amalgam.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2014.
  5. Heath, D. and Rosenbaum, J. “Patients, Pressure, and Profits at Aspen Dental.” PBS, 2012.
  6. Murphy, K. “Grind Your Teeth? Your Night Guard May Not Be the Right Fix.” The New York Times, 2021. 
  7. Dental Sealants.” American Dental Association.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram