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You’re not alone if you cringe at the mere thought of going to the dentist, but go you must — lest you learn the adage ‘be true to your teeth or they’ll be false to you’ from personal experience.

Regular, twice-yearly visits are generally recommended, but how do you know if your dentist is recommending something that’s not necessary? You won’t, unless you become an educated dental consumer.

In October, Mother Jones reported on a jaw-dropping op-ed from ADA News — the official publication of the American Dental Association — in which a pediatric dentist described “a disturbing trend he called ‘creative diagnosis’ — the peddling of unnecessary treatments.” In response, another dentist wrote in, describing patients who come to him for second opinions after a first dentist recommends several thousand dollars worth of treatment, only to discover that nothing actually needs to be done.

Upon investigation Mother Jones found all manner of so-called practice builder seminars, sites, and publications that instruct dentists on how to “maximize revenue.” Although up-selling is not a new phenomenon in any area of business, including dentistry, many things are contributing to its increase (including high tuition, student loans, low insurance reimbursements, and the general state of the economy.)

What should you look out for during your next trip to the dentist? Here is what Mother Jones recommends:

First, beware of specials: That laser dentistry and whitening package may be a ploy to get you in the door so the practice can up sell you on more-profitable procedures. Use caution if your dentist insists on replacing all your old fillings or always recommends crowns instead of fillings. And look out for excessive X-rays: The ADA says healthy patients need a full set (14 to 22) every two years at the most. If your dentist recommends a special “cone-beam” X-ray, get a second opinion, since, along with a 3-D picture of your mouth, it delivers a dose of radiation up to 18 times that of a traditional dental X-ray. Finally, when it comes to children’s dentists, make sure to find a board-certified pediatric specialist, since not all dentists that cater to children have special training.

Just be sure you do your research before that throbbing in your mouth gets too painful.

Photo: Matt Lemmon via Flickr

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