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My Worst Experience With a Dentist. Can You Match It?

Written by Gary North on January 27, 2012

If you sell anything for a living, use this as a model of how not to run a business.

My wife wanted to find a dentist for us. We have not been to one since we moved to Georgia in 2008. checked with Angie’s list. She said this dentist’s office had high ratings. I don’t understand how.

I went for my appointment. The building was very nice. Large. Brick.  The interior welcome was large and even a bit elegant. It had lots of wasted space. Yellow alert! Someone has to pay for this. Me!

There were three or four nicely dressed women standing around. They were clearly employees. It was 8:30 a.m. I was the only visible customer. Never, ever let a customer see employees standing around. Put them in a room in the rear, if necessary, but don’t have them standing around. This screams “waste!”

I filled out the usual forms. Did I have any problems? No. Well, yes: the traditional wife with a calendar issue. “You haven’t been to a dentist in 8 years. You’ve got to go to the dentist. I’ll set up the appointment. You won’t have to do anything except show up.”

I have had 3 cavities in 64 years of adult teeth, all before age 35. I have a plaque issue. So what? I have a split back molar. I have had it since 1999. So what?

My teeth have caused me no problems, other than being crooked. So, I don’t go to dentists often.

After 10 minutes, I was called. Why did it take so long, with all those women standing around?

The lady was nice. She did the x-rays. She was thorough.

Finally, a dentist came in. He looked like a 30-year-old out of the late 1960s. He had scraggly hair down over his ears. This was a clear signal: “I don’t abide with middle-class values.” This is unwise for any professional or any salesman. The person with something to sell on a repeat basis should not deliberately adopt an appearance that announces a break from the lifestyle of the people whose money he is seeking.

He did not have the same last name as the clinic had. So, he was probably a hired dentist. Someone in charge deliberately kept him on the payroll, hair over his ears. This said: “The owner is not minding the store.”

Anyway, he was clearly a salesman. His demeanor said “used car salesman,” except that used car salesmen get better haircuts.

He looked at the x-rays. He rattled off a list of bad teeth to the assistant: “18-crown. 13-crown.” I think there was a third. I could almost hear the cash register sound of my youth — the ka-ching sound that Quicken still uses for deposits.


He briefly explained why I needed these procedures. I might lose my teeth if I did not get this done. He offered no cause-and-effect explanation.

This was a demb selling strategy. He could see that my teeth were in good condition. If they weren’t, he should have spent time explaining my problems and offering asvice — such as flossing — that would help me deal with them. But no. It was money that would solve my problems, and he clearly wanted a lot of it.

He was selling to a skeptic. I do not go to dentists. Do not try to sell thousands of dollars worth of services to someone who has clearly not been willing to payy a dime to anyone in your field. Recognize that it will take time to separate him from his money. This is common sense. The dentist was devoid of common sense.

I have never lost a tooth. I have never had a toothache. This guy wanted me to believe that if I don’t put a crown on a chipped tooth, I might lose it, and two more to boot. I wasn’t buying it. From this guy, I would not have bought a used car, let alone a dental procedure.

I had come in only for a cleaning. He told me that I would need a local anesthetic to have my teeth cleaned. No explanation. He said I could schedule it.

I said the magic words: “How much will this cost?” He would not say. “I’ll have it estimated.” He walked out. I never saw him again.

The assistant said: “You don’t have insurance. There will be a discount.”

I got it! Price discrimination. “Different strokes for different folks.” Economists hate price discrimination, especially in health care. Why? Because it always involves government intervention to maintain it: restrictions on entry. I had first read about this  in 1960 in an article titled “Price Discrimination in Medicine.” She was talking to the wrong customer.

Then there was this question: Why would I need a discount? For a procedure that normally costs $85?

They both left. I sat. And sat. Where was the estimation lady? I got up wandered into the hall, looking for my wife, who was also getting her teeth cleaned. I went back to the room. I sat. And sat. Finally, I went to the billing desk. The woman had the papers. She began: “Normally, this procedure costs $950.”

I stopped her. “I am not interested.” She started to tell me about the discount. “I am not going to do this.” I no doubt made my displeasure clear. This was not for effect.

Rule: When the opening bid is $950 for an $85 procedure, get out. Fast.

As I said, the outfit bills insurance companies more. How much more? I later found out from my wife. Over double.

I went to the room where my wife was in the chair. “I am not going through with this. You make your own decision.”

I left. She could pay my bill.

Later, the billing lady told her it would have been “only” $400. This information from my wife sent a message to me: “We over-bill insurance companies as a normal practice.” I regard this practice as immoral. It raises health care insurance premiums.

If you want to know what I did next, click the link. It will take you to my site.

Continue Reading on www.garynorth.com

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23 thoughts on “My Worst Experience With a Dentist. Can You Match It?

  1. Can I beat your story? YES! Ever been slapped By a dentist, I needed one of my rear teeth pulled and after 3 shots and 3 tries to pull the tooth sending me jumping out of the chair I could feel everything he slapped me to show I could not have felt anything and he was right didn't feel a thing. Again he tried for the tooth and again I jumped out of the chair I was sweating bullets from the pain. He then after 3 shots on the out side of my gums tried one more on the inside of my gums went in and dug the tooth out, never felt a thing. This was a long time ago before we sued everyone for everything. Anyway I win. Smoking Dan.

  2. ticketintexas says:

    Several years ago I went to a new dentist because we had relocated. She did an exam and x-rays and told me that she was conerned even about touching some of my teeth they were so bad. She estimated it would cost $10,000 to do all the work. I left. I called my old dentist and drove 75 miles to his office. He did an exam and told me the only thing he could see was that I might need a cleaning and we could schedule it if I wanted to drive back. I drove back to his office twice a year until he sold his practice.

  3. unlikelyspy says:

    I chewed on an ice cube and cracked a molar. I found a dentist in my town that took emergency visits since I hadn't been to the dentist in a couple years. I knew it probably needed a root canal since it was throbbing. He took xrays, panoramic, bitewings. Then he filled it. It cost $350. A few days later I was in tremendous pain. I went back. A different dentist was there. She said she needed to drill out the filling and the tooth needed a root canal. She kept yelling at me to hold my tongue out of the way. (I always obey orders). I was holding my tongue. Then the drill slipped and cut the skin under my tongue. I was bleeding and in pain. It was horrible. I finally got my root canal but never went back. I don't have dental insurance this little escapade cost me $350 for the filling and then $2,500 for the root canal.

  4. Gary, buy one of those electronic, vibrating tooth brushes. It's cheap, and it will help with your plaque problem. Since you don't like to floss, try it every other day instead of every day. Even every two days is better than nothing. Your gums will bleed and be sensitive for a week or so, then they'll toughen up, and it won't be painful anymore. You can do it! 🙂

  5. Well, it cost me $30,000 plus because I was in pain and I still have pain!

  6. I was one of those suckers. My final bill: 5,230.00

  7. What do the words "demb" and "payy" mean?

  8. Bill McCroskey says:

    I hope Dr. North will post the Wyatt Earp story including his note at the end (from the link above to read the end of this ordeal)…..I am a bit of a old west buff…had never heard that one…funnier than h-e double hockey sticks.
    I only can offer I always tell my dentist 'If I feel any pain while you're working on me…you will NOT get paid' Usually 8hours later I am still numb and pouring my drink down my chin…..but the good doctor has yet to not get his $$$$ and I have yet to feel any excessive pain !!

  9. DITTO!! I was young, just married, no insurance, and decided to go to a more modern dentist. Flashy dentist, with Mercedes sportscar (bad sign #1), browbeat wife & I into removing ALL fillings and re-filling them. Then he kept pushing a "bridge" where a tooth was previously extracted. Every time I went there he hounded me. He was out one day and his 2nd dentist pushed it. He walked out of the room so I peered at the folder, there it was "push the bridge." We left that dentist after all the fillings were refilled. Later, a friend of mine, who had a really foxy wife, mentioned how the dentist used to take them out to dinner frequently (on my $$$). When 2 another dentist he said I didn't need bridge. He retired and new dentist kept pushing ONE crown, so I went elsewhere. First day, dentist tried pushing FIVE crowns. I said NO! He walked out and then a business manager came in for a 2nd wack at me (pushing the FIVE crowns). I left and never went back. I'm back at previous dentist, but see his 2nd associate. So, far he hasn't pushed the ONE crown!!! But, thinking about trying another new dentist, who was recommended by allergy nurse. She says nothing pushed on her!

  10. Scott Todd says:

    Gary- you need to join Angie's list and give that outfit the low marks they deserve.

  11. Jackson TX says:

    That is pathetic. I can't top that one but when I joined the Navy in 1964, they immediately yanked out 2 teeth which was odd to me since I had just undergone 1500bucks worth of dental work and was declared healthy two months before entering the service.
    How about insurance? Dental insurance is a total scam. Sure, they will insure you but the maximum annual benefit amazingly is the exact same amount as the premium, go figure. These days I go with the discount offers, it probably pays the dentist as much or more than the "negotiated" compensation from the insurance company.

  12. This is a great story, thank you for sharing. I shared this with my whole family as we are all self-employed business owners, the how not to sell points were great. We also don’t have health insurance, we’re members of a health care sharing ministry, so, we pay cash for everything. Our doctor and hospital bills are always routinely negotiated at half the “usual” rate. We are told most times that it’s the amount they charge for Medicaid and Medicare patients. I don’t believe this, I know that they are probably making more money on us because we don’t have departments of people negotiating payments for services like insurance companies or the government. My primary care doctor no longer takes government insurance and she doesn’t negotiate much with her bill, I actually feel that she deals with us more fairly. We always ask how much anything is going to be, and phone shop for doctors before we ever set one foot in their office. As far as bad experiences at the dentist, I let them know before I ever get in the chair, if I feel any pain I will scream and cry to let every other patient know they are torturing me, I get the royal treatment of care and concern from beginning to end.

  13. That’s a great idea, I’m going to employ the pain=no pay strategy.

  14. MontanaMEL says:

    DANG….a whole lot of hurting for nothing…
    The one guy — with his "IF I HURT YOU DON'T GET PAID" is close to the TRUE-BLUE way of dealing with such torture!

    Whenever I have had to see a "new" dentist, for whatever reason….say 5 or 6 times in my life…. it is very simple to set the playing field from the get-go…


    And, if the guy is NOT in the right frame of mind yet, I might even lay my stubb'y on my lap in plain sight…

    I am now, and usually have, been getting at least 3 or 4 tubes of pain killer shots ever since… playing rubber lips for a few hours is not that bad…use a straw….and learn to like warm beer.

  15. Bill McCroskey says:

    I don't do it sternly or like a jerk…..kind of like a joke…except I leave that element of doubt…I have moved out of my dentist's area of trade 3 times since 1980 and have invoked this 'threat' the first time. I am no doctor but loading me up on novacaine
    seems to make me not feel the work.

  16. Bill McCroskey says:

    Hah..hah..rubber lips…what a great analogy …that ranks up there with the Wyatt Earp story….that is the EXACT feeling I have…

  17. Dr. Willy Yankem says:

    Oh that periodontal disease from all that smoking can get to one, can't it "Smoking Dan". All that plaque on the teeth acts like a porous reservoir for all those tobacco toxins, and you'll likely have many more to deal with. Welcome to "taking care of your own health 101".

  18. One of the biggest reasons for all this problem is insurance companies.

    The insurance companies began writing dental insurance because they thought it was free money — that people would pay the premiums and never go to the dentist.

    Then a dentist got the idea that if he signed an agreement with the patient to let the insurance company pay him directly, and then bill the patient for the copayment, everybody would benefit.

    Wrong! The insurance companies immediately noticed the cash hemorrhage as their insured began agreeing to have all kinds of treatment done — and never paying their copay. The dentists began writing it off. After all, you don’t sue a patient, do you?

    So the insurance companies began delaying tactics. They instructed reviewers of claims to throw a certain number of claims in the trash and pretend the company never received them. The rest were returned to the dentist with a request for x-rays so that the need could be “verified.

    Then the dentists started sending the claims with the x-rays attached. The reviewers were taught to removed the x-rays, and send back the claim with a request for x-rays — with the staple holes still in the claim where the films had been attached.

    Claims that were approved were delayed in payment. It took so long for the dentist to receive payment, he was practically having to borrow money to operate on while waiting for the insurance claims. So he raised all his fees to cover the interest on the money he had to borrow while waiting to be paid.

    Then the insurance ocmpanies decided that they would get 20 year old fee schedules and claim that these represented the average fee schedule for dental treatment and began paying a percentage of obsolete fees, ending up paying the dentist probably less than half of the actual going rate. So the dentist raised his fees again, hoping that the new fees as billed would affect the overall UCR for the insurance companies. This never happened, of course, because the insurance company was only pretending to update its UCR schedules.

    Then the federal government decided on the basis of raw statistics that there were no enough dentists per patient, so communities were underserved. What was actually true is that there were enough dentists to care for all the prospective patients who actually had problems, and actually had money to pay for treatment. The rest of the patients didn’t intend to go to the dentist ever, so statistics didn’t apply to them; but the states opened new dental schools under the insistenced of the feds that there were not enough dentists.

    And then it happened. The oil bust in the 1980’s. Everybody got laid off, no one had any dental insurance any more, but there was a glut of dentists. Happy day for the insurance companies. They told the dentists that since every dentist has downtime during the day, he could see “their” patients at a discount, and make some money, which would be better than nothing. The dentists, having notes to pay, grudgingly agreed, and signed up for dental HMO’s.

    Suddenly all preventive treatment became free. The dentist was expected to do it for nothing. The patients didn’t know because the dumb dentist had been letting them sign claim forms and collect the preventive fee from the insurance company. So the patients continued to believe that the dentist was getting his full fee, even though the insurance company paid nothing.

    Dentist’s incomes dropped drastically, and dental schools were forced to cut their enrollments, because suddenly not enough people with GPA’s over 2.0 were applying to dental schools. The smart ones knew that other fields would pay better relative to the cost of education.

    That’s how dentistry got this way: third party payments. And that was on a private system. Imagine what it would be like with a government paying the fees.

    There are still good dentists around. But most of them don’t take HMO’s, and many of them don’t even accept assignment of benefits on insurance. And everyone who wants to buy a big screen TV and cable instead of paying for dental care, signs up for an HMO. The reason for the used car mentality is that the cost of running a dental practice has skyrocketed, but the dentists are, in effect, forced to accept control of fees by the insurance companies. Of course, if the dentists fixed fees, that would be restraint of trade, but everyone knows that insurance cos. are so rich, they can pretty much do as they please.

    If you want a good dentist that you can afford and doesn’t do unnecessary treatment, look for one that takes cash only.

  19. I totally agree with the cash only. I believe we get treated better by all our doctors when they know they will be paid on the spot for services correctly rendered.

  20. This is so timely. I lost part of an old amalgam filling and neglected it for a few years. When the pain became noticeable in late 2011 I went to an endodontist who painted a doomsday scenario: we must extract tooth, there’s possible periodontal disease and probable bone graft needed, implant and 4-month treatment that would cost $6000. All for ONE TOOTH. That’s more than 4 years of braces for my teenaged daughter. Next day I got a dealster coupon in my inbox for a new dentist just starting his practice. Went to him for a $35 second opinion and he did a root canal and crown for $2100, with a 10% cash discount. I used to think you only got second opinions for medical conditions, but it works with dentists too.
    That’s unfortunate that Angies List led you Dr. North to a conman in a white lab coat. That calls into question any Angies List recommendation.

  21. I was in my 20's and hadn't been to a dentist in a while, and I needed a fair amount of work. (I didn't take very good care of my teeth then.) While our former family dentist had moved to another fairly distant town and my mom said my dad had stopped using him for some reason I went to him for what turned out to be a course of treatments. Halfway through them he suddenly moved his practice much further away into the middle of a ghetto and now I was driving an hour to slum land to go to the dentist. He did a root canal on a front tooth that later on a GOOD dentist showed me had been done terribly – he didn't get anywhere near the tip of the tooth's roots when he drilled it out. As a result I developed an infection that required me to have oral surgery to fix it . All that for the sake of being loyal to a dentist I knew. I currently go to the world's best dentist. He's not cheap but he's excellent and even if he's on Christmas vacation you can call him at home if there's an emergency and he'll come in and take care of you.

  22. Information about Gonorrhea Lectim.

    The Center for Disease Control has issued a warning about
    a new virulent strain of this old disease. The disease is called
    Gonorrhea Lectim. It's pronounced "Gonna re-elect em,"
    and it is a terrible obamanation.

    This disease is contracted through dangerous and high
    risk behavior involving putting your cranium up your
    rectum. Many victims contracted it in 2008….but now
    most people, after having been infected for the past
    1-2 years, are starting to realize how destructive this
    sickness is.

    It's sad because Gonorrhea Lectim is easily cured with
    a new drug just coming out on the market called Vote-em-out.
    You take the first dose in 2010 and the second dose in
    2012 and simple don't engage in such behavior again;
    otherwise, it could become permanent and eventually
    wipe out all life as we know it.

  23. Forget dentist. That is one profession we do not need. They are all theives and liars. I actually like a woman with few are no teeth. I dont want to go to a dentist who expects me to pay for the work he has done. I am sure not going to pay for something I am entitled to. If my tooth is hurting real bad then it is the dentist fault it got that way and if he hurts me I am going to knock his head off. I expect top quality care but I expect hi to work for minimum wage. I dont want to hear about all of the government fees he has to pay or the employee benifits he has to provide. Oh and i want the best materials used on me but he better not charge me what it cost to provide them. I am an American by God and I have a right to the best