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Dentistry Looked Bad–Sorry I was There

May 8, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Barry @ 9:33 PM



Did you ever wonder why dentistry rarely gets a fair shake in the media (and I include Hollywood in there too).  The Gallup pollsters have been reporting for years that dentistry is one of the most respected and trusted professions.  Yet, that’s just not newsworthy…there’s no story there.

Tonight I participated in a panel discussion on HuffPost, the live streaming video of The Huffington Post.  I thought long and hard how I wanted to represent dentistry.  The moderator used leading questions and controlled the discussion.  In my defense, I thought I did a pretty good job.  As a forty year veteran of the profession I think I have seen dentistry from all sides.

Joining me on the panel were two disgruntled and distrusting patients who had bad experiences, a reporter who was on the team that brought us Dentistry for Dollars, produced by Frontline in June, 2012, and an insurance fraud expert.  Obviously, the two patients told their tales.  One was a “my dentist hurt me tale,” that most of us have heard before…and will probably hear again at the next wedding you attend.  The other was a “he said I had 5 cavities when I never had a cavity before or since.”  Okay…if I really wanted to make the profession look bad I am sure there are some pretty ugly stories out there, like the graft that failed, or I went in for a simple filling and left with a root canal.

George Kennedy said it best in Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

The guy who really bothered me was the insurance fraud guy…I don’t know how many times he used the phrase “crooked dentists,”  but I really started to take offense.

Dentists (as the Gallup Polls tell us) are really good, honest people.  We are trying to do the same thing as everyone else—make an honest living and serve their patients as best they can.  I believe that.  I’ve met most of you at continuing education courses through the years.  I’ve stayed up late discussing how best to treat your patients.  I’ve seen you worry much more than many of my friends and neighbors who go to work at their jobs everyday.



Are there crooked dentists?  Sure.  Are there poor service stories? Sure.

Dentistry needs allies.  We need groups and organizations that make us look a lot better than the way we are portrayed.

Here is a link to the HuffPost stream.   http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/bad-dentist-practices/5182ac222b8c2a153d000299

I would really like to hear from you…get mad…get loud…express yourself.




  1. After sleeping on this I realized I had so much more to say. Any industry could be attacked at any level. Just thought about the media (all they were looking for was millions of eyeballs to sell advertising), and insurance companies (like the fraud guy who cares only about his stockholders). If you’re lucky enough to have a single private care dentist who really cares about YOU–and your well-being—someone you can trust. Who speaks up for him?

    Comment by Barry — May 9, 2013 @ 9:32 AM

  2. Who speaks for him? Often nobody – otherwise, the patients themselves.
    The strange thing is sometimes patients take offence to oral hygiene instructions even when delivered in a very gentle manner simply because they feel they got “marked down” by the dentist.
    And even though that is really caring on the dentist’s part.
    So showing care has so many “layers”, one must be really good at reading people to actually get the message across that they care and that they are putting their patients first.

    Comment by Marta — May 9, 2013 @ 6:14 PM

  3. Marta–you are right–showing care has many layers. The caring competent dentist must make a study of human behavior and become a teacher and a motivator…and one size does not fit all. What we see is the commodification of not only the work we do but much of human interaction. As I always contend—the rowdy will destroy what they don’t understand.
    Thanks for commenting.

    Comment by Barry — May 9, 2013 @ 6:24 PM

  4. If we are successful in making long term connections with our patients, our patients speak up for us. Ultimately it’s our relationship with our customers that determines our success. Dentistry today is like every other business today.

    Let’s take a look at another industry that I think is tougher than dentistry, that’s the world of professional photography. I’m going to guess that every photographer worried about Sears Portrait Studio coming to their town back in the day. I’m sure every photographer worried about digital photography and every person having a camera. I’ve talked to some of them and they sound more doom and gloom than a group of dentists at the local dental society! Guess what, those that understand their niche in the photography world and nurture customer connections have done very well! Sears Portrait Studio has now closed but portrait sessions still go on. I know of photographers with a studios in their garage doing well into 6 figures each year with no insurance and all their customers with nice cameras too!

    It’s our job as entrepreneurs to be entrepreneurs! Change with the times, realize who our customers are. Understand that dental insurance is a benefit not catastrophic insurance. I don’t know if organized dentistry survives, but I know that there will be successful private care practices all over the country that will keep doing what they do best – providing great care! Our job is to find customers that want our services. The collective doesn’t know how to help me find the patients I want to treat. This is the new Art of dentistry. I’ve never had the lulxury of showing up to a full schedule of patients that magically arrived, like I’ve heard it was years ago! It’s always been a fight and it always will be….

    Comment by Doug — May 10, 2013 @ 12:50 PM

  5. Marta’s comment about the many layers of care. Every ad I see for hospitals, doctors, and insurance plans sends a message of “we care.” Our challenge is to let go of assumptions and judgments about our patients and be willing and able to gently work through the difficult conversations about health. And we have to be willing to do that not just the first time we interact with our patients, but time, and time, and time again.

    Comment by Mary Osborne — May 10, 2013 @ 4:58 PM

  6. I meant to say “I agree with Marta’s comments . . .”

    Comment by Mary — May 10, 2013 @ 5:00 PM

  7. Doug–I too don’t know if organized dentistry will survive ( I don’t know if it ever existed). Our job is to provide health care first—be businessmen second—just that perspective changes everything. The powers that are moving into dentistry and changing the mom and pop paradigm are business people first. This was expressed by the reporter on the HuffPost. This fundamental change in purpose will effect how dentistry as we have known it, will survive.
    The example I like to use is what happened to pet stores in this country—now PetSmarts are providing veternary medicine. Dentistry and veternary medicine are two of the last remaining fee-for service models. Health care needs to be protected for the sake of the patients—it should be excluded from free market economics. The ADA Code of Ethics should be taken more seriously (don’t believe I said that). A profession, in order to exist should have some rules—like golf, football and tennis—it insures the honesty of the games.

    Comment by Barry — May 10, 2013 @ 6:28 PM

  8. Mary–I once heard that Socrates hated books—maybe one reason why he never wrote anything–or was he illiterate? Anyway, he believed in dialogue—rather than one-way communication. Those difficult conversations you refer to are the dialogue that must take place—the ads –the one-way conversations all have an agenda—like that HuffPost piece I did.
    Their agenda was to capture eyeballs—that’s what the media does well. Our agenda is to help our patients—and as you said–through dialogue and conversatioon.
    Thank you so much for adding to the conversation.

    Comment by Barry — May 10, 2013 @ 6:34 PM

  9. Barry, do you take your dogs to the vet at PetSmart? Or do you have a local Vet that you use because of a long term relationship? I agree that economics are changing the landscape, but I don’t necessarily agree that it has to be that way. If a private care office doesn’t provide any thing different in terms of care that a corporate scenario then yes the best economic situation will win. If the private care offers something different then there will be some customers that appreciate something different. Not everyone likes to shop at WalMart, some like Target, Costco, or Barry’s Ice Cream shop. I of some coffee shops that aren’t Starbucks but are right next door providing something different and have a following. The economics go both ways… The only ones that set the rules are the ones paying for the services…

    Comment by Doug — May 10, 2013 @ 7:33 PM

  10. Doug, I totally agree with you. And I agree that dentists who distinguish themselves will always survive. It will look different, and we can’t just differentiate ourselves with empty platitudes. Patients will have to see real value. The economic and social forces will create the new landscape…and my dogs will never go to Petsmart.

    Comment by Barry — May 10, 2013 @ 7:53 PM

  11. Let’s talk about insurance companies. Insurance companies only care about one thing.. That is to make money. They do not care about dental health. They want your premiums on a monthly basis and are hoping that you never see a dentist. Insurance companies also do not want to treat the patient for proper dental care, they want you to treat the patient to the extent to what they will only cover. So who is the health provider in this situation? The dentist or the insurance company? Insurance companies have not kept up with the cost of dentistry. In the 60’s the max. allotment for a patient was a 1000 dollars a year, today it is still a 1000 dollars a year, for most companies, but the insurance premiums keep going up and the maximum per year is still a 1000?
    Insurance companies will always try to slam the dentists, as they do not want the public to know that they give very little for benefits to cost per premium!

    Comment by Docinfo — May 10, 2013 @ 11:52 PM

  12. Docinfo…why is it that it’s just us dentists that know this. Or care about it? Why doesn’t anyone tell our side of the story? Really…let’s ask ourselves, why? Do dentists belong to some elite group that is trying to rip the public off? Are we bad? We know that we are no where near what the insurance companies and the media portray us to be. Why doesn’t anyone step up and reveal just how much money is being left on the table because benefits go unused? And why do benefits go unused? Because 60% of costs come from the patient’s pocket…so they leave their full benefits on the table. How do they get away with this and still lower benefits by 15%? Really?

    Comment by Barry — May 11, 2013 @ 10:58 AM

  13. Am I the only one that finds it rather amusing that the INSURANCE representative repeatedly used the qualifier, “crooked” with “dentist?”

    Pot… meet kettle.

    Comment by The Dental Warrior — May 11, 2013 @ 8:24 AM

  14. Amazing, Mike. Makes e want to go out and do Medicaid…just when I know they already think I’m crooked. Great incentive knowing that they don’t trust the profession and look at every claim to find something wrong. I think a lot of people heard that clown…I am getting phone calls as well. Dentists need a stronger voice…Dentists of America Unite!

    Comment by Barry — May 11, 2013 @ 11:02 AM

  15. Nice job Barry in a tough venue. This journalist had an agenda to exploit the bad in dentistry.

    Unfortunately, we are all guilty by association. There are really good private practice dentists, there are really bad private practice dentists. There are really good corporate dentists, there are really bad corporate dentists. The professional reputation seems to go to the lowest common denominator that is illustrated by this story.

    As in any business, we must innovate constantly or suffer our demise. I choose to innovate through constantly working on my communication skills both personally and for my team that I work with. I keep up with the physical aspect of dentistry and practice comprehensively – addressing health, function and esthetics.

    I am a leader in organized dentistry in my state (Colorado). We are putting together a leadership continuum for our state members to grow their skills along this path.

    It seems you are not a fan of organized dentistry. How can organized dentistry be more effective from your perspective. I want to know, because I am in a postion where I am trying to make a difference.

    There are a lot of things that I am not happy about with our country, I am still proud to be an american. I have an obligation as a citizen to voice my opinion – in fact, I am in Washington DC right now, getting ready to voice my opinion and that of the ADA (for the betterment of our profession and the care to our patients) to fight for insurance reform to our federal legislators.

    Do I think we will get though to them? Probably not, But – if we (organized dentistry) aren’t fighting for our profession and the care of our community of patients, who else will? If dentist decide not to join or not speak up, “we get what we get, and we can’t throw a fit.”

    I wish every dentist would see our way of practice and follow suit. I have found it to be a fulfilling profession in which we get to positively affect our patients and our communities both as as provider of health and as a small business.

    Your voice has always made a positive impression on me and has paved a great path to follow. I appreciate you and your continued vigilance to represent how great the practice of dentistry can be.

    Comment by Brett — May 11, 2013 @ 8:53 AM

  16. Brett, you are an example of what dentists should aspire to be. I know you study and apply the right stuff. I respect the efforts you are making in Colorado to bring leadership to organized dentistry. You are correct that I don’t have a lot of faith in organized dentistry. You are also right when you say there are good and bad in every profession. I believe there are more good dentists.
    Organized dentistry has done wonderful things to educate the public and make dentistry available to the poor. I feel they have failed the profession by not enforcing the “rules” of dentistry. Too many individuals, and private interest groups make their own rules under the guise of helping the public and making dentistry more accessible.
    There was a time when the ADA Code of Ethics had some , I am not a hard-ass, and I wish people could police themselves…but that doesn’t happen in any field.
    As long as dentistry is treated as a free market commodity then we will see people making their win rules…and I am not just speaking about insurance companies…advertising practices, and online deals. All of these things especially in a poor economy makes the dentist’s plight toward excellence very difficult.
    There are no easy answers…but we can use a little better PR.
    As always, thank you for your wonderful input.

    Comment by Barry — May 11, 2013 @ 11:17 AM

  17. Hi Barry,
    These types of news stories frustrate me. What has always seemed to be missing is the link between patients and dentists. (Was this different 20, 30, 40 years ago?) There is such a huge chasm of misunderstanding between the two. As individuals we can do our best to form trusting relationships, set ourselves apart, etc., but this really only affects a few. What I’m interested in is on a broad scale, how can we bridge that gap and get patients to understand enough so that they can start to make educated choices and do their best to sniff out the bad eggs (that will always exist in any industry) and find the good ones? Imagine how much easier it would be to form a trusting relationship with our patients if more patients walked in the door with hopes of forming a trusting relationship vs. starting out with paranoid, suspicious fears generated by biased news stories? How can we bridge the gap more than just one patient at a time? Because for every patient the good guy converts and makes into a trusting or good patient, there is another somewhere who is learning to become a paranoid, fearful, distrustful patient– whether it’s from a bad dentist, a scary media story, or simply unreasonable, uneducated expectations on the part of the patient.

    Anyway, the other thing I find interesting is that I went and read Lila’s blog, and I didn’t think she demonized dentists at all in her blog. She was simply advising people to get second opinions, something I think all good dentists are in support of. She even defended her dentist by complimenting the good quality of his work. Did you think the news story made her seem more disgruntled than that?

    By the way, nice work, superstar!

    Comment by Lolabees — May 11, 2013 @ 11:22 AM

  18. Laura (lolabees), I saw the movie, 42, the Jackie Robinson story, a few weeks ago. One thing the movie did for me, outside of the racism story, was it brought me back to a simpler time in my life. I grew up in the Bronx in the fifties…a much simpler time. A time when trust was very high. Trust toward professionals was very high. We can’t go back there. And this breakdown occurs in all fields. I can only do my part. I have spent my career building a high trust low fear environment. That is what helped me get through…and I am very sensitive to the suspicion that is directed toward the profession. Every dentist knows the suspicion. The good ones are hurt by it…and the bad ones feed off of it. If I stand up for dentistry, I stand for the good ones.
    You ask a good question…how can we bridge the gap? We can start by supporting groups that build trust in the dental community…not just spending money on teaching people oral hygiene techniques (I am being facetious). We need a stronger emotional bond with the public…not necessarily smarter patients but trusting patients.
    I too went to Lilla’s blog. This thing was put together in 24 hours by the Huffington Post…they had an agenda…they gave Lilla and Anthony a chance to air some grievances.
    Would anyone like to hear my ” bad patient” stories?
    Thanks for your input,

    Comment by Barry — May 11, 2013 @ 11:45 AM

  19. This blog post and the HuffPost video received more comments than I ever received…all showed displeasure at how dentistry is portrayed in the media. Obviously this is a hot button. The Internet was supposed to open these conversations up and make them into a dialogue. Instead of the one-way crap that the media, the companies want the public to see. How about those denials of benefits because the procedure is not covered or your dentists fees are above our allowable fees…how does that look to the patients. Dialogue, my friends, dialogue.

    Comment by Barry — May 11, 2013 @ 11:25 AM

  20. I watched the video. I actually laughed out loud when the one guy suggested that dentists don’t have the oversight that medical doctors have… and that we are not at risk for malpractice like physicians are. Hilarious.

    Comment by The Dental Warrior — May 11, 2013 @ 1:22 PM

  21. Sort of related to the topic here…

    There is a dentist in NY who was wrongfully accused of Medicaid fraud. He lost his practice and his reputation. SEVEN years later, the dentist won his case against the state. It inspired me to blog about it today:


    Comment by The Dental Warrior — May 11, 2013 @ 1:29 PM

  22. I just read your blog post on why you wouldn’t do medicaid…http://thedentalwarrior.com/
    You did a nice job of explaining what I inferred about the woefully low fees and the point I made above about the people they hire to after the crooked dentists. I have no idea what he meant by the use of the word oversight.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 11, 2013 @ 1:29 PM

  23. “Would anyone like to hear my bad patient stories?” Ha! That is something that always bothered me. Who is there to protect us? It’s all about protecting the patients from reckless dentists (which I think is important and necessary,) but what about protecting dentists from reckless patients that make unreasonable and unfounded claims that could lead to serious consequences for some good people doing what’s right? I was always told that our malpractice insurance was there to protect us. Hmm… that’s all? It better be, since we pay for that service. I can’t report a patient to their insurance company, but they can report me? (This was when I worked in an insurance-based office.) I know the truth usually prevails, but it never felt right to me that we are in a constant state of defending ourselves. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but I guess I never claimed to be the most mature person around. 🙂

    Comment by Lolabees — May 11, 2013 @ 2:32 PM

  24. You are not overly sensitive. It is the wise dentist who documents every patient interaction, gets all releases signed, and stays aware of the number of frivolous claims made by patients. Most of these issues are handled well by the dental community…

    Comment by Barry — May 11, 2013 @ 3:31 PM

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