Monday, November 1, 2010

A Visit to the Dentist

It started with a visit to the dentist. I had a painful dental abscess and a swollen jaw. I needed help, and I got it - a digital x-ray to identify the source of the problem, a prescription for augmentin, and advice to have two teeth pulled when the swelling subsided. This was no root canal visit.

It was a two man practice with 11 employees. The visit was pleasant, entailed little waiting, and involved current technology, including a digital x-ray, which was printed on the spot.

The dentist was courteous and competent, and his staff was happy and in a festive mood. Both the dentist and his employees were dressed in their Halloween garb.

This encounter got me to thinking about dentists and doctors. Dentists are mostly in small practices. They tend to be independent entrepreneurs. They are relatively untouched by third party insurers. Most dental insurance policies are capped at a $1000 or $1500. Most doctors are paid fee-for-service, often before leaving the office.

Dentists in general practice on average make more money than internists, family physicians, psychiatrists, and pediatricians. Not much more, 5% to 10% more, $180,000 vs $160,000, in that range. And dental specialists – oral surgeons and periodontists – make roughly the same as most medical specialists, $250,000 to $400,000. I do not begrudge dentists’ incomes. They deserve what they get. Their educations require 3 or 4 years of college, 4 years in dental school, 2 to 3 years more if they specialize.

Dentists are fortunate in not having the fact the heavy overheads and accounts receivable imposed by third parties, especially Medicare which pays about 30% less than private insurers. Dentists also work an average of 40 hours a week, versus 55 to 70 hours for most primary care doctors. Dentists have few emergencies, no night calls, and few emergency room calls.

In addition, dentist malpractice rates are lower. Dental diseases are rarely fatal, and even when they encounter an oral cancer, they can refer to specialists.

Besides, dental mistakes are more obvious and can rarely be hidden. All one needs to do is look into the mouth to see what has or has not been done and whether it has been done properly.

Medical diseases, on the other hand, tend to be more mysterious, hidden, and elusive to diagnose. Maladies can lurk anywhere in the body, often in inaccessible places and cavities, or they may be systemic, involving every organ. With medical care, there is more room for error, and for severe consequences of misdiagnosis and surgical missteps.

Much of what dentists do is optional or cosmetic , varying from braces, to implants, to crowns, to dentures – and positively contributes to better appearances.

I am sure being a dentist has its pitfalls, pratfalls, and beartraps. But dentists relieve pain, create beautiful smiles, and leave satisfied patients in their wake. Theirs is a noble profession. For many dentists, these are the good old days. I salute and applaud their success.


kevinh76 said...

Excellent analysis! Now we should ask the best and brightest college students - dentist or primary care doctor? Where I live, dentists and especially dental specialists, orthodontists and endodontists do very well, some up to 1 million a year working 4 days per week with 6-8 weeks vacation. 2 years of braces for a child is about 5 grand and they all charge roughly the same. The same people that pay that for their children to have straight teeth scream like they have been impaled at the thought of a retainer primary care practice. And one can do a lot more braces than a concierge MD can see patients (usually capped at 600 for concierge MD). On the other hand, there is more competition among dentists (I turn patients away by the bus load because I'm always too busy) and in the economic down turn most have seen their incomes decline by 1/3.

Tony Destroni said...

toothaches are my big problem i cant sleep even eat nor go to work. it makes me suck . the secret to avoid this is to visit to a dentist regular. i found in some site called dentistas and there dentist are good actually me and my dentist were almost a year in take caring of my teeth . hope that this help you .

Vernell said...

Thanks for sharing something about your visit to the dentist, and for sharing that a little bit about dentistry, too. I know someone who wants to study dentistry. Mount Pleasant, South Carolina dentistry schools have educated a lot of talented dentists. In fact, I remember bringing my daughter to one of those talented dentists in Mount Pleasant. Normally, you would expect your child to rant and cry, telling that he or she doesn't want to go to the dentist. To my surprise, my daughter asks every now and then when will we go back to the dentist.

Dentist said...

Very true. A dentist' goal is to provide the highest quality care, while enhancing the lives and smiles of their guests. Even their office offers a peaceful, relaxing atmosphere and thoughtful care.

Dentist in Los Angeles said...

This is really innovative! How interesting! For a good dentist.


Dental Clinic said...

Great analysis!Hope your visit to dental clinic was very interesting.Thank you for sharing such interesting experience with us.

Unknown said...

Routine visit to the dentist is so much needed. people like to ignore this is also highly recommended by the dentists. affordable dental implants costa rica