Thursday, October 11, 2007

Money Where Your Mouth Is

Dentists get no respect, and now the Rodney Dangerfields of the healing profession are being accused of being greedy and uncaring as well.

Today’s New York Times reports the highest level since the 1980s of untreated adults and children, more than in four, while dentists’ incomes are rising faster than those of MDs.

This huge cavity in health care is no surprise, given that dental fees have been rising faster than inflation, that 100 million Americans have no insurance coverage and that
the number of dentists has stayed the same while the population has risen over 20 percent.

The gap in gum care is one more symptom of the growing disparity in living standards of the rich, whose children get expensive orthodontia to straighten their teeth, while poor parents can’t afford to have kids’ cavities filled.

Compounding it all is the widespread suspicion that some dentists view their practices as a business rather than a profession.

A decade ago, the Readers Digest sent a reporter to have his teeth checked in 50 communities across the country. Before going, several experts agreed that all he needed was a crown on one tooth for $500.

Most dentists proposed thousands of dollars of treatment, ranging up to more than $29,000 in one case. Needless to say, that was one copy of the Readers Digest that didn’t end up in many waiting rooms.

Human nature being what it is, it may not be surprising that some professionals have less scruples than auto mechanics, but it’s easier to get a new car than a new mouth.

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