Bait-and-switch dentistry

March 21, 2012

I recently bumped into a patient that I had seen in my office only once about 15 years ago. “I owe you an apology," he said. "Let me tell you my story. Do you remember when I came to you?" How could I forget? That visit was permanently etched in my memory.

I recently bumped into a patient that I had seen in my office only once about 15 years ago. “I owe you an apology," he said. "Let me tell you my story. Do you remember when I came to you?"

How could I forget? That visit was permanently etched in my memory.

It was about 15 years ago when Joe (not his real name) came in for a new patient exam and x-rays. We examined his teeth, gums, bone, and bite. At the end of my exam I showed him that there was damage due to his bite and periodontal gum disease. I recommended a few visits for gum treatment, some repairs to the damaged teeth and a bite guard to wear when he sleeps to protect his bite from further damage.

At that point Joe jumped up, pointed an accusing finger at me and started to scream, “Bait and Switch… Bait and Switch!!" "I came in here for a cleaning and checkup and you want to sell me what I don’t need just to make some more money! I’m out of here!” He walked out.

By definition, bait and switch is a “sales” trick in which the store, catalogue or website lures you when you request a specific item such as a particular camera, or other kind of merchandise.  When it’s time to finalize the sale, somehow it’s out of stock or they just persuade you to purchase another item.

Joe in his innocence was never made aware of gum disease or the damage that night-time clenching could do to his teeth, muscles, and jaw bone. Throughout his lifetime he only came in for cleanings and a few cavities. Who could blame him for losing his cool? Needless to say, that episode hurt me and for a short time I was second guessing myself.  Maybe I was being too aggressive. Maybe I should just fix what hurts. Maybe a cleaning and dental floss would take care of his periodontal gum disease. Maybe a bite guard is just a waste.  But with years of experience I can testify that a cleaning is not enough to treat periodontal gum disease. Besides helping thousands of people that suffered with headaches by fitting them with a bite guard – Bite guards help protect the teeth and bone.

Joe’s story continued once he left my office. He found someone willing to just clean his teeth and fix his cavities. But in his words, “I ended up doing a lot of work and doing it twice when my gums and bones caused me to lose a bunch of teeth." "A few years after I saw you, I had all my teeth fixed with shiny porcelain and within two years everything started to break. I went to a gum specialist and he told me I never should have done this work until my gum disease and bone was healthy.”

Joe ended up unnecessarily spending so much money and going through so much discomfort and inconvenience. His story was the classic, “stitch in time saves nine”. Early intervention with some non-surgical periodontal gum work some basic repair work and a well fitted bite guard would have been less expensive, less traumatic and would have preserved his precious teeth and bone. By measuring your gums at every cleaning and having a thorough exam you can catch and treat problems when they are easy to treat and a lot less expensive.