Is it just because I am a specialist and have chosen to focus my attention on a single area of expertise that disgruntles me about a “jack of all trades” or is it that as a specialist, I am the melting pot for the screw-ups of all the local “wannabe” oral and maxillofacial surgeons out there? As the failing economy continues to turn itself downward and bleeds the population of discretionary funds healthcare is not immune from taking its own hit. Many patients who once were enthusiastic about improving their health with one procedure or another may now consider such treatment to be unnecessary or simply “elective.” A natural albeit unfortunate outcome in many cases is the general practitioner who suddenly feels the need to take a bigger bite of the pie than he can swallow. Nowhere in the healthcare professions is this seen more prevalently than in the field of dentistry.
Let me begin by stating that the general practitioner, whether that is in medicine or dentistry is one of the United States healthcare system’s greatest treasures. While often underpaid (contrary to popular belief), they are on the frontline defending your health day after day. They are more often than not your first salvation when getting sick, having pain or simply needing to have a question answered. On better than ninety percent of all occasions they are able to cost effectively perform or prescribe the right treatment to render you comfortable and keep you satisfied. However, when is that problem for which you present just a bit too complicated for him or her to handle? At what inflexion point would it be better for him or her to suggest to you that your problem would be better handled by a specialist? Every day, you are depending on your generalist to make that very decision in good conscience with your best interests at heart and without the almighty buck sitting perched on his shoulder.
Beware of the growing number of general and/or restorative dentists who suggest they can treat all the problems for which you present. Just consider for a minute that you are visiting your family physician and at the end of your appointment he suggests that you need a total knee replacement. Consider even further that you arrived at a point where you agree with him and turn to him for a recommendation. He suggests that he can perform the surgery less expensively himself and will be glad to meet you next week in the hospital operating room to move ahead with your surgery. How would you feel about that? Are you running for the exit yet? Believing that was a good option might be something you would only consider if you were stranded on an island alone with him and you could no longer walk. As strange as it may seem, however, this same scenario seems to somehow be more palatable (forgive the pun), when your general dentist suggests that you should see him to have orthodontic treatment, undergo a root canal (endodontics) or even have a dental implant placed. While all of these dental examples are analogous, I will simply use the dental implant example in my discussion because it is my sentimental favorite.
When telling you that you need a dental implant to replace a failing or lost tooth, did your dentist suggest that you might want to consider a specialist for this procedure? While the patient is not sometimes even given this as an option, another approach may be to tell you that he or she can do it for less cost. “After all, the specialist is going to charge you a higher fee than I am to do merely the same thing.” So what is the difference between the general or restorative dentist and the specialist when you are considering dental implants? Their respective educations might be a good place to start. The general dentist is a graduate of a dental school and may have one or two years of post-graduate training in general dentistry as a resident if you are lucky. The oral and maxillofacial surgeon, on the other hand, is also a graduate of a dental school but has six years of post-graduate education in surgery, possibly a second degree in medicine, training as an anesthesiologist and has extensively treated orthopedic disabilities of the jaws. The experienced oral and maxillofacial surgeon has not only performed numerous jaw reconstructions but has also placed thousands of implants. He or she may have as much as thirty five years of experience in doing so. Which practitioner then would you rather have place your implant? I would agree that if your regular dentist offered you a lower price for the service that there is certainly justification for that. Unfortunately, in the very best of circumstances you can only hope that you are “getting what you pay for” in this instance. Don’t be fooled to think that you are buying the same apples but just in a different store. It is too bad the patient is not more readily able to compare his or her options in a manner that is more easily understood. Everyone has used a comparison chart when buying something at a store or online. This might be something that would give the patient greater comfort in making an educated decision. Everyone likes to know what they are buying right? That chart may look something like this: (click image below to launch slideshow).
As one can see by a simple comparison, treatment with dental implants is not merely a matter of drilling a hole and placing an implant. If this was the case, you would not need a doctor of any kind to get the job done. You might want to call the local carpenter for that. It is the decision making process guided by a depth of knowledge and invaluable experience that makes your treatment succeed and at the same time keep you safe. The specialists in dentistry (orthodontist, prosthodontist, periodontist, endodontist, pediatric dentists and oral and maxillofacial surgeon) exist for a reason. They are not there merely to rescue the failed treatments and damage done by an overzealous and hungry generalist. Yes, you may occasionally pay a small fraction more for their services. However, it is a small price to pay for someone standing behind your outcome, and assurance that you have received the best and safest treatment that you can buy.
“Buyer Beware of the Jack of all Trades Master of None”