A Red Deer dentist with concerns about cosmetic dentistry shared his skepticism on CBC’s Marketplace last Friday.
Dr. Michael Zuk was interviewed by Erica Johnson, a host on the consumer advocacy TV show, in an episode entitled Money Where Your Mouth Is. In the program, a Marketplace researcher with a hidden camera showed X-rays of her own teeth to 20 dentists in Toronto and Vancouver.
Many of the resulting diagnoses were similar, but others varied significantly. Recommendations ranged from a simple cleaning to root canals and bridge replacements, with the associated costs running from $144 to nearly $12,000. A few urged her to improve the appearance of her teeth with dental veneers.
A pair of University of Toronto dental instructors examined the researcher’s teeth and concluded that a cleaning and possibly one crown were all that was needed.
Zuk, who once published a book entitled Confessions of a Former Cosmetic Dentist, was asked for his reaction to Marketplace’s findings.
He told Johnson that some dentists consider veneers — thin shells of porcelain or composite material that are cemented to the front of the tooth — to be the answer to all cosmetic dental problems.
But, he said, veneers are costly, can irreversibly affect the teeth they’re applied to and will likely have to be redone at some point.
Zuk also told Johnson that many dentists have high overhead and are carrying a large debt load, which could tempt them to recommend more expensive services.
He also pointed out that dentists have different ideas and training, which could cause their opinions to vary.
“It’s extremely variable.”
Speaking with the Advocate on Tuesday, Zuk said he thought the Marketplace investigation was well done. He pointed out that many of the dentists were consistent in their conclusions, and that the baseline exam conducted by the university instructors could be challenged itself.
“Thinking that we can magically say, ‘This is the right answer and everyone else is wrong,’ is pretty tough.”
Zuk also said that a cheaper course of treatment isn’t necessarily better than a more expensive one.
However, he acknowledged that dentistry — like any profession — has members whose work might be questionable. Many dentists emerge from school and other training with large debts that they’re under pressure to repay.
Zuk said a wise approach is to seek a second and even a third opinion when considering cosmetic dentistry. This strategy might also be appropriate in some situations for basic dental care, he added.
“When it comes to big money they should be getting more opinions, I think.”
Zuk said he’s been criticized by other dental professionals for publicizing his concerns, including after the Marketplace episode aired.
He said he doesn’t care.
“I’m not going to stay quiet. I want to lobby the profession and hopefully educate the public about things that I think have been revealed by the show.
“It just doesn’t sit well with me that I can just zip my mouth up.”
The Advocate contacted the Alberta Dental Association and College on Tuesday for its reaction to the Marketplace show and Zuk’s comments, but it was unable to provide an immediate response.