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Are dentists pulling healthy teeth for implants?

Some patients are being encouraged to pull healthy teeth without being fully informed on the risks or options.
Updated: Feb. 9, 2022 at 10:02 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Some dental experts are raising concerns patients are being encouraged to pull healthy teeth and replace them with dental implants, sometimes to boost profits. Recent investigations by Investigative Reporter Kris Pickel revealed more than 3 million reports of problems with dental implants. Almost a half million of those reports were made in 2021, and most were categorized as injuries. During the investigations, dental professionals expressed concerns they are seeing an increasing number of patients coming in for consultations after being encouraged to remove viable teeth and replace them with dental implants.

📄/▸ Millions failed by dental implants as lack of training for dentists exposed

Dr. James Chaffin with CR Smiles Dental Center says it’s a dangerous trend he started noticing about eight years ago. He says a growing number of patients who come in for second opinions were not provided options that would preserve their original teeth, including repositioning bites, veneers, fillings, root canals, or bridges. Chaffin believes among the reasons some dentists are recommending implants is to make complicated cases easier to treat. “I see a lot of people who think implants are better than a normal tooth. I don’t believe that. If you can save a tooth, save a tooth,” said Chaffin.

This images shows a dental X-ray on a tablet.
Some are concerned that patients with viable teeth are being persuaded to undergo procedures designed for patients with missing or failing teeth.(Arizona's Family)

“I don’t want to say it’s money, even though I’m thinking that what it is,” says Dr. Calvin Brown, who also works at CR Smiles. He shares concerns that patients with viable teeth are being persuaded to undergo procedures designed for patients with missing or failing teeth. Those procedures may include removing all remaining teeth, drilling down the jawbone to make room for dentures, and securing a bridge with a new set of teeth with 4 to six implants.

Brown provided an example of a gentleman suffering from a cavity and infected nerve in a single tooth. Brown says the man had options, including a root canal with a crown or pulling the tooth and replacing it with an implant. The patient provided paperwork from a dental practice he visited previously that proposed pulling all his upper teeth and replacing them with implants and a set of teeth. The estimated cost for the dental work from the previous practice came in $33,400. The patient opted to keep his teeth and replaced the infected tooth with a single implant.

Another concern, the procedure may be recommended for cosmetic reasons without dentists providing alternatives or explaining a significant amount of bone may have to be removed to fit the dentures in the mouth. Videos of the procedure found online show dentists sometimes cutting and drilling out an inch of bone from the jaw. “A doctor should not have to remove that much bone from a skull to make a denture fit,” says Brown. When asked for recommendations on whether healthy teeth should be pulled for cosmetic purposes, the American Academy of Dental Implants responded that ethics come into play and hopes clinicians would rather save healthy teeth.

The American Academy of Periodontology would advise against removing HEALTHY teeth and replacing them with dental implants for cosmetic purposes. Several factors may play a role in the decision to remove teeth. These factors can include severe bone loss resulting in loose teeth, fractured teeth that cannot be restored, trauma which results in the loss of a tooth or teeth, and the presence of disease which cannot be resolved. Periodontists have unique skills and expertise to diagnose and treat gum disease or assist their restorative dental colleagues in creating healthy tooth structure that can be predictably repaired. When dental implants do become a necessary option, periodontists are highly trained in dental implant surgery to create a foundation that can look and feel like natural teeth.

American Academy of Periodontology

Both Chaffin and Brown train other dentists to place implants and say there are plenty of circumstances where removing teeth is the appropriate treatment, but both agree that implants are not the same as original teeth.