A couple of years ago, a young college student came to our office, clearly distraught. He never had a cavity in his life. While at college, he decided to go to a corporate chain clinic for the free exam and x-rays advertised on TV. Until then he had been going home to his old family dentist. Thirteen cavities were diagnosed by the corporate clinic, with the recommendation of white plastic fillings for all the teeth. I don’t know why, but he ended up in our office for a second opinion. Since he could not obtain a copy of the x-ray series from the chain clinic, I took a very clear set of my own, and looked over them carefully under magnification. The boy had not one cavity in his mouth! He needed nothing but a routine cleaning.

A while back a patient came to us after visiting a large corporate-owned clinic near Washington DC. He had landed a high-paying contract job in the Middle East, and had to get a dental clearance to secure the job. He brought the corporate clinic’s treatment plan with him. It included a series of deep cleaning appointments, fillings and even a crown or two. I examined his mouth carefully, referring to the x-rays taken at this clinic. The verdict? I could find nothing this man needed except a routine cleaning. I guess the corporate clinic operators thought they really had him over a barrel, since he was under a deadline to get dental clearance for the high-paying job.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a young social worker came to our office after visiting a large Atlanta corporate clinic that advertises a lot via radio. This bright young lady already had a Master’s degree and was starting to work on her doctorate. She had beautiful teeth, and had never had a cavity in her life. Yet the clinic had planned her for four quadrants of root planing and EIGHT white plastic fillings. Fortunately, she was suspicious, and sought our opinion before proceeding with the treatment. We found that she had some tartar under her gums, but really needed only a routine cleaning, and no fillings at all.

Because all three of these patients were skeptical, their teeth were saved from unnecessary, even harmful treatment.

dental consumer info

The sad part about overtreatment is not just the money patients spend needlessly. It is the damage to the teeth. Virgin teeth without fillings are a beautiful thing. They are durable and decay resistant. It is one thing to remove a real cavity and put a long-lasting filling where the decay was. It is quite another thing to drill on a tooth free of decay and place a plastic filling that will leak and require replacement in a few years. Every time a tooth is drilled upon, the pulp inside is irritated. With enough treatment, teeth often need root canals and crowns. It often becomes a merry-go-round of one treatment after the other.

Why is inappropriate treatment so common at clinics owned by corporate investors, instead of licensed dentists? Well, for starters, these clinics are usually staffed by young dentists with outlandish student loan debt- often a quarter to a third of a million dollars. The clinics pay them a fairly low commission, and contract with insurance companies to do dental procedures at low fees. This makes it very difficult for young dentist-employees to honestly make a living supporting their families AND pay back their student loans.

Meanwhile, corporate investors who own the clinics typically seek a 20% return on investment. Overhead for dental offices is quite high and 20% profit is hard to achieve, if all staff is paid market wages. Many times, clinic managers (who are not dentists) badger the providers to churn out more dental treatment. A lot is necessary to be scheduled when clinics cut fees 20-30% for insurance companies! Under this pressure, a lot of needless treatment is recommended to patients. At some corporate clinics, dental assistants and office managers actually add treatment so that they can meet the monthly office revenue goals and receive their bonus!

In my experience, overtreatment of patients is fairly rare by independent dentists who own their practices. Dentists like me depend on referrals of new patients by satisfied existing patients, rather than by expensive advertising on radio and TV. To be sure, there may be differences in treatment options presented between honest dentists. Other dentists are far more apt to cut teeth down teeth for porcelain crowns than I am, because the Navy taught me to do do such good silver fillings. Other dentists might be more apt to do bridges on natural teeth rather than implants. These are legitimate treatment differences between dentists. It is a far cry from the blatant fraud perpetrated on patients who have nothing wrong in their mouths!

It is very difficult for the average patient to process what is truthful and what is not in advertising. A good rule is not to believe any advertisements by health professionals broadcast over the airwaves. The promise of free exams and x-rays in a large clinic with expanded late and weekend hours is very tempting, especially to uninsured patients. But judging from patients we encounter, the ultimate cost of letting corporate-owned clinics treat you is very high. You will pay very dearly for that free or discounted exam. After your insurance money is spent, you might have to pay for the treatment out of pocket when something goes wrong!

Incidentally, did you know that ownership of dental offices by corporate investors who are not dentists is actually illegal in Georgia, as well as most other states? Exactly because regulators were afraid of what is presently happening to patients in corporate clinics. How then do all these corporate clinics exist? Corporate investor-owners scam the state regulators by setting a “fake owner dentist” up with a shell corporation, and claim they just “manage” the clinic for the dentist. When in actuality, the official “owner” dentist cannot even access any checking account where funds are deposited from patient payment! Write your Georgia legislature and demand the Georgia Board of Dentistry develop ownership tests, so corporate investors cannot get away with these scams!


THE POWER OF GOLD In Saving Teeth for Life

When I suggest a patient have a gold crown or filling, even in the last molars, the responses are comical and predictable these days. “You think I want to look like a rapper?” is the most common answer I get.

Gold dental treatment was not always regarded with such suspicion by the public. Hundreds of years after the first use of gold for filling teeth, you might be surprised to learn that gold is still considered the longest lasting material ever invented for fillings and crowns! It was taught as the “premium option” when I attended dental school in the late 1970s.  Even our modern plastic polymers and exotic ceramics cannot compare to the longevity of gold when properly used in the mouth. If you look in the mouths of most US dentists (including mine), gold is the most common material you will see!

Gold dental fillings

A filling of pure gold compressed in an upper first molar, beside a silver amalgam filling in an adjacent molar. The gold filling was 77 years old at this writing, and the silver filling in excess of 40 years old. White resin fillings just don’t last this long

Why is gold so durable in teeth?  Well, we know that gold is a very noble metal, meaning it does not combine with other elements like oxygen. Gold placed in a Pharaoh’s tomb 3000 years ago and uncovered will look pretty much like it did the day it was put there.  The mouth is a crucible of different chemicals, including various acids, enzymes, bacterial toxins, and sulfur compounds. An inert element like gold survives this hostile environment better than most materials mankind has invented.

While compressed gold fillings, rarely done anymore, were 100% pure gold, the gold used for cast fillings (“inlays”) and partial crowns, and crowns is alloyed with other metals to increase hardness. Additions to gold include indium, platinum, and palladium. When bridges are made of cast gold, more strength is needed, and the percent of gold is lowered a bit. However, I rarely use gold alloys with less than 70% gold.

Another fine property of gold is that it can be cast to a very thin edge, and burnished to fit the tooth even more accurately. Tight marginal fit is a key feature that makes dental restorations last. Inaccurate margins are the main reason resin fillings and porcelain crowns fail. When there is a microscopic gap between where the restoration ends and the tooth begins, bacteria can enter and eventually cause new decay.

Metal, including gold alloys, can be strong even when cast very thin. Ceramic materials must be at least twice as thick as gold alloys to have enough strength to last in the mouth. If not made thick enough, the usual result is porcelain fracture, especially on second molars. Think about it. Hammer on a thin porcelain dish and a thin sheet of metal. Which one will shatter into pieces? Thick crowns mean having to reduce more tooth structure, which frequently results in pulp deaths and root canals.

dental bridge

Here is something you probably did not suspect. The tooth in the middle of the picture is an artificial one, replacing the patient’s second premolar. This bridge is done in sections. So as not to cut down too much of a 1st premolar with fragile gums, I did a partial gold crown with a slotted keyway. No one can see any gold from the front! The tooth on the right is a crown with porcelain and silver-palladium alloy, welded to the replacement tooth. The back assembly locks in the front gold crown’s keyway to make a stable bridge. My first choice is always an implant to replace missing teeth, but the patient did not have sufficient bone for implant surgery.

dental bridge

View of the chewing surfaces Note the silver key that affixes porcelain replacement tooth in middle to keyway in back of partial gold crown. None of the metal is visible when the patient smiles.

Are Metals Safe in the Mouth?

You can’t believe everything you read. You will hear “holistic” healers claim you must get all the metal out of your body to achieve perfect health. This is a bizarre recommendation, as the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in our red blood cells is based on the element iron. Last time I heard, iron is a metal. Other essential trace nutrients that are metals include copper, zinc, chromium, and manganese. We cannot live without these metals.

There is no scientific basis for avoiding metals in dental restorations. True metal allergies are very rare. The only one I have encountered has been to nickel. To my knowledge, no gold dental alloys have any nickel content.

Think about this also. Humans routinely have joint replacements. Many are made of various metal alloys. Our highly biocompatible dental implants are made out of titanium, after early experimentation with crystalline ceramics resulted in implant fractures. Why would metal be safe for joint replacements and dental implants, but unsafe for dental crowns and fillings? The admonition to “get the metal out of our bodies” just does not make any sense.

What Would We Do Without Gold?

Don’t get me wrong. I really appreciate recent advances in resin and ceramic technology. In esthetically critical areas of the mouth, resin and all-ceramic systems have allowed me to more easily match natural tooth color while reducing less tooth structure. With zirconia crowns, we finally have a white material for 2nd molars that resists breakage. (But they have the problem of being hard to bond, and coming loose.) Still, nothing beats the tensile strength of metal alloys, even at relatively small thicknesses. Gold alloys add the important advantages of easy castability and ductility to achieve tight marginal fit. In all the years of its use, nothing has beat gold alloys for tooth restoration in areas that don’t readily show in the smile.

Patients always think about looks and cost, and dentists always think about durability, and for good reason. Doing a quality gold filling once results in far less trauma to the pulp than replacing a resin filling six times during a patient’s lifetime. Although gold fillings, crowns, and bridges may seem expensive at first, they often save patients money and root canals over their life.

Kim Henry, D.M.D.

December 15, 2016

35 Years Licensed to Practice

A Trip Down Memory Lane

The year was 1980, and the place was Augusta, Georgia. It was 35 years ago this May that I learned all my doctoral requirements had been satisfied, and I was cleared to graduate from the Medical College of Georgia School of Dentistry.  A few classmates thought our Dean was bluffing about holding them up because of unsatisfied gold filling requirements. Those guys had to stay during the summer and do nothing but pure condensed gold fillings.  But like me, about 60 of my 65 classmates were deemed ready to take the Georgia State Dental Board for which we were all preparing in June.

Graduation was a big deal at Medical College of Georgia, as it is in most college towns. I think MCG rented the Augusta Civic Auditorium to have enough space. First, there were some Associate degrees awarded to the radiation techs, dental lab techs, and physical therapy assistants. The vast majority of degrees awarded were Bachelor’s, awarded to nurses, physical therapists, medical lab techs, and dental hygienists. Finally, the PhD, MD, and DMD degrees were awarded to the researchers, physicians, and dentists. Each of us had to walk on stage, shake the President’s hand, and receive our sheepskin. I was quite a prankster at the time, and searched high and low for a hand buzzer to use on the college President. Guess it was fortunate I never found one! Degrees in hand, we medical and dental graduates were ready to take the Georgia State Boards.  Without a state license, it was impossible to practice anywhere and actually earn a living! 

Few patients realize how difficult the various state dental boards were at that time. In Georgia, applicants had to do resin, amalgam, and cast gold fillings on live patients. We were tested on a lot more procedures in the lab, and had to take a written test on Georgia practice law. My patients faithfully showed up for the Boards, but not everyone’s patients did. A patient not showing for this important appointment may mean the young dentist could not practice for another six months, when the Board was given again. It was not uncommon for us poor dental students to have to pay patients bribes in order to show up for this grueling test.

There were several Board examiners on the clinic floor those two days, and I was lucky enough to get an amiable one. He was building a swimming pool behind his house, and we bantered back and forth about that subject during my work on patients. It kept him in good humor, and our conversation relieved the incredible stress on me that this important exam imparted.

Casting my gold filling in the lab went flawlessly, and all the examiners seemed to like my work. Soon a notification came in the mail that I had passed! I was legal to practice, at least in Georgia. Later, while in the Navy, I took North Carolina’s and Tennessee’s Board for good measure. (I never practiced in either of those states, but still keep my license active in North Carolina, because it was such a hard exam!)

People don’t remember how tough the early 1980s were. We had double digit inflation AND unemployment.  Interest rates were approaching 20%! America was in a funk with hostages in Iran. An actor named Ronald Reagan had yet to be elected president. The future looked pretty dim for us new graduates. Hardly any older dentists needed younger associates. The few ones that did, sure didn’t want left-handed graduates like me.

The harsh reality was that almost no place in Georgia could support additional dentists in 1980. Only one county in South Georgia was actually recruiting for a second dentist to serve its population of 10,000 people. With demographics like that, I thought, what could go wrong? (Plenty that I did not realize at the time.) I spent my life savings on a piece of land that was a cantaloupe patch. I still remember going to the county courthouse and registering my new dental license by signature in a huge bound book over 100 years old. Two local banks lent me a good amount of money at high interest to open a new dental practice in the small rural town that was the county seat. Just my luck that year the county had its worst drought in 75 years, and crop failures went with it. 1981 was not much better. After my fledgling business folded, I spent the next seven years of my life trying to get the guts to buy my second practice. That initial business failure was quite the personal defeat for me. But all one can do is keep trying, and eventually success will come.

Well, here it is 35 years after graduation. I have actually treated patients for 38 years of my life. You see, Medical College of Georgia’s Dental School was quite progressive for the time, having us starting to treat patients in the spring of our freshman year. So by 2017, I can claim to have healed fellow humans for 40 years!

My professional life has been quite an adventure, meeting dentists at conferences all over the world, as well as treating indigent patients in Lebanon and Peru.  I will have to admit these last years practicing in the beautiful Henry Building sure beat my early days in South Georgia, the Navy, and a couple of Atlanta clinics that will remain nameless.

God willing, I intend to practice for at least 50 years like three dentist-heroes of mine. My wife may not let all those years be full time practice. It is rewarding to relieve human suffering, and put diseased tissues back into healthy condition. Even after thirty five years, having the legal privilege to cut and repair human tissue is an awesome responsibility. I have helped a lot of patients all these years. If you are reading this, you are probably one of them!

Kim Henry, D.M.D.

May 9, 2015


Why I don’t use Invisalign

There are a number of clear orthodontic aligner systems on the market. The name that patients know best is Invisalign®, which is a product of Align Technologies. Patients always ask me for Invisalign, and I tell them I don’t use that brand of aligners. Why not?

Invisalign costs a lot more than other aligner systems. Therefore, patients must pay a lot more to have this particular brand of aligners.

Align Technologies wants dentists to take a weekend course and be “licensed” to use Invisalign. It is ridiculous for a dentist like me, who has been doing orthodontics for over twenty years, to have to spend nearly $2000 for such a proprietary weekend course, the sole purpose of which is to teach me how to use their product!

Align Technologies utilizes a team of lawyers who try to put other aligner companies out of business for alleged patent violations. Aligners have been used for many years before Invisalign was invented. I don’t like corporate bully-boys who try to eliminate their competition this way.

Align Technologies is a publicly traded company which must answer to shareholders. Their business is to sell as many aligners as possible. I have seen Invisalign treatment plans that were overly aggressive and had little chance in success. Many inexperienced dentists get into trouble when they are “sold” such cases by Align Technologies.

Finally, as you can see in the “Lab Work Made in USA” section of my website, I support American labs and American jobs. Align Technologies has offshored its aligner fabrication to Mexico, and its clinical staff planning the cases to Costa Rica. The labs I use for aligners are 100% U.S. based.

Consumers are too easily influenced by advertising hype in printed media and television advertising. Just because something is highly advertised does not mean it is the only game in town, nor the best deal.  Patients don’t know which brands of dental materials work best, nor which are the most cost effective. Leave that decision to the experts- the dentists who use them!  Be assured that I will always be concerned for the health of your mouth AND of your pocketbook.


Paorthodontics articlerents of a 13-year-old child came in to have me review the appropriateness of their son’s orthodontic treatment. The father had wanted to bring their son to me for treatment originally, but the mother saw an advertisement for a chain of orthodontic clinics, promising substantial savings. The mother’s wish prevailed, and the child was 1 year into orthodontic treatment at this clinic with little progress.

I examined the boy. His was not a particularly difficult orthodontic case. I could have treated it in a little over a year and a half. But the corporate clinic had only fabricated some kind of removable expanders the child could not tolerate wearing regularly, and nothing much had been accomplished in the year of treatment.

It was hard to give the parents my conclusion. “I hate to tell you, but if I were to treat this case as it should have been when you started, it will cost you just under $4000 to complete. I guess your only consolation will be you didn’t spend much on the treatment that did not work.”

The mother looked visibly disturbed. She said, “Oh no. We have already paid $4000 for the treatment that has been done so far!” This woman had brought her son to a corporate orthodontic clinic thinking she would save money, and they totally wasted more money than what I would have charged to do the case correctly!


Not to brag, but I have been doing complete bracketed orthodontic cases since 1987. I know what I am doing. If patients cooperate, we get cases done quickly. I know a hard case when I see one, and have the sense to refer it to a select few orthodontists I know the ones who are super-competent.

Patients heed my recommendations about orthodontists very seldom. They listen to what I say. Then they go home and ask their friends and neighbors where to go, or they see some silly TV advertisement for a corporate orthodontic clinic, and go there.  Many times, their case will never be completed correctly, if it is ever completed at all!

One of my adult patients asked me about straightening his teeth. I could see his case would be very difficult, with a high probability of needing jaw surgery to complete. I made a strong recommendation of one or two excellent orthodontists for such exacting treatment. The patient ignored me, and went to a corporate clinic. Fortunately, he later called telling me that they planned to do his initial exam and put the brackets on the same day. This was preposterous!

Any sane dentist would do an exam, take records, then do analyses and feasibility studies to work up such a difficult case as his. I spend at least 2 hours of analysis to work up an easy orthodontic case! Timing in orthodontics is often critical as well. Many cases, if started too early, will drag on for too long. These days, I often post photos of patients’ mouths online (omitting patient name, of course) and seek other orthodontists’ opinions about how the case should be treated. It would be ridiculous to put brackets and archwires on a patient the same day as the exam!

After being warned of the foolhardiness of proceeding, this patient changed his mind, took my advice, and saw a competent independent orthodontist. This is not always the outcome! Unfortunately, too often corporate orthodontists succeed in slapping on brackets and archwires to “lock in” the patient’s treatment at that clinic. Only afterwards do they try to figure out how to treat the case!

All good orthodontists forward a copy of their findings and treatment plan for a patient case to the treating general dentist. I virtually never receive these from corporate clinics, leading me to question whether there is even any logical treatment plan. I have received requests to extract teeth from corporate orthodontic clinics, then had to demand a rationale for the extrac­tions before I proceeded. I guess these orthodontists are under such pressures to perform, they allow no time for communication with the patient’s dentist!

Corporate ownership of orthodontic practices began in the early 1990s, as a result of the oversupply of orthodontists. Private equity investors thought they could use the same sales and business techniques to straighten teeth as they used dealing with auto repair and vacu­um cleaners. Health care is different, because all humans are all unique. No two orthodontic cases are exactly alike. There are even some orthodontic cases that should not be attempted. It is important that treating orthodontists not be subject to the will and profit incentive of non-dentist investors to treat the maximum number of cases without regard to appropriate timing or case difficulty or without sufficient diagnostic preparation.

Not every case I have seen from corporate orthodontic clinics has been done incompetently, but there are enough substandard case completions to be worrisome. One thing for sure: I don’t see any patient cost savings from corporate clinics, despite what is claimed in their glitzy advertisements.

As with every other service, I have personally found that the highest customer satisfaction is given by professionals who own their own business. It is true for general dentistry, and it is true for orthodontics as well. Please be skeptical about TV, radio, or print ads telling you to patronize any particular chain of orthodontic clinics. If you have any doubt before treatment, don’t hesitate to ask me about any particular orthodontic group you are thinking of using.

Kim Henry

January 24, 2015

Please Support Mom & Pop Pharmacies!

The other day a surgical patient needed a prescription filled for an antibiotic and pain reliever we had given her. She went to a big-box chain pharmacy to get it filled. Three hours later, a young voice called us saying the prescription could not be filled without an “attending physician’s” name. Missy repeatedly told the employee that ours was a dental office and all the necessary information was printed on the prescription. I was busy and could not take the call at the time. When we tried to call back, we were placed on hold for 30 minutes, and never could talk to anyone in the pharmacy.

The patient never was able to get the drugs she badly needed that evening. The store manager called us the next day to say that a young, inexperienced pharmacist was on duty that night, and did not know what she was doing.

I wish I could say that occurrences like that were a rarity, but such a fiasco happens nearly every week. Patients don’t realize that I can rarely speak to the pharmacists in big-box stores. They are just too busy and understaffed. I usually can only leave recorded messages on their voice mail systems. Eventually staff listens to most messages and fills the prescriptions, but a good part of the time they never get around to it. Then the patients often blame me, thinking I forgot to phone in the prescription.

Often times big-box stores don’t stock a variety of drugs, or enough of them. They often run out. Then they lie to patients and said I prescribed a rarely-used medication.

Patients always want to save money, but what is your time really worth? Is three hours of waiting worth saving $4?

The difference between dealing with big-box pharmacies and Mom & Pop drug stores is like night and day. I can call and talk to a pharmacist almost immediately. They give me suggestions for drugs that might be alternatives. They cut me slack and let me phone in scheduled drugs, and wait for the written prescription by mail. They work hard for patients’ business, and truly put patients’ interests first. Often the difference in drug costs between big-box and independent pharmacies is little if anything.

There aren’t many Mom & Pop pharmacies left, but they deserve your business. Chapman’s Drugstore in Hapeville has been in business for over 80 years and is only two blocks from my office. You seldom wait more than five minutes for a prescription! Christian’s Pharmacy in Forest Park is owned by one of my patients, and can even compound custom prescriptions for you. Moye’s Pharmacy gives speedy and efficient service to my patients in the McDonough area.

Corporate ownership has been nothing but bad for the dental profession, and I am not sure that it has been any less damaging to pharmacies. Please consider using your helpful independently owned local pharmacy next time you need a prescription filled. You will also support a valuable small business in your community!

Paying for Dental Care with a Health Savings Account

Do you perhaps fit in one of the following groups?

  • *Employer offers no dental benefit plan.
  • *Employer offers dental benefit plan but does not subsidize premium, so it is no deal.
  • *Employer dental benefit plan excludes treatment you need, like implants.
  • *Dental plan that employer offers is a crumby PPO or DMO that excludes using good dentists not on the insurance list.
  • *You have a very healthy mouth, and virtually never need any treatment except regular cleanings, exams, and occasional x-rays, so dental coverage does not make economic sense.
  • *You are a self-employed individual without any form of dental coverage.

As expensive as dental care is, it really hurts to pay for it with after-tax income. Patients know that my #1 recommendation for funding dental care is through a FLEX benefit plan. It gives you complete freedom to pick dentists, and save all taxes on the money you put into it. You even avoid Social Security and Medicare taxes on salary you defer to the account!

Trouble is, as good as FLEX benefit plans are, not all employers offer them. And self-employed individuals cannot use them, unless they have a C-corporation.

What is a patient to do?

A good alternative is to use a Health Savings Account, which is much more efficient than buying dental insurance. Unlike when using a FLEX benefit plan, you will not avoid Social Security and Medicare taxes. But it will save some Federal and State income tax. How would you go about getting a Health Savings Account (HSA) open?

1. You must select a high-deductible, HSA-eligible medical coverage. More and more employers are offering this option. Typically the deductible must be at least $1200.
2. Fund the account to an EXCESS of what you need to pay for your medical deductible and copayments. For instance, if your typical out-of-pocket yearly medical expenses are $1500, contribute that PLUS however much per year you believe you will spend on family dental expenses. Ordinarily one would think to only contribute as much as a dental plan premium would cost monthly. But remember that any dental plan includes substantial out-of-pocket deductibles and copayments. So a starter would be to contribute 150% of the cost of premiums to a good dental plan.
3. The best place I have found to open a Health Savings Account is Delta Community Credit Union, because they have no fees and pay a good rate of interest. Perhaps some other credit unions have as good a deal.
4. You will get an HSA checkbook and/or debit card to pay your dentist with. He will love you, as you save him so many insurance hassles! And no insurance company will prevent you from having any dentistry you feel you want and need.

Individual dental benefit plans have always been a waste of money. We are finding that more employer-based dental plans are either poorly written, not a good deal, or both. Skipping the middlemen of dental plan underwriters can save you money and give you unlimited freedom of choice!

Feel free to e-mail me at KimHenryDMD@mindspring.com if you have any questions about implementing HSA dental funding.