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Thursday Troubleshooter: What can frustrated dentist do about ADA coding system?

June 28, 2018
This dentist is frustrated with the coding system, and wonders what dentists’ legal and ethical obligations are when it comes to abiding by the ADA coding system? 

Nearly everyone has problems and concerns on the job, and sometimes you're just too close to a situation to solve something yourself. Share your concerns with Team Troubleshooter, and the experts will examine the issues and provide guidance. Send questions to [email protected]

QUESTION: What are dentists’ legal and ethical obligations to abide by the ADA coding system? The only way to break free from the shackles of dental insurance and “procedural” dentistry would be to cease using the codes and descriptions and instead create a new system of care unrelated to the current codes. Is this legal and/or ethical? Are we as licensed dentists legally bound to use that system?

ANSWER FROM CHRIS SALIERNO, DDS, editor of Dental Economics:
If you are contracted with a third party payer, then you are legally and ethically bound to adhere to their coding system, which is the ADA's Code on Dental Procedures and Nomenclature (aka CDT Code). You may disagree with some of the terminology or how procedures are classified, and there is a process for reform! The ADA's Council on Dental Benefit Programs (CDBP) meets regularly to update the code. Speak with your local dental society about contacting your representative to the Council and have your voice heard.

However, I'm sensing that you’re looking for a larger reform. We've been reporting on large-scale efforts to change how dentists can be fairly compensated for their services and dental care can be made affordable. There is not a simple answer here.

But I would again advise you to take your ideas to your local dental society and have your voice heard. You can become more educated about these issues and bring more attention to your cause. I've been involved with organized dentistry since I was in dental school and I can tell you, it is greatly satisfying to turn a common frustration into actual legislation.

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Don't be shy! If YOU have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed, send it to [email protected] for the experts to answer. Remember, you'll be helping others who share the same issue. Responses will come from various dental consultants, as well as other experts in the areas of human resources, coding, front office management, and more. These folks will assist dental professionals with their various issues on DentistryIQ because they're very familiar with the tough challenges day-to-day practice can bring. All inquiries will be answered anonymously each Thursday here on DIQ.

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About the Author

Team Troubleshooter

This weekly column on DentistryIQ features questions from everyday people who work in dental practices, who have issues they would like addressed by the experts. Those who regularly take the time to answer questions include Rebecca Boartfield, Patti DiGangi, Dr. Chris Salierno, Laura Hatch, Karen Daw, Jill Townsend, Lisa Marie Spradley, Shelley Renee, Judy Kay Mausolf, Robin Morrison, Paul Edwards ... and the list is growing.

Send your question or issue for an expert to address to [email protected].. You'll be glad you did.