CHICAGO (CBS) — A tough economy is being blamed for an upswing in dentists telling patients they need work that really may not be necessary.

2 Investigator Dave Savini received numerous tips about the alleged practice.

One of them, Paul Kaufmann, says a visit to a new dentist who was offering a good discount for a cleaning, X-rays and whitening nearly cost him a lot of money and pain.

“I think the goal was to sell more than what you went there for,” Kaufmann says.

He went to Dental Works in Vernon Hills and saw Dr. Alin Alkass.  Kaufmann says Dr. Alkass told him he had a gum infection and needed 15 cavities filled, which would cost $2,800.

Kaufmann says he was in disbelief because he did not have pain or any problems with his teeth. So, he went for a second opinion. That dentist gave him a clean bill of health – no cavities – says Kaufmann.

Experts like Dr. Lou Graham, who has a practice and teaches ethics, cautions that dentistry is not black and white.

“X-rays are very subjective and dentistry is very subjective,” he says.

He also says dentists can have different opinions, so patients need to be careful of dentists who may be trying to drill for cash, which he says is a  growing trend.

“The question is, why all of a sudden does that patient need all this work done?” Graham says.

He adds that tough economic times have meant more problems with dentists doing procedures that are not needed. Some can actually damage your teeth.

“The moment a dentist lifts up a drill,” says Graham, “that means that tooth is traumatized for life.”

Graham says treating a tooth that does not need treatment will take away critical enamel and can cause years of trouble and ongoing expensive repairs. Implants and cosmetic procedures are the areas that can be most abused and cause the most damage to otherwise healthy teeth.

“I’m not going to deny that the money starts to go up in more specialty procedures,” Graham says.

Jean O’Sullivan said she needed quite a bit of specialty procedures.  She says she went to Dr. Paul Petrungaro and was told she had cysts and needed expensive bridges and crowns, then was offered a deal. Pay up front for a discount.

She says she gave the dentist cash, then regretted doing so after a second dentist told her some of the expensive work was unnecessary.

“I think there is so much money to be made in dentistry, that I think it brings out the greed,” O’Sullivan says.

A statement for Dr. Petrungaro says O’Sullivan met with other dentists and agreed with Petrungaro’s treatment plan. The statement also says the Illinois board reviewing this matter sided with the dentist.  O’Sullivan says that complaint is still being reviewed.

“It seems like their interest is not in doing dental work, it’s in taking as much money as they can from you,” Kaufmann, the dental patient who balked at extensive work.

A statement from Dental Works says patient feedback is of utmost importance  and that they have an unwavering commitment to excellence.

Dr. Graham says red flags that should send you for a second opinion include being told you need a lot of work or recent work needs to be re-done.

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