Contour extended: Importance of knowing the CDT codes

Welcome to Contour Extended! We’ll feature additional content related to recently published Contour articles. See the article about coding in November/December’s Contour.

Want to win a copy of the “CDT 2018: Dental Procedure Codes” manual? See contest details below.

Understanding the Current Dental Terminology (CDT) codes and ensuring proper coding is crucial to improve time management and make your practice succeed. It also prevents ethical and legal issues. In my previous 10-year experience as an office manager, I observed local dentists make coding errors, get audited or lose their license from insurance fraud. While most dentists are not knowingly billing incorrectly, they should know how to correct these mistakes.

Which code do I bill? Dentists have more urgent issues to worry about, so these codes can’t be that important, right? Wrong.

Time management

Knowing the CDT codes saves valuable time. Every moment you spend searching for codes is the time taken away from patients and revenue lost from practice.

Office managers and dentists improve office efficiency by learning the basic outline of the CDT book. The book uses four-digit codes that begin with the letter D followed by four digits. The book places the codes into categories based on the type of service rendered, which makes it easier to find. For example, all periodontal codes begin with D4, while fixed prosthodontic codes run from D62 to D6999. When you need to find that code for the periodontal procedure you just completed, you can eliminate most of the book’s codes because you know to check the 4000 codes.

Practice success

How can coding make your practice more successful? Become familiar with these codes and report them. Getting in the habit of learning these codes and reporting them properly while in dental school will help make your future practice more profitable. As a dental student, proper coding ensures you receive credit for procedures that can help you meet competency requirements.

Dr. Charles Blair, a dentist, author and leading dental consultant in the United States, states that up to 60 percent of dentists forget to bill for payable codes such as palliative emergencies (D9110), sectioning a bridge (D9120) or additional procedures performed when constructing a new crown under an existing partial (D2971). Forgetting to properly code for these procedures decreases production in dental practices while creating discrepancies in treatment notes. According to a March 2014 article in Dental Economics, these coding errors cost thousands of dollars in lost revenue each month.

Ethical and legal aspects 

Veracity applies to many factors in our profession, including proper coding. Section 5.B. of the ADA Codes of Ethics outlines in great detail our code of conduct in regard to the representation of fees.

Best practice management is to always use proper codes and avoid habits of alternating or replacing codes if they do not fit the description of the performed procedure. Some offices commonly alternate prophylaxis (D1110) and periodontal maintenance visits (D4910) code for periodontal patients. However, they are only performing periodontal maintenance. This form of improper coding is unethical and illegal. It can result in penalties from the state board, a loss of license or even jail time.

Having a copy of the most recent CDT book can be helpful to have around the clinic and can be purchased from the ADA website. To improve your coding skills, consider purchasing Dr. Charles Blair’s book “Coding with Confidence,” which gives situational events on how and when to code properly.

Understanding and applying the CDT codes correctly is key to having an effective practice. It improves time management, revenue and prevents ethical and legal issues.

For a chance to receive a free copy of the CDT 2018 manual ($49.95 value), leave a comment below, telling us your funniest made-up dental code. If your code is our favorite, we’ll send you a manual! Contest closes Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. CST.

~Scarlett La’Ree Woods, Mississippi ’20

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About Scarlett Woods

Scarlett Woods is a second-year dental year at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Her love for dentistry began when she started working in dental offices in the San Francisco Bay Area after graduating from the University of Oregon. She has over 10 years of experience in dentistry as an office manager, treatment planner, dental consultant and dental assistant. She currently serves as secretary of her ASDA chapter as well as the District 5 Chair on the Council of Professional Issues and Ethics. She is passionate about aiding dentists and student dentists on how to maximize office efficiency and patient care. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, singing karaoke, working with animal rescues and baking.

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Comments (9)

  1. Gabriel Casias

    D7734 (to be read upside down on your pt’s old school phone) Initiating chair side small talk

  2. Laura

    D9898 for cleanup materials and time associated with the patient trying to “spit” out liquid at the straw suction rather than closing lips on it. Billed per occurrence.

  3. Lake Cities Dental

    Great piece of article Scarlett. This kind of post reminds all Dentist professionals to continue review CDT manual. An honest mistakes can happen but too often is not acceptable by simple wrong code encoded.

    -dental clinic in southlake

  4. Edith Quinonez

    D5051 (read as SOS!) to be billed per occurrence of awkward finger licking by the patient of the dental professional creating an uncomfortable working environment

  5. Cassandra Crager

    Great article! Knowledge is power and knowing the codes will only make one a better practitioner.


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