By Stephanie Zeller-Iliff, DDS
I read an article last week titled “Why Your Dentist Costs So Much”… and I thought I’d write a quick blog from a dentist’s point of view as to why it’s so expensive to get dental treatment. I agreed with many of the points I found in the article, so I borrowed their basic titles.
1. Dental Care is Not a Commodity
Dentistry is not like buying socks or going to the grocery store. It’s a highly technical profession integrating art and science. Dental school for students is a four-year program, post-undergraduate. This is the same amount of time it takes a medical student to receive an MD. In addition to that, the price one pays to go to dental school has become astronomical, especially considering that few if any students have time to work while in school, so the loans they accrue must include their price of living. Depending on what city they’re in, this can add a substantial amount to their overall price to become a dentist. It takes many dentists 30 years to pay off all their loans!! It’s a high price to pay to become a dentist.
2. Overhead Costs Are Huge
On average, anywhere from 55%-80% of what a patient pays goes towards the expense of what it costs to run a modern dental office. The materials, instruments, rent or mortgage, computers, machines, costs for licenses, insurance, payroll for hygienists, assistants, office managers, receptionists; it all adds up very quickly. Many people would be shocked at the cost it takes to run a practice and at the very small margin of profit that dentist’s benefit from. And then consider all that, plus loans!
3. Lab Fees
On top of the overhead, dentists have to pay lab fees to a lab for the fabrication of many fixed and removable dental appliances. This includes fees for crowns, dentures, partials, night guards, etc. While some dental labs may offer cheap prices for crown fabrication, this does not mean that the crown is of high quality. And while fees may vary based on regional location, they’re never “cheap”. For instance, a fee for a crown from a lab can cost the dentist up to $500.
4. Dental Insurance is Much Different from Medical Insurance
Most dental insurance companies tend to just be a maintenance plan, covering the cost of exams, x-rays, and cleanings but requiring the patient to pay 20-50% of any restorative work like fillings or crowns. In addition to that, most people’s maximum annual benefit is around $1000, meaning once the patient has had enough work to reach that maximum, the patient is required to pay 100% of the remaining work to be done. Most people expect their dental insurance coverage to be much better than what it is, or to be similar to their medical coverage. I’ve seen many patients shocked and even angry at their insurance when they realize that they will have to pay a substantial amount to get all the work they need done.
Side note: Most dentists do what they do because they love it. And we want you to care about your teeth. Your teeth are not only a significant part of your appearance but also your health. Studies are released everyday linking severe gum and bone disease such as periodontitis to other health problems like heart disease. If you have an active infection in your mouth, it’s important to get it treated. Bottom line? Find a dentist you can trust, and one that cares for your overall health.