It is hard not to agree with the general assessment that dental care is expensive. This is especially true of dental procedures: few complain about the cost of a routine checkup, but the installation of crowns, bridges, root canals, and implants can cost thousands of dollars, and even a simple filling can cost a few hundred. It can be readily understood if the price tags attached to these procedures lead people to wonder: why is it so hard to afford dental care?
Costs of being a dentist
Dentistry is a medical field, and medical care, in general, is expensive. A substantial part of this is paying for the costs of becoming and being a medical professional – costs that are (and often must be) passed on to the patient. Dentists have to go to school for a long time (typically four years in dental school after four years of university). Often, neither prospective dentists nor their families can afford to pay for this education, which means dentists begin their careers under potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.
But that’s just the beginning. Dentists typically also carry malpractice insurance in case something goes wrong with a procedure, and that can be very expensive. Finally, dentistry continues to make advances, and while this results in an increasingly higher quality of care, it also requires more training and equipment. Education courses or seminars can be very expensive (in the vicinity of $5,000 per course) and often require travel, which means airfare and accommodations.
Dentists are human beings and must make a living. Therefore, to pay for (or pay back) some of these costs, they must adjust what they charge for their services.
Dentists must pay (and pass on to patients) some of the other costs of maintaining a dental practice. For example, a dentist has to pay for the place in which he or she practices and for the utilities used. Likewise, dentists must shoulder the cost for the very best equipment, medical supplies, sterilization chemicals and apparatus, computers, and so on. Any attempt to scrimp or save may affect the quality of care they provide.
Likewise, few dentists aspire to be mediocre; most want to be the best dentists and to run the best kind of dental practice (hence their investment in continuing education). This requires hiring top-notch personnel, such as receptionists, billing agents, hygienists, anesthesiologists, etc. The better these team members, the more they typically need to be paid, and this adds to the cost of dentistry.
Finally, not all dental visits are equal. A routine checkup is one thing, but a root canal or a dental implant may require multiple visits, using time, supplies, and facilities that are factored into the price of the procedure. Furthermore, some operations require the fabrication of dental appliances (like bridges, crowns, and implants). An increasing number of dentists have modern technology that can use computers and 3D printers to create these appliances in-house, but this requires paying for the devices – often in the $100,000 range – and their upkeep. Alternatively, they must send the prosthetics to external laboratories to be manufactured, which adds to the expense. Since the laboratories also vary in quality, the dentist may pay extra for the best ones, since a defective crown will often have to be paid for by the dentists themselves (and by the patients, too, even if the only cost they pay is time).
Of course, many of the above are equally applicable to other medical fields. However, dental care can seem more expensive in comparison because of insurance. Unlike health insurance, which covers both the cost of preventative care and emergency procedures, many dental insurance plans function far more like a maintenance plan, covering yearly exams, cleanings, and x-rays and maybe part of the cost of a crown, but little else. This can be especially vexing because dental hygiene often plays a role in other conditions: periodontal disease tends to put people at far greater risk for heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, and in pregnant people, periodontal disease can lead to a higher chance of premature birth and low birth weight.
Worse still, many people do not prioritize dental hygiene as much as they should and in some cases will delay a trip to the dentist until something goes wrong. This means that often the dental bills they receive are for expensive procedures like root canals and not for relatively inexpensive procedures like routine cleanings.
For all these reasons, dental care can be expensive, though many dentists provide discounts and payment plans for very costly procedures. All told, though, the best way to save costs at the dentist’s office is to go to those checkups and attend to brushing and flossing.