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Why is Dental Work so Expensive?

Have you ever avoided dental care because of the costs? If so, you’re certainly not alone. Dental care costs can be a significant hurdle to healthy teeth and gums. From simple checkups to complicated oral surgeries, dental care can become very expensive very quickly.

Understanding the why behind dental care costs can actually help you save at the dentist’s office. Let’s take a look at how dental costs are calculated, as well as some ways to help make those costs more affordable.

Dental Care is a Professional Service

Dentistry is a highly-skilled profession which requires extensive schooling. First, a bachelor’s degree is required. Although no specific degree is necessary, most aspiring dentists choose a degree related to science.

After earning a bachelor’s, post-graduate education is next. Dental school takes between two and four years for general dentistry. Specializations such as orthodontics and pediatric dentistry require additional education.

Graduates earn a Doctor of Dental surgery degree. Although the DDS is the most common, some schools award a Doctor of Dental Medicine degree instead, which is basically just a semantic difference. Certain dental specialties are also officially recognized by the American Dental Association.

Dentistry is also a Small Business

Dentistry isn’t just a skill; it’s also a business. A new dentist has two options to make money. They can either start their own practice or join an existing one. Both options involve overhead costs.

A modern dental practice has the same expenses as any typical small business including:

  • Rent or mortgage
  • Office equipment and supplies
  • Payroll for receptionists and managers
  • Taxes, insurance and related business costs

Aside from the standard operating costs you’d find in any small business, dental practices also have many expenses unique to dentistry. A dental office needs specialized employees such as hygienists and other dental assistants. Dental offices also need a variety of specialized equipment including X-ray machines, patient chairs, dental tools and much more. Aside from the initial purchase, equipment must be properly maintained.

Dental Problems Grow over Time

Most minor injuries to your body, like a scrape or bruise, will simply heal on their own over time. However, dental damage is different. Left untreated, dental problems will grow more serious, more painful and more expensive to treat.

For instance, regular dental cleanings will remove minor plaque easily and quickly. But if decay is allowed to develop, treatments become more complex. Deep cleanings, root canals and other major dental procedures are time-consuming and expensive.

Some of the biggest expenses related to dental procedures are products created in a dental lab. Dentures, crowns and other fabrications must be customized for each patient. Most dentists will have an established relationship with a lab they prefer to use.

The initial costs for lab products can be pretty high. But dentists recommend not skimping on quality. Cheap, low-quality dental products can break or fail after even a short period of time. Repairing damage requires an additional trip to the dentist’s office, as well as additional costs. Plus, most dental insurance plans won’t cover these types of repairs.

Your dentist will specifically choose quality products built to last a long time. Some larger dental practices invest in lab equipment for their own offices. This allows the dentist more control over the fabrication process. For instance, a dentist could make a custom crown and cement it during just one visit. Unfortunately, this can increase the price as the dentist has to perform additional work.

Dentists and Dental Insurance

One of the most complicated and time-consuming aspects of running a dental office is dealing with dental insurance companies. When a patient uses dental insurance, the dentist needs to check the patient’s policy, file for a reimbursement of the portion of care covered by the insurance (if the dentist is in network, if not the patient may have to deal with the paperwork) and then wait for reimbursement. Treatment plans may be refused by insurance providers, and charges may be audited.

People may feel that dentists prefer to work with patients that have dental insurance. That’s not true. Dentists will often offer a discount to patients who pay out-of-pocket.

Another way to save is with the use of a dental discount plan. An alternative to dental insurance, discount plan members use discount cards to save between 15% and 60% at over 110,00 participating dentists nationwide. Savings are available for a wide variety of procedures often including check-ups and cleanings as well as restorative treatments such as root canals, crowns and dental bridges and more. Dentists are typically happy to accept discount cards because they’re easy to deal with. You simply present your card at the time of service for instant savings. Neither you or the dentist have to deal with any complicated paperwork or time-consuming reimbursements.

While dental prices can be high, savings options are available. Talk to your dentist so he or she understands your financial situation. Most dentists will work hard to help you afford quality dental care. At the end of the day, your dentist is primarily concerned with keeping your smile healthy.


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