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Ask the Dentist: The costs of dentistry

At a social function recently, the following conversation was heard. The person speaking was entertaining his listener with various somewhat one-sided conversation. He was early 70s, and quite ‘full of himself’.
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At a social function recently, the following conversation was heard. The person speaking was entertaining his listener with various somewhat one-sided conversation. He was early 70s, and quite ‘full of himself’.

In casual conversation he let it slip that he had just again booked a long all-inclusive vacation at a hotspot. He is a devoted sun worshipper, drives a new Lexus, is seemingly an almost pro golfer, skier (water and snow), body surfer, and industrial league hockey player. He mentioned his daughter-in-law is a physician three times in 30 minutes, just in case you weren’t paying attention. He has built high-end homes for decades, and lives in each for one year to defeat the Capital Gains Tax.

According to him, he is one swell and successful guy. Out of nowhere, the topic of ‘teeth’ came up. Both he and his wife immediately scowled, and claimed their dentist is looking at a vacation in Hawaii every time he examines their mouth! He then wiggled his front centre tooth with his finger, claiming this was an old hockey injury the dentist wanted to fix.

He needed 2 implants, and a 4 unit bridge affixed to the same. His quote was $10,000 – which outraged him! He stated that he needed a cheaper dentist, who would do this work for a much lower price because nobody was going to ‘take’ him on this repair. Minutes earlier he gloated about a quarter million capital gain avoided by living in it for a year, and thought he was just plain crafty. One listener who did know something about dentistry, told him that sounded like a low quote for needed work. He went on to ask if the ‘talker’ preferred to put his teeth in a glass of water at night, just like his grandparents. When he had to reduce his sporting activities which is inevitable, enjoying food seemed like it just might become a priority.

The blowhard wasn’t having any of it. “Did I mention my grandchild’s mother is a physician?”

These dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Dental fees have increased to the Cost of Living Index only (for Fee Guide Billing Dentists). An orthodontic case 25 years ago averaged $5,000. Today it averages $7,000 for a basic case. What has happened to the price of housing and virtually everything else? The attitude that every dentist is virtually tripping them outside the clinic door to ‘find’ an expensive issue to repair is a myth. Every patient over 60 visiting a dentist needs something. Periodontal issues abound. Cavities, staining, chips, cracks – all are common.

Lack of maintenance simply because something hasn’t begun to hurt ‘yet’ prevails with many people. There has been a significant change towards preventative dentistry over the past couple of decades. Diagnostic technology pinpoints with finite accuracy early problems which can be eliminated at that stage. This saves time, money, discomfort, and allows patients to enjoy a healthy mouth for much longer time. Laser dentistry is a game changer. The latest model is the Solea laser, and it eliminates needles, drilling, and numbness for 85 per cent of dental fillings. We use it with seniors, and with children. It is possible to treat multiple teeth in one session, which means patients aren’t spending endless time commuting to a dentist office.

We have a broader scope to examine past dental work, present treatment required, and future issues which may evolve. The digital X rays used today have a higher energy plus much shorter wavelength than older film machines, so both patients and dentists have the advantage of as much safe data as possible. Literally aprons are not required.

Dentistry has evolved. Adults are a huge market for orthodontics now, with Sure Smile and Invisalign for people weary of crooked teeth after enduring decades with them.

Restorative treatment such as crowns and veneers are being utilized by many – not simply the ‘rich and famous’. The quantity of potential dentistry currently incomplete or not even begun is staggering. Dentistry has an absurdly high overhead to deliver. I’m not crying ‘Woe is Me’ or ‘Woe is Us’ whatsoever, but many industries I’m familiar with couldn’t operate on the margins of the average dental practice. We practice dentistry because we love the profession. Accepting that some have a totally absurd sense of reality is just part of any people business!

Dr. Michael Dolynchuk is a General Dentist practicing in Caroline and Red Deer.