If you don’t know how expensive dental work is, I have two things to say to you. First, you’ve been very lucky so far – keep brushing and flossing. Second, you’ll find out how costly it is eventually. I know at least one person who needed to look for jobs during retirement just to pay her dental bills. Recently, I went to the dentist and found out just how expensive my pearly whites can be.
Over the last three years I’ve spent more money on my teeth than I did for my entire four years in college! I can say that I know how much this costs firsthand. With the cost of dental care so high, it only makes sense to find out as much as possible about your dentist and the cost of care before you say “AHHHHH.”
As I said, I found myself in a situation where I had to do just that. Since I needed to do some pretty expensive work, I wanted to make sure I got great care, but I didn’t want to overspend foolishly. Here’s what I did:
1. Shopped Prices Apples to Apples
I love being self-employed, but I don’t have dental insurance, and the work I needed done was pricey. In my case, I needed to get a dental implant. As you might know, that’s an expensive proposition. It’s also very confusing since it is a multifaceted procedure. First the dentist has to extract a tooth. Then she has to put in a post. Once the post is in and everything settles down, the dentist then puts in a crown. There may even be more steps if there are complications along the way.
Since in my case, the dentist had already pulled the tooth, I needed to get one price for the remaining procedures. Most dentists break down the process and price it out for each part of the procedure. This makes professional sense, but it confused me. Why? Because some dentists had more steps to the procedure than others. And as a layman, I had no idea which steps were important and which were not. After talking to four different dentists, I decided my understanding of the essential procedures was sufficient, and I got prices only for those procedures. Of course I took a chance that my misunderstanding might lead to expensive consequences, but I was at a point where I had to start making decisions. I decided that I had gathered enough information and any further delay would only serve to complicate the issue.
Once I decided that I understood the process, I asked for quotes and was able to compare apples to apples.
2. Compare Quotes
Of course, when it comes to dental work, I don’t know if one dentist is better than another or if the materials are better than another set of materials. But what amazed me was the disparity in pricing. Some quotes were more than three times what other dentists wanted. For the same procedure, one dentist wanted $1,500 while another wanted almost $6,250. I wondered if the lower price had any reflection on the quality of the work. I had no way of knowing. That’s when I called the American Dental Association.
In case you’ve never tried to find out about your dentist, take it from me, it’s no easy feat. In California, the dental consumer sites maintained by the government have tons of information about dentists – but consumers can’t have access to that information.
If you think this sounds very self-serving and opaque, you’re right. If somebody became a financial planner and tried to pull that stunt, she’d be in hot water. But somehow, dentists get away with this. I got over this hurdle by simply talking to the dentist about my dilemma. I told him I wanted to hire him but didn’t know how to check up on him. I asked him what he’d do if he were me.
At the end of the day, I called the ADA and the Better Business Bureau. When I didn’t hear anything negative about the lower-priced dentist, I took a bite (pardon the pun) and had him do the procedure. I figured no news was good news, and in this instance I was right. The process went off without a hitch, and I’m chewing away as if nothing ever happened.
I don’t like it when professionals have consumers over a barrel. I am finding that in the age of the internet, fewer and fewer actually do.
How did you find your last dentist? Are personal referrals meaningful? What would you do differently if you needed a dentist now?