A CBC investigation has found the cost of basic dental work in Alberta varies greatly, partly because the dental association doesn't set or recommend fees.

Every other provincial dental association publishes suggested fees, which dentists in that province usually follow.

But dentists in Alberta set their own fees. The Alberta Dental Association and College surveys those fees each year, but the results are released only to dentists.

The CBC contacted more than 60 dentists across the country to inquire about the fees for two basic services — a basic cleaning and a basic examination. Half of dentists surveyed were in Alberta and half outside the province. Some dentists were reluctant to give out information.

Prices range in Alberta

The informal survey revealed that in Alberta, the price for a basic exam ranged from $50 to $109, while the cleaning ranged from about $200 to about $300.  Adding the cost of an exam and cleaning together, the cheapest dentist the CBC talked to willing to give prices was in Fort McMurray and the most expensive in Black Diamond, about 50 kilometres southwest of Calgary.

In provinces with a suggested fee schedule, the dentists surveyed tended to stick with the list. Nova Scotia had the cheapest fees for basic services.

Judy Crowell of Calgary has three children who each have a different dentist. She no longer has dental coverage and watches the bills carefully. She recently got an estimate from her husband's dentist for $12,000 in dental work, which was a shock.

But even regular checkups come with a hefty bill.

"I know when my kids have gone to get their cleaning it can range from … maybe $200 to $400."

Dentist's office a business

Calgary dentist Bob Huff, who is also a director with the Alberta Dental Association and College, said a dentist is like any other business.

"You determine what the cost of running your business [is], then you set your fees to make what you think is a reasonable profit above that," he said.

The association used to issue a fee guide but decided to stop about 10 years ago because it was in the public's interest to have dentists set their own fees, said Huff.

"By having every dentist set their own fees then there's more competition," he said. "There would be people with lower fees and people with higher fees and it would give the public more choice of where they would like to go for their dental treatment."

Huff said patients who are concerned about dental fees should discuss the matter with their dentists and get another estimate if those concerns aren't settled.