Calgary dental fees range widely among dentists

Alberta's dentists stopped publishing their fee schedule in 1997 and Albertans pay more than other Canadians for dental work, with fees in Calgary varying widely.

With no set fee schedule, Alberta dentists can charge what they want

Wildrose health critic Drew Barnes says the government should not bring in price controls as it reviews the escalating cost of dental care in Alberta. (CBC)

Alberta's dentists stopped publishing their fee schedule in 1997, arguing it would make the profession more competitive.

But a recent national review of dental costs shows Alberta dental patients pay more on average than other Canadians.

Bruce Yaholnitsky, a Calgary dentist and director for the Alberta Dental Association and College, said if patients aren't happy with their dentists' prices, they should find a less expensive dentist.

Alberta Health is reviewing dental fees with various stakeholders, including the Alberta Dental Association and College, to determine why fees are so much higher in Alberta.

The ministry expects to complete its review by the summer.

Shopping for dentists easier said than done

Many dentists in Calgary are reluctant to give their fees over the phone, however.

While dentists are free to tell prospective patients what their fees are, Yaholnitsky says it's more complicated than just calling the office and asking how much it costs for an average cleaning.

"There is no average cleaning," he said.

"I deal with gum disease all the time...we literally spend hours trying to rehabilitate people's mouths ... it's like going to a cardiologist and saying, 'I need heart surgery.'"

The Eyeopener called 12 dental offices in Calgary and asked for their fees on three common dental procedures: an hour's worth of deep cleaning (called "scaling"), a panoramic x-ray, and wisdom-tooth extraction.

This is what we found

Many dentists did not want to commit to a fee over the phone without seeing the patient first.

Further complicating a fair comparison: some dentists bundle services together.

For example, one office we called offers scaling for one price, but never performs that service without also doing polishing and fluoride treatments.

Each of the three treatments has a separate cost for which the dentist bills the insurer separately, and the procedures are covered at different rates under various dental-insurance plans.

More wrinkles: sometimes the cost for a procedure, such as a wisdom tooth extraction, comes bundled with the cost of an exam, and first-time exams can cost more.

So the cost to the patient can be hard to determine.

But here's the best comparison we could make, among a dozen different dental offices.

12 Calgary dentists, 12 different prices: 1 hour of scaling

12 Calgary dentists' fees for a panoramic dental x-ray

12 Calgary dentists' fees for wisdom tooth extraction, per tooth*

*Note: all but one of the 12 dentists contacted gave a per-tooth cost range for simple extraction (cheapest), surgical extraction, and complicated surgical extraction (most costly) that may be outsourced to a specialist. Dentist 11 would only give a 4-tooth bundled price of $1200 over the phone.