Dentist, patient agree: Alberta dental guide should take bigger bite out of fees

A dentist and a patient both agree that the Alberta Dental Association and College's newly announced fee guide doesn't increase affordability for Albertans.

'You can't have a group both being your friend and beating you up at the same time,' dentist says of ADA&C

Two years after moving to Alberta and getting a hefty dental bill, Leah Ettarh is disappointed with the Alberta Dental Association and College's new fee guide. (CBC)

A dentist and a patient both agree that the new Alberta dental fee guide doesn't drill down deep enough to cut patient costs.

On Thursday, the Alberta Dental Association and College released the guide, which includes recommended fees for specific dental procedures. 

But some of the fees are nearly double those recommended in British Columbia.

Soon after its release, Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said she was "disappointed" with the fee guide and is examining "rather extreme measures" if the ADA&C doesn't make dental services more affordable.

'The public deserves better'

After moving to Alberta from B.C. two years ago, Leah Ettarh was floored when she received a $900 dental bill for a cleaning for her and her son.

At the time, she spoke with CBC about the bill in hopes that it would lead to a change.

"Even for people who are fortunate enough to have insurance, there's still a huge gap in what the insurance will pay and what they'll still be out of pocket for," Ettarh said Thursday. 

"So it hasn't really made it much more affordable, and I think Minister Hoffman has expressed that and I'm glad she's taking a hard stance on this and making the college re-evaluate what they've put out because the public deserves better than that."

Fee guide caught dentist off-guard

Red Deer dentist Michael Zuk said he was caught off-guard by Thursday's announcement and thinks more dentists should have been consulted.

He said his office's fees for checkups and X-rays are nearly half those recommended in the fee guide to ensure patients continue to book their appointments there.

"Simply because we work in the office from 8 in the morning until 9 at night, Monday to Friday — and even open weekends now — our overhead is lower per dentist because we don't have banker's hours."

Hoffman said that if the ADA&C doesn't meet her standards of affordable fees, as a last resort she is examining the possibility of separating the dental association from the regulatory college.

That's something Zuk said he would support.

"The dental association is like a dentist union — it's supposed to help dentists. The dental college is the side that is supposed to discipline dentists. Those are completely opposite interests," Zuk said.

"You can't have a group both being your friend and beating you up at the same time. Most provinces have separated [them] for a good reason."