After a few months of putting it off I finally booked an appointment to go to the dentist. I moved to my current province (Alberta) 8 years ago but have stubbornly used the same dentist I’ve had back home (different province) since I was a child. This year I finally bit the bullet and decided to go with a new dentist, one much closer to home where I could easily book an appointment on short notice.
I had the dental cleaning and it went fine; the dentist was great in examining my teeth and everything went smoothly.
The only minor issue was the cost. Normally back home I would pay $15-25 out of pocket and the rest would be covered through my health benefits. This time was a bit different – I had to pay $289 out of pocket (after the health coverage portion was taken care of). I was shocked there could be such a huge discrepancy between the two dentists based on where they are located. I assumed it was because prices in a larger city are generally higher and dentists were no different.
No Fee Guides
After some quick research online I found more information on the dentist fees. It turns out that Alberta is the only province in Canada that doesn’t have a dental fee guide. The fee guide was eliminated in 1997 because back then it was seen as a form of price fixing. At the time the government thought the market would regulate itself and prices would remain reasonable over the years based on market competition. Boy, were they wrong.
The average dental checkup costs $164 in BC but the same checkup costs $357 in Alberta. Without a fee guide dentists are essentially able to charge whatever they want. The fees have risen so high that one of the province’s biggest public sector health providers has decided to not increase the amounts they cover in 2016.
A $900 Dentist Bill?
Apparently I wasn’t alone in my sticker shock. CBC recently ran a story on a woman who moved to Alberta from another province and was hit with a $900 dentist bill – for dental procedures that would have cost significantly less in any other province. The bill was so high that she thought the dentist had mistakenly forgot to bill her insurance company, only to find out the amount she had to pay was after the insurance coverage portion was taken care of.
Choosing a Dentist
In the future I may shop around for another dentist, but this time I’ll ask up front what their fees are instead of just assuming they are comparable to other areas. In my opinion cost shouldn’t prevent someone from accessing quality care and it’s a bit of sticker shock when you get a dental bill for hundreds of dollars you aren’t used to paying.
Conclusion – dentist fees vary widely but in general people in my area (specifically my city – Calgary) are paying 2-3x more than other areas. I’ll be shopping around next time for my dental cleaning so I won’t be faced with a huge bill.
How much do you pay for a dental cleaning?