Alberta to create fee guide to chomp down on dental costs

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Alberta’s NDP government will create a dental fee guide to try to take a bite out of skyrocketing dental costs.

Alberta is currently the only province without a dental fee guide. Dentists are free to set their prices at whatever level they choose.

The announcement by Health Minister Sarah Hoffman Thursday was part of the results of a provincial review of the dental industry, launched more than a year ago.

The review confirmed that fee rates in the province are higher, and growing faster than anywhere else in the country.

Dentist exam

Alberta is the only province without a dental fee guide, and dentists are free to set their prices at whatever level they choose. (CBC)

“From braces to fluoride treatments, having a good dentist is part of healthy living,” Hoffman told a news conference. “But we’ve all heard concerns that Albertans have about the high cost of dental care.”

“Anyone who has had to pay out of pocket for dental care, whether it’s full price or part of the cost that aren’t covered by your dental plan, knows that these costs can hit the wallet hard.”

The review found that private market dental fees, based on 49 representative dental procedures, can be as much as 44 per cent higher in Alberta than neighbouring provinces.

In addition to the fee guide, the province has asked the Alberta Dental College and Association to submit a plan outlining strategies to increase public confidence in the profession, and come up with ways to ease confusion around current advertising guidelines for the industry.

“The Alberta Dental Association and College accepts the dental fee review established by the Minister of Health,” Dr. Allan Graas, president of the association and college, said in a statement.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the government to make this a document that will best serve Albertans and dentists alike.”

Dentists charge what they want

Alberta’s dentists stopped publishing a fee guide in 1997, arguing that getting rid of it would stimulate competition and lower prices for patients.

Prices for dental procedures in the province have climbed rapidly over the past decade, increasing by about 5.6 per cent each year, far outpacing all other provinces as the priciest in the country.

Edmonton’s Leah Ettarh is glad to to see a fee guide introduced. She’s still grinding her teeth over the first set of dental appointments she had in Alberta.

“Alberta hasn’t had that for years, and that was supposed to be a competitive advantage, but I don’t think that’s what happened,” said Ettarh.

“A fee guide would be good, and I would hope that guide is lower than the current suggested rates.”

Ettarh was charged $900 for two dental checkups in 2015, and forced to pay out more than $230 out of pocket when her insurance wouldn’t cover the entire bill.

An Alberta newcomer, she felt ripped off.

“I didn’t expect it,” said Ettarh. “The whole point of moving to Edmonton from Vancouver was to live a more frugal lifestyle … the fact that something as simple as a dentist appointment was so extreme in the cost was shocking.”

Dental fees in Alberta vary widely, even between neighbouring clinics. But patients such as Ettarh say it’s hard to shop for the best prices because dentists are reluctant to reveal their fees until they have you in the chair.

Some consumers have also questioned why the dental association and college, which serves as both an industry advocate and regulator, remains a single entity to better serve very different but crucial roles.

“I actually choose my dentist based on who would actually tell me the cost up front,” said Ettarh.

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Alberta to create fee guide to chomp down on dental costs

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