Alberta's overwhelming Dental Costs Are Part of a National Problem

Alberta's overwhelming Dental Costs Are Part of a National Problem

Multiply similar costs across the country and you have a solid economic argument for growing publicly funded dental care in Canada.

Last year, a provincial government report found that dental procedures cost up to 44 per cent more in Alberta than in neighbouring provinces. Does this inflated cost affects dental health? You bet.

A staggering 62 per cent of Albertans reported they have limited their visits to dentists due to cost concerns. That's most Albertans skipping basic dental health care because of the high costs. That's a big problem. If dental health is not maintained, complications can send patients to the emergency room at great public cost.

So how did Alberta's prices get so out of line from the rest of the country?

Professional dental societies publish fee guides in most provinces to help provide dentists — who are primarily self-employed — a benchmark for what to charge their customers. The fee guides also encourage price competition, improve transparency and better inform patients. But the Alberta Dental Association and College (ADAC) stopped publishing its fee guide in 1997, deciding to leave pricing up to the free market instead. Critics strongly believe this may have contributed to the current high cost of dental care in the province.

As a result of pressure from the government, the ADAC released a new fee guide this month in an attempt to improve the situation. They recommend a three per cent across the board reduction in costs for dental procedures. Alberta's health minister summed it up when she said Albertans "deserve better."

The new fees remain cost prohibitive to many Albertans. For example, the new guide recommends that a standard oral exam for a new patient costs $75.36 compared to the $43.10 suggested in British Columbia's fee guide.

And while a three-per-cent savings will benefit private insurers and those who can already afford to visit a dentist, this very modest reduction is unlikely to persuade the many individuals who previously could not afford dental care to seek it now.

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