When you ask just about any person about going to the dentist, one of the most common concerns and issues you hear about is how much it costs. Many people wish they had dental insurance or if they do have insurance, they’re concerned about whether or not their insurance will cover it and what they will have to pay out of pocket. 

cost of dental treatment

Now, dental care (like health care and many other things in life) is not inexpensive by any means. But in today’s society, is it really that much more than many things in life that we readily pay for out of pocket every day?  

That simple question prompted me to do some research on some common expenditures for many people, and I think you might be surprised at what I found.

Let’s take a quick look at some research that was published using surveys that were completed by the Health Policy Institute. On average, the annual per-patient expenditure on dental care is around $685 (2013) and the 90th percentile of patients spend an average of $1,624 per year (this includes patients that are seeking specialty care like orthodontics and oral surgery as well)1.  

The average expenditures for services provided in a general dental practice is $514 per year. If we factor in insurance, co-payments, discounts, etc., then the average out-of-pocket expense that patients pay on average is $318 per year! Now, if we look at prescription drugs, patients spend about $1,606 per year and the average out-of-pocket expense is $264 per year.   

So, if we do some number-crunching, that means the average family of four pays about $1,272 per year or $106 per month out of pocket, after any insurance, for dental care in the United States. If we take the insurance part away, the average patient in a general dental practice spending $514 per year, then an average family of four would spend $2,056 per year, or $171 per month. And if we adjust these numbers for inflation in 2017, it would be $540 per year per patient, and $2,162 per year (or $180 per month) for a family of four.

Now, let’s look at how this figure stacks up against other expenditures that people pay on a regular basis, day in and day out. Yet they have no “insurance” coverage or any other benefit or supplement to help pay for them and they don’t say things like, “does my insurance cover it?” or, “if my insurance doesn’t cover it, I won’t do it this year.” 

Value placed on oral health drives expenditures

I see them everywhere and everyone has at least one in the family, if not several. Even kids that are in elementary schools have them: cell phones! When I researched many current cell phone plans that include unlimited data, text messages and phone calls for our society of people that crave social media, instant information and instant connections to everything, an average plan for a family of four runs anywhere from $90 to 205 per month! 

Yes, many of these cell phone plans are costing Americans more per month to maintain than their oral health. Of course, that doesn’t include other fees and add-ons like insurance and the cost to purchase the phones.

If that isn’t bad enough, in a recent visit to a cosmetic store with my wife (yes, sometimes I will venture in there with her), I got to thinking, “man, some of this stuff is expensive.” Yet, I saw many customers caring around bags filled with products for hair care, make-up, skin care, perfume, etc. all in the name of beauty! And they were simply buying products trying to maintain it, obtain it or sometimes trying to make it even better! It made me consider: what does the average person spend on cosmetics and other beauty aid products? 

Needless to say, I was shocked to find a recent report shared on today.com showed that some women spend $5 to 11 per day (on average, $8 per day) on facial care products alone. That equates to $240 per month! Based on this, some people spend more on cosmetics and beauty products than dental care. When we dig a little deeper into things, overall dental care expenditures for every man, woman and child in the United States in 2015 was around $117.5 billion dollars versus $62 billion spent on beauty and cosmetics products alone.

And for all of you parents out there with daughters and future brides-to-be, wedding expenses are likely to come up at some point in your life for that very special someone. While watching the news recently, they reported that the average wedding cost has hit an all-time high. Photos, dinner, flowers, wedding dresses, etc. can all add up. How much? Just a little over $35,000!

dental health expenditures

Last not but least, what about our cars and automobiles that we get into every day and drive to and from work in along with so many other places? Not only that, but a lot of households have more than one vehicle because both adults in the family work. In 2016, AAA (American Automobile Association) published that the average cost of driving your car is around $713 per month or $8,558 per year. This includes fuel, insurance, depreciation, maintenance, taxes, licenses, tires and finance charges. So we spend an average of four times more on our automobiles than we do on our oral/dental health care per year.

The true value of oral health

When it comes to our dental care and maintaining our oral health, it can be expensive, especially when we don’t maintain it properly (just like your car!), but not any more than many other things in life we pay for on a regular basis. Yet, our dental care impacts our oral health. Research shows more and more that our oral health directly impacts our overall health, which is something you cannot put a price on! 

My words of wisdom to patients that are contemplating the value of health and dentistry is this: you can always make more money, but you can’t always make more health. And once it’s gone, it’s gone.

So the next time questions about the value and cost of dental care come up in your office (and maybe it even makes you question the value of your services) just remember that people spend their money on things they value, health or not.   

Jeff Lineberry, DDS, FAGD, FICOI, Accredited Member, AACD, Visiting Faculty and Contributing Author for Spear Education.  www.cccdds.com

References

Wall, Thomas. M.A., M.B.A.; Guay, Albert, D.M.D. The Per-Patient Cost of Dental Care, 2012: A Look Under the Hood. Health Policy Institute Research Brief. American Dental Association. March 2016. Available at:  http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Science%20and%20Research/HPI/Files/HPIBrief_0316_4.pdf