I don’t have insurance and I needed to have a crown and two fillings done. I shopped around for an affordable dentist and picked the one offering the best rate- they’re all dentists right? Well, I go in and everything’s a hassle. The office staff is rude, the doctor spends almost no time with me, but he does agree to do the work right then and there. I give him the go ahead and he’s rough. Very clearly in a hurry. He finishes up and tells me to come back in two weeks. I stop by the front office to settle my bill and it doesn’t match what they told me over the phone. Every single item is higher and they tell me it’s because there was more work to be done. I was mad. What’s the point in a quote if they don’t stand by it? I paid what they told me to over the phone, but they say the rest is due at my next visit. It turns out this “affordable dentist” was the second most expensive on my list. Am I stuck paying the bill? What recourse do I have?

-Jeff

Dear Jeff,

It sounds like you ran into a whole lot of communication errors, but not every affordable dentist operates this way.

Quotes are particularly difficult to give over the phone- so much so that many offices refuse to give them. It is normal for treatment to be broken down by individual procedures. For instance, a basic crown is one fee, but if the tooth has to be built up to receive the crown there is another. There are also different codes for a tooth that only needs a filling on one side of it, versus two, three, or more. The logic for this is simple; it takes more time and more skill to do more procedures. In calling on the phone, the office can’t possibly know how many surfaces of your tooth need treatment. While it would have been prudent of them to explain this when you asked, and especially before you began treatment, it likely comes down to a breakdown in communication.

The amount an affordable dentist charges will likely come down to several factors, including his skill level, the average rates of the region, and the quality of the materials he uses. It is tough to select an office only based on cost, because those who offer significantly lower rates tend to be using extreme cost-cutting measures to make it work. Generally, it’s a far better idea to look for an office with a good reputation, and then find out what they do to help make care fit within their patient’s budgets. Some will offer payment plans, financing, and other options, so you’re never sacrificing quality of care to get a lower rate.

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