Using the Internet to Shop Around for Dental Services

But dentists say patients should consider more than price when picking provider

What would you pay for a bright, shiny smile?

Patients can use online resources to shop around for the best price for dental fees and rates.

Fees can have a wide range in North Texas, dentists say. And it pays to shop around when it comes to picking a dentist, especially if you are concerned about cost, according to a recent study.

Dental services can vary by more than 400 percent in the same area, according to a report by Change Healthcare Corp., a company that studies health care costs.

A routine dental exam in the same area can run from as high as $240 to as low as $55, the report says. A filling can range from $360 to $120, and braces can go for $7,000 to $2,400.

Change Healthcare's analysis was based on more than 30,000 in-network claims across the country over a 12-month period.

Patients with dental insurance can get ballpark figures for various procedures from the website Healthcare Blue Book.

People can plug in their zip code and search for average prices for dental procedures. Healthcare Blue Book says its prices represent what providers accept as payment in full from insurance companies.

But Dr. Weldon Bryant, a longtime dentist in Fort Worth, said he thought some of the quotes were low, such as a $187 quote for a resin filling for three surfaces and a $1,324 quote for complete dentures.

"It's the difference of getting something in your mouth and something nice," he said.

Bryant said the website is a way to get ballpark figures, but he and other dentists emphasize the importance of referrals and recommendations.

Patients shouldn't pick a provider strictly based on price, they say.

"The public usually thinks dentistry is dentistry, no matter where you get it, but that's not true," said Dr. Charles Wakefield, of Baylor College of Dentistry. "It has to do with quality. It has to do with the individual overhead of the practice."

Most insurance plans also have search engines that customers can use to price averages.

But the best thing people can do is ask a dentist for fees upfront.

If the quote is high, ask what the office gets as payment from providers such as Delta Dental and Blue Cross Blue Shield for comparison.

Three patients without dental insurance said they found their most affordable option after shopping around.

Sandra Kelly, Mari Hutchison and Billy Richardson came to the Baylor College of Dentistry's huge dental clinic, where students train with close supervision.

"It's approximately a one-third to one-fourth savings of what you're going to pay on the outside," said Wakefield, director of the school's general dentistry residency program.

Kelly has had root canals, paying $290, much less than the $800 to $900 she was looking at.

"I'm getting a teeth cleaning for $50," Hutchison said. "That's a no-brainer."


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