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What’s behind the cost of dental work?

Dr Millie Morrison explains what goes on behind the scenes in a dental practice and how that translates into the price you pay for dental work.

22 April, 2024

Dentistry has been plagued with associations to high costs since the dawn of dentistry but there’s a reason that the prices come to be what they are.

I wanted to take the time to break down, for you, the factors that contribute to the prices being how they are.

Oftentimes a common question I get from patients is ‘why is dentistry so expensive?’. And it usually comes when we’re talking through different options and as soon as prices come in the mix eyebrows get higher and higher before they just totally disappear. 😅

It isn’t something that a lot of people want to talk about and not a lot of people like to talk about.

And for that reason, I thought writing this article would help to shed some light on the costs involved. So you know what’s going on behind the scenes when you’re paying for something.

What contributes to those high prices?

It’s generally accepted that paying a higher price for something means you’re getting a better-quality product. Dentistry is the same.

  • The slightly higher price means you’re getting the best quality and your treatment is being done using the best products. Ultimately, meaning it is the best thing for you.
  • There’s also a lot of equipment and materials we need and that is another big cost. For me personally, I like to use the best quality composite on the market. It comes from The States and I know exactly how it works. I wouldn’t use anything else because I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to give my patients the same results and effectiveness if I’m not using this particular material.
  • We also have a lot of regulatory bodies who charge a lot for insurances and to be a part of certain bodies that make sure everything is up to standard and working behind the scenes.
What else can affect prices?

Another reason dentistry can be a little bit more expensive is if your dentist is continually investing a lot of time in their ongoing education.

For example, this year I’m doing a diploma and last year I did another year long course. It all costs time and money but that then means I can give you the best options and treatments.

When you come and ask me for a filling, I can give you the best filling with the most up to date knowledge. I can use the most up to date techniques that ensure your filling will last as long as it possibly can. Whilst ensuring you have minimal problems with it going forward. So what I’m doing essentially is investing in my patients.

What does that mean for you? 

Do these factors then mean that my dentistry is a little bit more expensive?

Yes. But it’s because instead of going around the corner and buying something that will do the job for five bucks, I’m spending 500 pounds on something that will give you the best outcome.

How time affects the costs 

There’s also a limited amount of time in each day for us to work. Unfortunately, I can’t stay till two o’clock in the morning, so everything has to be time calculated. All my treatments take a certain amount of time because I want to make sure that I’m giving my patients the best quality.

If you find someone that can give you the same service, the same time, the same care and it’s 50% off then of course you should go for it. But that’s not what I’m seeing. I’m seeing work routinely coming back to us that is failing because things haven’t quite gone to plan or someone thought they were going to get something but actually they ended up with something completely different.

When things are done quickly without much planning then the biological cost is huge

We can redo the work but it’s not always as straightforward as just re-doing it. Sometimes, if you’re lucky it’s really easy. We can take out the filling that’s failed and put in a new filling but sometimes it’s a little bit trickier. To give an example, if there’s been irreversible damage to the tooth (or teeth) or damage on a much larger scale then to correct these problems actually ends up costing even more than it would have if it was just done right in the first place.

Biological Cost vs Financial Cost

When I’m talking to patients and colleagues, what I ask them to consider is not just the financial or time cost but also the biological cost.

A lot of the time when things are done quickly and in a rush without very much planning then the biological cost (how much damage is done to your teeth) is huge.

For instance, when we’re giving you a smile makeover, I could cut down your front six teeth and stick veneers on which can give you a pretty good instant smile. Or I can take the time to plan the case properly; put the teeth into the right place, maybe do some whitening or maybe just do some edge bonding and although that process costs more and takes longer the damage to your teeth is so minimal that it will give you use of your teeth for a much longer time.

If cases are planned properly then the biological cost is very low and that’s the most important thing coming through in dentistry at the moment, to make sure we’re being as minimalist as possible.

Dental tourism 

Dental tourism has grown recently in years because people are searching for cheaper or alternative dental treatments to what is available in the UK.

When people have asked dentists about this they’ve been scolded in a way and told to not even consider going abroad because you’ll either get ripped off or the dentistry will be terrible, the treatments won’t be successful and you’ll have to have it all redone in the UK.

And all that does is leave a bad feeling with both the patient and the dentist. When I get asked about treatments abroad what I ask my patients to understand is that there are good and bad dentists everywhere. There are good and bad dentists in Spain, good and bad dentists in Turkey etc. The most important thing is that you’re choosing a good dentist.

The only difference between here and there is that you speak the language here, you understand the social cues and based on that you know if the dentist can look after you.

If you go somewhere where you don’t speak the language or know the social cues, how can you be sure they can give you want you want? How can you make that judgement call? It’s much more difficult. So, you just have to make sure that you feel confident in your choice of dentist. And again, it’s going back to the same thing – lead with biological cost and quality rather than being led by financial cost.


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