Watch your teeth: Dentists’ diagnoses and costs vary widely across Canada

CBC Marketplace has confirmed what many of us have been suspecting for some time: Dental costs and recommended procedures vary widely across the country.

A CBC researcher named Theresa visited 20 dentists' offices, small and large, across Toronto and Vancouver. Upon tallying the recommended treatments, Theresa found she had been quoted dental procedures ranging from $114 to $11,931.

Prior to her visits, dental experts suggested "only a few cleanings and possibly a crown," CBC reported. This didn't stop dentists from recommending everything from night guards to root canals and complete "smile makeovers" involving expensive veneers.

Dentist and author of Confessions of a Former Cosmetic Dentist, Dr. Michael Zuk of Red Deer, Alberta, told the news program that dentists often gravitate to the veneers as a "cure-all" solution, partially for economic reasons, "trying to make $30,000 to $40,000 in cases that really don't need the treatment."

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The hidden investigation also discovered how easy dental plans can be abused, with dentists often inquiring into covered procedures before specifying needed treatments.

"The joke we make in some cases: They're not treating the patient. They're treating the dental plan," said dental insurance expert Rick Beyers. "In other words, they're reading up on the plan, finding out what it covers."

In 2009, another CBC investigation found that the cost of basic dental work in Alberta varied greatly because the province's dental association doesn't set recommended fees. In other provinces, suggested — but not mandated — fees are published.

"By having every dentist set their own fees then there's more competition," Calgary dentist Bob Huff told the CBC. "There would be people with lower fees and people with higher fees and it would give the public more choice of where they would like to go for their dental treatment."

In 2006, the federal Competition Bureau encouraged provinces to nurture competition in the dental industry by allowing hygienists to open their own practices:

"Allowing for competition between and among providers of dental hygiene services will promote the efficient, low cost and innovative provision of services."

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The only positive takeaway to such a depressing story is that getting multiple opinions might help you significantly cut dental expenses. Just because one dentist offers a solution to your oral health issues that you can't afford doesn't mean the next one's ideas will break the bank, too.

Have you ever refused recommended dental treatment?