• November 7, 2011
  • Dr. Catherine-Anne Walsh

Still not convinced? Do you think you have found a superbly qualified dentist, trained at some of the world’s best schools, of outstanding ability and ethics, with cutting edge technology, strict quality and infection control processes and what’s even better, speaks fluent English? You just know you will be in safe hands and for a fraction of the price of dentistry here.

Why is dentistry here ‘expensive’?

Dentistry in Australia is not just a health service, it is also a largely privately-run service, where it’s left to most of our dentists to create and run their own clinics. There are not enough government-run facilities in Australia to accommodate even the most disadvantaged patients. As such, by default, the dental fraternity is left ‘in charge’ of the large percentage of our population, yet the costs of running dental practices are so high that we are unable to service a large number of people supposedly in ‘our care’. 

As business owners, dentists are responsible for running viable, sustainable businesses, employing staff and maintaining their job security and legal entitlements. We also have a responsibility to our own families to derive an income from our businesses. Our fees are set according to the cost of running our businesses and our ability to provide the same quality care to every patient. At the same time, as health care providers we must be mindful that not all levels of our society have the same attitude towards health or the same ability to plan financially for their treatment. Our different responsibilities as private dentists in Australia often seem to be polar opposites of each other. It is not surprising then that many dentists, especially in rural areas where there is a large number of patients and very few dentists, become severely overworked and still cannot service their communities. 

In a third-world country, the costs of running a business are lower- but only relative to costs here. Staff wages, job security, and practice compliance costs, if any, are not necessarily at the top of their agenda or their biggest expenses. Neither are their supplies, often coming in from Chinese manufacturers as ‘copies’ of well-known brands, but with dubious contents and ingredients. Yet, these clinics, especially the ones catering to the ‘medical tourists’ are usually extremely expensive in local terms and completely out of reach of most local residents. When adjusted for income, they would be far less affordable than Australian clinics.

Cost or value for money?

The cost of treatment is often considered above the value of treatment. After finding out the cost of treatment, there are still a few questions you need to ask to determine value: Is this treatment overly invasive? How long will this treatment last? How often will it need to be replaced? How much will it cost to replace it? How can I prevent further problems? 

In Australia, patients who receive treatment also receive valuable education about their condition and what can be done to improve it. As we mentioned before, they also receive various treatment options and choose the one that suits their budget and lifestyle. One of the most valuable outcomes of treatment is ongoing preventative care. 

Patients who receive complex treatment and invest in their dental health usually become prudent, regular attenders at preventative care appointments. This way, they rarely need ongoing treatment (maybe once in 6-12 years).

The total cost of ongoing preventative care over one year in Australia (for a family of four) is less than what is spent on alcohol every year in an average Australian household. So, are we too busy staring at the calculator and not seeing that the prices we are actually comparing do not include the same things? The cost of an overseas dental experience may be less than in Australia, but there is no doubt that the value is lower.

Dr. Catherine-Anne Walsh
About The Author

Dr. Catherine-Anne Walsh

Catherine-Anne is a New Zealand-qualified dentist. She holds a Masters Degree in Public Health from Sydney University and she has a broad range of experiences from working in both the public and private sector.


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