A peer-reviewed journal that offers evidence-based clinical information and continuing education for dentists.

Discussing Patient Costs

Dental office managers need to be prepared to talk about the financial commitment required to ensure patients’ oral health.


Securing patient acceptance of treatment plans is intricately linked to cost. Successful dental office managers need to be prepared to discuss the financial committment required to ensure patients’ oral health.

While dentists can charge whatever they want for their services, standards do exist. A dental fee guide, which is typically updated annually, provides the most reasonable rate for all dental codes. For example, the American Dental Association (ADA) publishes its Survey of Dental Fees, which provides information such as the national average for fees by speciality, statistics for fees for more than 200 commonly performed dental procedures, average fees charged by general practitioners broken down by region, and dental procedures identified by procedure code and nomenclature. This publication is free for ADA members.

Although the ADA’s Survey of Dental Fees is useful, its data are self-reported. Office managers can refer to it when assessing whether their practice’s fees fall within the realm of the ADA’s fee schedule. They can also check with peers regarding their practice’s fees, but not all dental practices are equal. The use of technology and high-quality sterilization, hiring and retaining quality employees who command an income reflective of their scope of practice, provision of benefits, and maintaining a standard of care are all factors that contribute to the cost of delivering dental services.

Some codes may have varying fees. For instance, fees billed under code D9450 (treatment planning/​case evaluation) may vary widely due to additional time spent outside of the mouth to create an appropriate treatment plan and alternative treatment plans that consider a patient’s best interests. It takes time to collate all of the relevant information assessed, establish a diagnosis, consider and formulate various treatment options, and, finally, consult with the patient, educating him or her on the causes and future prevention of the diagnosed dental problems using radiographs, photographs, diagnostic casts, and other information. The fee charged typically reflects the time taken to customize a treatment plan and discuss it with the patient.

When discussing costs, dental office managers should ask patients to review and sign financial responsibility policies. Additionally, while patients may have signed financial responsibility statements, informing them of the fees for the treatment planning appointment and what part of the fee may or may not be covered by insurance is ethically the right approach.

Office managers may want to initiate a conversation with the dentist regarding fees to avoid any misunderstandings. Communication among the dental team is essential to providing high-quality services. Engaging in productive conversations with the dentist and gaining an understanding of the office policies and procedures, fees, and patient responsibilities will create a better-quality office environment for the dental team and the patient.

From Front Office Magazine. November/December 2023; 1(2):5

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