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Why are dental procedures so expensive?

The best way to avoid costly dental procedures is to take good care of your teeth -- brush and floss daily and get regular professional cleanings.
The best way to avoid costly dental procedures is to take good care of your teeth -- brush and floss daily and get regular professional cleanings.

While most people wouldn't mind a brighter or straighter smile, it's pretty rare to find someone who actually enjoys visiting the dentist, even for basic cleanings. More than one-third of Americans did not see a dentist in 2009, according to a Gallup-Healthways poll. For many, the discomfort of having a veritable stranger taking metal picks, tubes, scrapers and other tools to their wide-open mouths is too much to bear. And given the country's ever-tightening financial waistband, there's another aspect of seeing the dentist that's equally daunting: the bill [source: Marcus].

Those who have visited a dentist -- or considered it -- in recent years know that even the most basic dental procedures can be quite costly. Dental fillings can range from more than $100 to nearly $300 each, depending on the size of the filing, while more invasive and time-consuming procedures like a crown or molar root canal go for about $1,000 per tooth [sources: Butler, SmartaHealth, The Wealthy Dentist].

There are a number of reasons why dental procedures are so expensive. First, services are performed by trained professionals. Dentists are doctors who go through many years of college, dental school and specialized (read: expensive) training. Like many other professionals -- lawyers, accountants, expert mechanics -- dental services are priced accordingly.

The big boys, of course, play with big toys. The tools on hand at a general dentistry practice include highly specialized equipment that is not only pricey to purchase, but also to maintain. Film X-ray machines cost upwards of $20,000, and newer digital models go for $10,000 to $15,000 more. A simple dental chair with the necessary light, trays and hookups, meanwhile, costs about $10,000. This, of course, doesn't take into account the costs of surgical tools, as well as the anesthesia and other medications used in procedures such as root canals and filings. Additionally, dentists often turn to third-party labs and other dental product companies for things like crowns and dentures, which can also drive up the costs of certain procedures [source: KAB Dental].

Yet tools, drugs and lab work aren't even the most costly part of doing business for many dental professionals. Dentists, like all other doctors and healthcare providers, must carry a large amount of malpractice insurance to operate -- $ 3 million in Connecticut, for example [source: Connecticut General Assembly].

If the thought of all of this has you reaching for your toothbrush and floss, read on to learn about options for managing your dental costs.

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