Dentist fees: What you can expect to pay
What you can expect to pay for a trip to the dentist.
For plenty of us, the thought of the dentist’s bill is worse than the drill. In fact, four out of 10 consumers haven’t been to the dentist in the past year because of the cost.
If you’re budgeting for your next visit, here’s what you can expect to pay.
For a routine check-up, the median cost is $74, according to the latest survey by the New Zealand Dental Association (NZDA).
If you get an x-ray during the check-up, the cost jumps to $98.
Prices vary depending on where you live. In Wellington, a routine exam with x-ray is $95, compared with $123 in Otago and Southland.
If you a need a filling? The median cost for a large amalgam filling is $220 and for a composite filling $250. Amalgam are grey metal fillings, while composites are made from resin to match the colour of your teeth.
Expect to pay a lot more if you need extensive work, such as an anterior bridge ($3700), tooth implant ($2800) or dentures ($2750).
We’re paying more for a trip to the dentist than we used to. Over the past four years, the average price has increased 12 percent.
Do I need to see a dentist and a dental hygienist?
A dentist assesses your teeth, gums and medical history, as well as your oral hygiene.
They may refer you to the clinic’s dental hygienist if your teeth need a thorough clean. The hygienist cleans, scales and polishes teeth.
A hygienist visit is more expensive than seeing your dentist for a check-up – about $80 for a 15-minute appointment. However, an appointment could be up to an hour if you need an extensive clean.
However, not everyone needs a separate hygienist appointment.
If you have healthy teeth and good oral hygiene through daily brushing and flossing, you may only need a clean and polish during a check-up, NZDA chief executive Dr David Crum said.
“Other patients, for a variety of reasons, need extensive scaling, sometimes under local anaesthetic,” he said.
If you’ve had gum disease in the past, regular cleaning by a hygienist can help to prevent a flare-up.
Do I need an x-ray?
An x-ray helps a dentist detect issues with your teeth that aren’t visible during an oral exam. Finding these problems early can avoid costly and invasive treatments down the track.
Dr Jonathan Broadbent, University of Otago associate professor in dental public health, said x-rays also help to show whether existing fillings are in good shape.
“An x-ray helps dentists see underneath fillings,” he said.
It also helps track the progression of early decay.
If a patient doesn’t have active cavities or decay, they probably don’t need an x-ray every year.
“If you have a mouthful of fillings and have had issues with ongoing tooth decay, it would be important to take x-rays regularly,” Dr Broadbent said.
Electric or manual toothbrush?
“The wow of a professional clean feel every day.” That’s how Oral B touts its electric toothbrush range. But with electric brushes costing anywhere from $54 to $600, are they worth it?
Electric toothbrushes do a better job than manual brushes at reducing plaque and gingivitis, according to a 2014 review by the Cochrane Collaboration, which independently reviews health research.
Dr Broadbent said the main advantage of an electric toothbrush is that it does the work for you, whereas a manual toothbrush relies on your brushing technique. Whatever toothbrush you use, it’s important to choose a fluoride toothpaste, he said.
The drawbacks of an electric toothbrush are the cost and having to charge it. If everyone in your household has one, there’s also the extra clutter on the bathroom vanity.
Should you floss?
A 2019 review by the Cochrane Collaboration found using floss may help reduce gingivitis (gum disease) but it’s unclear whether it reduces plaque.
The review found some evidence that oral irrigation – using a water flosser – may be better than flossing for reducing gingivitis. However, there was no evidence it reduced plaque.
It also looked at the evidence for interdental cleaning brushes, finding they “may reduce gingivitis and plaque in the short term”.
The shortcomings of available studies meant the review wasn’t able to come to definitive conclusions. Most studies were of short duration and involved participants with healthy teeth.
The best the authors could say is the use of floss or interdental brushes – compared with just brushing your teeth – “may reduce gingivitis or plaque, or both, and interdental brushes may be more effective than floss”.
Whether flossing makes a difference will also be influenced by other factors, such as your diet, how well you brush your teeth, the state of your gums and whether you have food traps in your teeth.
Dr Broadbent suggests flossing daily if your diet isn’t great, you have food traps or recent decay.
If you’re weighing up your options, you can pick up some string floss for a few dollars.
Water flossers, or oral irrigators, are hand-held devices that shoot water along your gum line and between your teeth. They range in price from $124 to $280.
Interdental brushes cost about $10 for a 20 pack.
What’s in your floss?
Floss is essentially a piece of string, usually made from nylon or polypropylene. Both are types of plastic.
Some flosses also contain polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). Better known as Teflon, the substance repels dirt, water and grease from surfaces, and is used in a wide range of consumer goods. In dental floss, it’s used to help the string slide between teeth.
PTFE belongs to a group of chemicals called per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances – or PFAS. There are growing concerns about PFAS because they don’t degrade in the environment and can accumulate in living organisms, including in our bodies.
A 2019 study published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology tested 18 string floss products and found PTFE in six of them. The study concluded using floss with the substance could add to a person’s exposure.
Colgate uses PTFE in its dental floss range. A Colgate spokesperson said the company is “working on reformulating these products”.
Reach advised us it doesn’t use PTFE in its floss.
Oral-B has PTFE in 11 of its 17 floss products:
Oral-B Glide 3D White Floss
Oral-B Glide Sensi-Soft Floss
Oral-B Glide Pro-Health Original Floss
Oral-B Glide Pro-Health Mint Floss
Oral-B Glide Pro-Health Advanced Floss
Oral-B Glide Pro-Health Deep Clean Floss
Oral-B Glide Pro-Health Threader Floss
Oral-B Glide Floss Pro-Health Multi Protection
Oral-B Pro Health Comfort Floss
Oral-B Pro Expert Premium Floss
Satin Floss/Floss Tape.