Updated: 2/19/2020

One of the biggest questions when going to the dentist is: What will it cost?

Sometimes the prices seem astronomical, and it may be confusing why one filling is $100 and another is $400. Wouldn’t it be helpful to know how dentists calculate their fees? Different procedures differ in price based on several factors from one office to another. If you educate yourself on these factors, you can make an informed decision on who can give you quality dental care for the most reasonable prices.

How Do Dentists Calculate Their Fees?

Cost of Operation

When you visit the dentist, you’re not just paying for the dentist’s time and use of equipment. You’re also paying a small portion of what it costs to keep the office open and running properly. Some offices may have top-of-the-line computers or cutting-edge equipment. Some might keep paper files while others run on a fully electronic system. It may seem unreasonable that you’re responsible for a small portion of these costs, but if the office is not in order, the dentist can’t do his work. Unless the dentist seems to be throwing away scads of money on large, extraneous operating expenses, you should consider this a necessary portion of your fee (already calculated into their costs for procedures).


Some parts of the country are just more expensive than others. The cost of living varies depending on in which state (or even city) you live, and the cost of oral health varies as well. If the cost of living is low in your area, you can probably expect to find a relatively cheap dentist. Other location factors that could affect the price are population density and whether the practice is in an urban location or rural. Even the weather can take its toll. If you live in an extremely hot area, for example, the office has to pay more for air conditioning than if it was in a milder climate.

Target Patient Base

Cost for dental service can change based on the intended clientele. If they cater to people in a higher income bracket, they can charge more for their services. If a dentist is trying to develop a patient base in a low-income area, he or she can’t charge high fees for the work or they would have no patients.

Professional Training and Expertise

The more credentials a dentist has, the more you can expect to pay. Someone with a higher level of expertise in a certain area should provide more valuable service, so it makes sense to pay a little more. You don’t have to resort to having your tooth pulled by someone who has only taken a few night classes and has no certification, but you also don’t need a specialist for a simple extraction.

Additional Factors

Some dentists may just place higher importance on certain procedures than others at their own discretion, and their fee schedule may reflect this. Another important thing to remember if you’re comparing the price for a particular procedure is to make sure you communicate the specifics to the dentist. Otherwise, you might be getting quotes for slightly different procedures, and the comparison will not be accurate. You can prevent this by basing your search on the unique ADA code of the procedure you need.

Comparing Prices

Knowing how dentists determine their pricing list can help you know where to start when looking for an affordable dentist, and it could also help you narrow down your options. Shop around, compare information and be willing to make allowances for certain factors if it means better quality in another area. If you know how they calculate their fee schedules, you have all the necessary tools to find an affordable, quality dentist.