Let’s face it. Healthcare is expensive. Lasik surgery can cost $5000 or more for three short visits. A broken arm will cost you $7000 or more at the emergency room. Laser hair removal can cost even more than that! In today’s economy with incomes down and expenses up, it is not uncommon for families to price shop for everything. Is price shopping for orthodontics a good idea? How can some offices provide care for less? Does it really matter who puts on the braces?
Fees in my office are determined by what it costs us to provide the service. We have an accounting firm that keeps a close watch on our cash flow (we are a business after all) and about once a year we evaluate what we’re taking in (fees) and what we’re paying out (overhead). Our fees are about middle of the road for Stockton. Why are we higher than some but lower than others? Here are four variables that affect fees…
Perhaps the most visible difference between orthodontic offices is the physical facility and equipment. Our office is conveniently located, has lots of free parking, and the office and treatment areas are very open, bright, and inviting. There is plenty of comfortable seating in our reception room. We utilize state-of-the-art in-house digital radiography and diagnostics and have 12 computers throughout the office to enhance treatment. We have 6 comfortable treatment chairs to deliver our services, and have an on-site dental lab where we can make custom retainers and removable appliances with high-quality, quick turn-around capability. Admittedly, we could straighten teeth with less, but each one is a gear in our “well-oiled-machine.”
A second variable that affects our fees is the quality of the treatment we provide. I’ve been in practice for over 11 years now. Many of my team members have been with me most of that time. They are very talented and know what they are doing. They cost more than inexperienced technicians… and they are worth it. We also use the most efficient braces available. We feature 3M Unitek brackets (both in traditional metal and clear). They cost us a lot more than mail-order brackets from overseas or from recycled/refurbished ones here domestically. The proven quality, reliability, precision, and consistency provided by our brackets make the extra expense worth it. We also use the latest technology in wires. Wires, more than anything else, determine the position of teeth at the end of treatment. In fact, all our wires and brackets are individually packaged so they remain sterile until the moment we use them in the mouth. It is impossible to hire the most talented staff, use the best brackets, provide the most efficient wires, and still charge the same as those who do not. Conversely, it is impossible to obtain our results without them.
The third and perhaps biggest difference between treatment costs has to do with what is included in our fee. When price shopping, it is important to make sure that you compare “apples to apples”. For example, when it appears that our fee for a first phase of treatment is higher, it turns out that our quote includes a lot more (i.e. an expander, upper and lower braces, and retainers while the competing office only recommended an expander or a space maintainer). Our office includes the costs of the diagnostic records, including intra- and extra-oral photography, digital radiographs, and study models, as part of the treatment fee. Our fees do not include hidden costs. Some offices often charge extra fees for broken brackets, when an appointment needs to be rescheduled, or when the doctor needs to perform treatment planning and consulting. Many offices also charge several hundreds of dollars for diagnostic records on top of the treatment fee. Others do not include retainers and retainer adjustment appointments in the pricing, and if they do often provide temporary or provisional retainers. Some offices will continue charging monthly payment installments, if treatment takes longer than contracted for, and will do so until treatment is completed. It is not uncommon in these offices to end up paying twice as much as was originally presented. The take home message is that it is important to ask what is included in a proposed fee because apples and oranges rarely cost the same.
The fourth and final factor is one that is often overlooked is patient safety. We pride ourselves on not merely meeting minimum standards but far exceeding them. To keep us on the vanguard of patient safety, we keep ourselves constantly updated so we can implement new technology and techniques. For example, we utilize steam sterilization in an autoclave of all our instruments and utilize category 4 sterilization bags. Standard sterilization bags only measure if an adequate temperature was reached...but they don’t indicate if that heat was maintained long enough, if sufficient pressure was reached, or if the steam penetrated to the surface of the instruments. Category 4 sterilization bags have indicators to ensure that all four elements have been reached: heat, time, pressure, penetration.
Choosing orthodontic care for yourself or for your child can be a life-changing decision. The quality of the result and treatment experience will not be the same just because the doctor has a license. We understand that orthodontic treatment is an investment for you or your child; we want to ensure the maximum return on your investment. You may be able to find cheaper orthodontic care elsewhere, but you won’t find better treatment than Wheeler Orthodontics!