Dr. Dave Warwick is among the cheapest dentists anywhere in Alberta.
But the Hanna practitioner says he still makes a “comfortable living” that is above the norm for his profession, despite charging fees that are frequently a fraction of the provincial average.
The reason, he says, is that his overhead is lower and his patient volumes are higher than many colleagues in a large city.
While Warwick has over three decades of experience and an office with state-of-the-art equipment, an internal survey by Alberta’s Dental Association and College shows his $144 charge last year for an annual checkup was 30 per cent lower than the median price levied by practitioners in the province.
Some dentists in Calgary charge as much as $265 for the same recall exam and a unit each of scaling and polishing, according to 2014 data from one of the country’s largest health insurers.
One unidentified dentist in Edmonton did bill $118.55 for a checkup last year and two others in that city billed about the same amount as Warwick.
If you needed a couple of bitewing X-rays to check for cavities in 2014, Warwick charged the $28.10 recommended in the dental schedule produced each year by Alberta Blue Cross, 40 per cent less than what the survey found was median price among the province’s dentists.
Claims data shows those same two photographs could set you back as much as $70 at a dental office in the tony neighbourhoods southwest of Calgary’s downtown.
“I was attracted to dentistry in part because it was lucrative, but I really get a kick out of making people better,” Warwick said.
“If you allow people to get their teeth cleaned and have a checkup for a reasonable fee, then you’re going to prevent more disease and make it easier for them to stay healthy and avoid costs down the line.”
Office rents in Alberta’s big cities are a “killer” that can cost over $60,000 a year more than similar space in a small town, but Warwick believes some of his colleagues in large centres are also making patients bear the cost of their relative inefficiency.
With a daughter who is also a dentist, a wife who is a hygienist and a team of assistants, Warwick says his practice treats close to 8,000 patients in his underserved corner of southeastern Alberta.
“There’s a lot of dentists in Calgary that just don’t have that volume,” he said.
“There’s too many dentists per patient so as a result they’re sitting on their thumbs and waiting for the next one to come in. ”
Warwick believes raising prices to cover costs is no solution.
“It’s one of these vicious cycles of not being busy enough and going to these courses that say you need to charge more,” he said.
“If you have the reputation of being an expensive dentist who doesn’t give anything more, good luck in trying to reverse that perception.”
Unaware that he was charging significantly less than most other dentists until contacted by a Herald reporter, Warwick said he had no plans to promote his cheaper billing.
“I think most dentists are afraid of running afoul of the (Alberta dental) college so they don’t bother to advertise their fees,” he said.
“All our marketing is word of mouth, and people come to us because they talked to their auntie over coffee.”
While Warwick and his daughter are still accepting new patients, their receptionist explains she is already booking appointments into April.
“I may be less money,” said Warwick, “but if a new patient has got to wait four months to get in then they probably won’t bother.”