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Dental School Treatment: Is It Right for You?

Learn the pros and cons of dental school treatment.

If you need a great deal of dental treatments and have plenty of time but limited funds, you may want to consider treatment at a dental school. The dental school can provide good treatment at a relatively low fee -- sometimes as low as a third of the cost of a dentist in private practice. I have found that very few actually follow through with treatment at dental schools. The main reasons involve the inconvenience, the lengthy treatment time required, and the inexperience of the student dentists at the dental school.

Dental treatment at a dental school is far slower than at a typical dental practice. Patients are treated by third and fourth-year students who must have every step of a dental procedure inspected and checked off by their "teacher" -- a licensed dentist. A simple dental filling that would take no longer than 20 minutes in a private practice can take several hours at a dental school. Procedures like dental crowns or dentures where a dental laboratory is used and take only a few weeks in a private dental practice, can stretch into months at a dental school because the student dentist must do most of this work by himself or herself.

The location of most dental schools can create an obstacle for some patients. Dental schools tend to be located in the inner cities, where the traffic and parking can generate problems. Dental schools also have restricted hours, and are not commonly open evenings or on weekends. The quality of the dental treatment is also, to a certain extent, a matter of chance. The problem is that patients who go to a dental school have no way of knowing the skill level of the student dentist who will treat them.

One other potential problem with being a patient at a dental school is that your treatment can be subject to the philosophy of the chairman of the department. This can limit options and increase costs instead of reducing them. For example, a patient of mine went for treatment at a dental school because he needed extensive treatment. The dentist who was chairman of the department insisted that he have both of his jaws cut and realigned and then have dental implants placed where he had missing teeth. The cost of the case was $25,000, and he would be out of work for several weeks. He came back to me to discuss what other alternatives were available. I told him that I thought that the dental school's option was too costly and aggressive, so I gave him another alternative that was less involved and significantly less expensive. Later, he told me that another dentist at the school gave him the same option that I had suggested, but that the chairman overruled him.

Treatment at a dental school is ideal for people who are flexible, have a lot of time at their disposal and have limited financial reserves. The dental school is not for people who are used to being treated in a private dental office. Despite its limitations, treatment at a dental school should be considered as a cost-effective option for dental care.

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