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Can a Dentist Refuse To Treat You For Non Payment?

Yes, a dentist can refuse treatment for non payment if they are a private business because they have no obligation to treat everyone. However, even state-run dental clinics will require at least some small amount of payment.


Unfortunately nothing is completely free in life but let's explore a little deeper into the economics of how dentistry works.


Fractured veneer requiring further treatment
Fractured veneer requiring further treatment

The image above shows a broken dental veneer, which obviously needs treatment but if you don't pay you will not receive dental care.


How private dentist office works

Dentists working in private practice are essentially a privately owned small business. This puts them in the same category as any other business that is not owned by the public.


As with all privately owned businesses, they can refuse service or treatment if no payment has been made. In other words, if you do not pay for your dental treatment, dentists can refuse to treat you.


There is no obligation nor law that compels a dentist to work for free. In case you were wondering, there is a reason why a lot of dentists make you pay upfront prior to receiving treatment for your tooth.


The same can be said for medical doctors as well. Any physician that works at a private clinic is not obligated to treat you if you do not pay. Well, that's just the unfortunate truth.


Would you work without pay? We bet you wouldn't, so if you want to get same day care, you should make sure to bring your wallet to your appointment.


Similar to restaurants

You can think of how dentist offices work the same way as a restaurant does. If you refuse to pay for your meal, they are not obligated to serve you any food.


The reason is because the restaurants are privately owned small businesses. They're not state-run entities so they don't have to abide by a certain set of rules.


How state-run dental clinics work

If you elect to receive treatment from a dentist at a state-run dental clinic, you still need to pay albeit less than at a private office. Most hospital based dental clinics and those that are affiliated with the government typically have a "sliding scale" payment system.


It doesn't mean that you can get treatment for free because you still have to pay. It's just that you can expect the payment to be a lot less.


What is sliding scale payments?

Sliding scale payments were created to make healthcare more affordable. Essentially how much you have to pay is based on how much money you make per year or per month.


How it works for two people receiving the same dental procedure but with different incomes:

  • If you make more, you can expect to make a larger payment

  • If you make less, you can expect to pay less.


As you can imagine, clinics which use this system won't be able to gouge out your wallet. You will be able to receive care at a lower cost which would be in relation to how much you make.


Which institutions offer sliding scale payments?

Any organization which has an affiliation with the state or government may offer this. This also includes any institutions which receive funding from the govt or state.


Institutions which offer it:

  • Major hospitals with a private/public partnership.

  • Community health clinics run by the state.

  • Some dental schools may offer this as well.

A lot of people don't realize it but you can get quality dental care at a much lower cost if you go to a dental school. You will be treated by dental students who are supervised by licensed dentists.


The only downside is that the appointments take longer because the students aren't as efficient or quick as a veteran dentist with many years under their belt. Nonetheless, you get to contribute to the training of a future dentist.


Where should I go if I can't afford treatment?

If you need a lot of dental work but you can't afford the fees of a private dental practice, you should look into alternatives. Namely you can seek out an organization which offers a sliding scale payment or a dental school. Both of which will cost significantly less and will still give you the care that you need.


Of course there are pros and cons to choosing this route.


Pros:

  • Less expensive.

  • Receive quality dental care.

  • Contribute to dental education for the students.


Cons:

  • Long wait times.

  • Treatment process may take more time due to extra steps you have to go through.

  • Some of these clinics can be booked out for weeks.


Takeaway

If you refuse to pay for your dental treatment, your dentist can refuse to treat you. Most dental offices are private businesses which means that they do not have an obligation nor luxury to work for no pay. There will be consequences if you leave your dental bill unpaid.


Would you work for free or do you expect some form of compensation?


The only somewhat exception would be government affiliated dental clinics and hospitals. While they still make you pay, often the costs are less because the fees may be on a sliding scale which is tied to your salary.


Last but not least, this is why it is important to have an in depth conversation about your finances prior to even beginning treatment. If the bill seems like it will end up being too much for you to afford, perhaps you should consider asking your dentist about financing options.


Our office will take carecredit in addition to dental insurance. This type of financing can often give 24 months of interest free payments which can provide a lot of breathing room.

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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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