Unequal price of not so pearly dental implants

Public complaints lead authorities to find ways to make treatment cheaper

Following widespread complaints about the cost of dental implants, the National Healthcare Security Administration recently said it was considering a campaign to crack down on price gouging to make implants more affordable.

Although the announcement was widely applauded by the public, industry insiders said any price cap should be reasonable and reflect the value of properly trained oral implantologists, which are in short supply in China.

In a draft notice issued Aug. 18 seeking opinions, authorities said the issue of inappropriate and excessive fees is a long-standing problem in the field of dental implantation.

With the improvement in living standards and the rapid aging of the population, it plans a campaign devoted to the regulation of the sector, which will focus on the design of standard pricing mechanisms, the improvement of price regulation and the initiation of the wholesale purchase of dental implants.

About 90% of the 230 responses received by Aug. 27 support the proposed campaign, the administration said Friday.

“Some message to say that ‘We don’t want our retirement to fill the pockets of dental clinics’, or ‘We are looking forward to the campaign because dental services charge very high fees’”, indicated the administration.

Cheng Zhenhua, 82, had four teeth implanted at two private hospitals in Jiangsu Province over the past two years.

“The product portfolio seemed very complicated to me. There were implants from the United States, United Kingdom and Germany, and their prices ranged from a few thousand to over 30,000 yuan ($4,314),” said- she declared.

Cheng eventually opted for implants made in South Korea, which, together with surgery costs, cost him around 5,500 yuan each. “I would definitely choose the more expensive ones if I was younger. But as I’m over 80, I think the cheaper ones will suffice,” she said.

The appropriate degree of reduction remains controversial. The administration said a number of incoming messages suggested lowering the total cost per tooth, start to finish, to less than 10,000 yuan, while others suggested a price of around 3,000 yuan.

“Some have also suggested that price regulation measures should not take a one-size-fits-all approach and take into account regional differences to promote the sustainable development of the sector,” the administration said.

Meanwhile, about 10% of comments expressed reservations or objections.

One line of thought was that given the complexity of dental implant surgery, the risk and hard work of implantologists should be considered and national pricing standards should be aligned with those of some developed countries. “The sector should not be stigmatized,” read another comment made public by the administration. “The impression that the service is too expensive comes mainly from a lack of qualified dentists. More effort should be put into training before considering lowering prices.”

The director of a private dental hospital in Beijing, who requested anonymity, said it is a misconception that the sector is hugely profitable.

In Beijing, a dental implant course using mid- to high-end products costs about 15,000 yuan, and the medical consumables involved are only about 3,000 yuan, or 20-30% of the total expenditure.

“It’s the cost of seeing a professional dentist that makes up the bulk of the price, about 40-50%,” she said. “The procedure has nothing to do with a manicure, implanting teeth is a sophisticated operation. You use implants to chew food and they have to be positioned so that the jawbone closes properly and they can last up to thirty years, so the skill of the surgeon is very important.”

Although opposed to lowering medical service fees, the anonymous manager agrees that group purchases aimed at reducing the costs of medical consumables or the use of commercial insurance plans to ease the financial burden on consumers are viable options. .

Rong Wensheng, a doctor at Peking University School and Hospital of Stomatology and deputy secretary-general of the China Oral Health Foundation, said that according to the latest national oral health survey , published in 2017, about 80% of Chinese elderly had missing teeth. and only half had sought replacements.

She said that compared to other conventional approaches – the use of removable or fixed prostheses – dental implants have the best results and are extremely comfortable, but obtaining them is also more complicated and expensive.

“Given the many advantages of implants and economic progress in China, domestic demand will increase,” she said.

“However, the procedure must be undertaken by dentists with additional specialized training or by implantologists, and the number of such people in China is estimated to be less than 10,000.”

However, Rong added that dental implants are not the only option available and there is also a need to increase oral health awareness so that people retain more of their teeth.

Chen Jinfu, deputy director of the administration, told a press conference in February that the administration had helped authorities in Sichuan province join forces with other localities to launch mass regional purchases. of dental implants.

Xu Baohua, director of the stomatology center of the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, said centralized procurement is expected to lead to a price reduction of about 25%.

“With a price reduction, regular patients can opt for domestic products and those with more complicated cases can choose more advanced products,” he said in an interview with Global Times.

He also called for increased efforts to crack down on misleading advertising and overt promotion in the industry.