When dental implants are life-savers

Despite the proliferation of private dental clinics in the Sultanate, dental implants are beyond the reach of a significant chunk of the local population, the Observer has found.
For those afflicted with chronic gum diseases, in particular, dental implants — notwithstanding the popular notion that such procedures fall within the realm of cosmetic or vanity enhancements — are often life-saving devices that they cannot do without. But the cost of such implants can be astronomical for many of those in the low-income segments of the community.
Some premium clinics charge as much as RO 1,000 for a single dental implant, although prices can go down to as low as RO 400 with discounts. But even the cut-rate prices are beyond the means of many patients.
In comparison, government hospitals charge nothing for the procedure, but require the patients to bring along the implant materials from a private clinic. This arrangement reduces the overall cost burden on the patient to around RO 250 per tooth. But as appointments at government hospitals are long-drawn on account of the heavy caseload, patients prefer to go to private clinics.
The outlook is far worse for patients residing in remote or rural parts of the country where dental implant services or dental specialists are scarce or non-existent.
So what is keeping dental implant costs at stratospheric highs? Implants are often the only practical and viable remedy for some patients suffering certain kinds of dental diseases and conditions. But the unjustifiably high cost of the implants, combined with the unconscionably steep fees levied by the service provider, make implant therapy unaffordable to many deserving cases.
According to Dr Ali al Mashaiki, a dental surgeon at the Health Ministry-run Al Nahdha Hospital in Muscat Governorate, suppliers of implant materials are exploiting the fierce competition among private clinics by keeping the cost of their inputs very high.
The prices are determined by the clinic itself after factoring in the cost of the materials, as well as other administrative and operational costs — such as rent, laboratory charges, dentistry work, X-rays, staff salaries, and so on, Dr Al Mashaiki explained. Some cases require also bone implant or sinus augmentation, he noted.
Also adding to the high cost of dental implants, the dental surgeon said, is the post-implant phase which requires sustained follow-up lasting several months. In clinics, the patient pays for each visit and will thus not be required to cough up the full cost of an implant in one go.
Given the pivotal importance of dental implant therapy to the dental care of the general public, some radical measures are necessary to bring this segment of dental services within reach of the wider population. Now is the time to encourage manufacturers to produce moderate-cost implants and for dentists to patronise companies that produce quality implants sold at a reasonable price.
It is also time for dentists to evaluate and contain implant placement costs and provide this service to patients at reasonable fee levels.