Why Johor dentists can expect even more Singapore patients than ever before

About three in 10 of those surveyed were ready to try to seek dental treatment in places such as Johor Baru and Bangkok, or at public healthcare institutions. — Reuters pic
About three in 10 of those surveyed were ready to try to seek dental treatment in places such as Johor Baru and Bangkok, or at public healthcare institutions. — Reuters pic

SINGAPORE, Sept 12 — Nearly nine in 10 people in Singapore are worried about rising dental care costs, according to a survey commissioned by a committee appointed by the Singapore Dental Association (SDA).

And one-third of people in that category would try to seek alternatives, such as getting dental work done in Johor Baru or Bangkok, or at public health institutions here — though they were concerned at the long waiting time.

The survey was commissioned by the SDA’s standing committee and was published yesterday. It sought the views of 1,438 people aged between 25 and 60, mostly Singaporeans, in August. The SDA is the professional body for dentists.

In a media statement on the survey, the SDA said that aside from seeking to understand the public’s concerns on dental costs, it wanted to “gauge the public confidence” of practising dentists in Singapore in relation to safety and performance.

The statement said it was concerned that a series of media articles on dentists being convicted in court, or by the Singapore Dental Council (SDC), the profession’s self-regulatory body, might have put the “dental profession as a whole in a bad light”.

It did not specify the cases, however in recent years, several dentists have been dealt with for various offences. In 2017, one dentist was fined S$50,000 (RM150,000) for failing to supervise two foreign-trained dentists under his charge. And in May last year, another dentist admitted making fake claims to the Central Provident Fund.

The statement noted that none of the respondents in its survey had filed a complaint against their dental practitioners, and that they felt their dentists are “competent with their work”.

The survey also found that, of the respondents:

  • 76 per cent of them were concerned about the rising cost of living in Singapore.
  • 71 per cent visit private dental practitioners. The remaining 29 per cent visit public healthcare institutions, with some voicing concern about the long waiting periods.
  • 17 per cent have not visited their dentists in the last three years.

Dr Tang Kok Weng, the chairman of the SDA standing committee, said: “We are glad to find out that despite the media reports on dentists recently, the survey reveals a very high confidence level in our dentists with regard to safety and competency in the delivery of dental care.”

He added that the standing committee shares the public’s concern about rising dental treatment fees.

“We hope that there are no external factors in the near future that may potentially increase the cost of delivery of dental care in Singapore,” he said.

Some dentists warn costs could rise if new rules come in

In May, TODAY reported that some dentists opposed a proposed requirement for general dentists to undergo more training for procedures such as wisdom-tooth surgery and implants.

Some dentists believe that if implemented, the requirement could restrict them from performing procedures that they have done for decades such as wisdom-tooth surgery, resulting in patients shouldering higher costs by forcing them to see specialist dentists instead.

TODAY understands that the SDA standing committee hopes that policymakers consider these public views on dental costs before making any policy changes.

The standing committee also said that it is completing a survey seeking the views of dentists in Singapore, including how much they expect to raise prices if there are any policy changes which might require a certificate of competency in certain higher-risk procedures.

Dr Melvin Chia, a dental general practitioner who has been in practice for 17 years, told TODAY on Wednesday that limiting the number of dentists performing any procedure would lead to higher costs.

“Costs to doctors to get certified will also transfer to patients’ fees,” he added.

“The world is moving towards generalists. More general practitioners should be trained to do more complex work so that more patients can benefit from the increase in accessibility. This increase in accessibility will also lead to more competitive pricings.”

Another general practitioner, who wanted to be known only as Dr Ng, said Singapore's prices cannot be compared to those in Malaysia or Thailand.

"The benchmark must be reasonable," said Dr Ng, who has been in practice for more than 10 years.

He said that private dental charges at government hospitals are comparable to private clinics found at Housing and Development Board neighbourhoods located away from town.

"What are institutional hospitals charging private patients? That can be the benchmark."

TODAY has sought comment from the SDC.

How much are routine dental procedures in Singapore?

Dental examinations: The cost for Singaporeans at polyclinics can range between S$16 and S$27, going by checks made by TODAY at various clinics. A similar examination at a private clinic could cost about S$20 to S$30.

Scaling and polishing: Polyclinics charge a separate fee for both procedures that range from S$17 to S$29 for scaling, and S$17 to S$35 for polishing. If done at a private clinic, the total cost for both procedures is S$80 to S$130.

Wisdom tooth extraction: This service is not offered at polyclinics. Patients will be referred to the National Dental Centre, which charges between S$300 and S$1,500, after subsidies. The cost at a private clinic generally ranges from S$400 to S$2,140, without subsidies. — TODAY

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