My son needed dental work from our regular dentist(been with for about a year and a half), they had told they wanted to do several things that would cost over $1000 after my insurance. I told them to wait till January when insurance would refill. They called me back and said they could fix worse tooth with a crown and cavity next to it for $120 out of pocket. I accepted this. On my sons appointment to put in permanent crown they said they had miscalculated and I owed them $925 more. I know it's unethical, but is this legal? By the way there is no way in hell I will pay it.

  • 3
    What country did this take place in?
    – Ron Beyer
    Sep 22, 2021 at 18:48
  • I would advise paying your bills regardless of your outrage. I mean, you owe it. Why ruin your credit?
    – JohnFx
    Sep 22, 2021 at 19:51
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    @JohnFx it’s by no means clear that he does owe it. If a gardener I hired to mow my lawn also repointed my roof I would not owe then for that. Without a legal judgement a claim by the dentist of a debt must be removed from a credit report.
    – Dale M
    Sep 22, 2021 at 21:32

2 Answers 2


You have to look at the contract, which is that thing they made you sign before the treatment. The primary rule is that the written contract rules (look for a clause saying that "this is the whole agreement" – there is a legal principle, the 4 corners rule, that precludes verbal statements from determining what the agreement is), and the contract probably has a specific statement about your financial responsibility. They may be contractually limited to certain amounts if you are an "in network" patient (because of their contract with the insurance company), but there is always language saying that if the insurance company doesn't pay (not in-network, or some deductible or other coverage-related issue), their friendly cost estimates are not price commitments.

You can refuse to pay and they can take you to court; you can make your argument that they promised to do the work for $120. They will counter-argue that they gave you an estimate of the actual cost based on information that they had available, but you agreed to pay the full amount, insurance-based estimates notwithstanding. You can argue that at no time did they ever tell you what the worst-case scenario price would be, and they can argue that a reasonable person would know that $120 is not the full price for a crown and filling. They can argue on grounds of unjust enrichment that you owe them more money. It is not uncommon for people to misinterpret dental estimates as concrete prices.

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    My dentist never makes me sign a contract before treatment. I probably signed some disclaimer the first time I went there that says that estimates are subject to final insurance approval, but whenever they've tried to pull this stunt with me I've said "you told me I'd have to pay X; I decided to proceed with the procedure based on that cost, and you should have been more careful to give me an accurate quote." They've always written off the balance on my account. It's not worth it to them to go to court.
    – phoog
    Sep 23, 2021 at 0:57

You do not owe the money

Your contract with the dentist was clear: $120 + insurance for a crown and filling.

If this were a construction contractor or a car salesman, the question wouldn’t arise: if they made a mistake in their pricing, that’s their problem. It’s no different for your dentist, they are bound by what they agreed in the contract.

  • I've taken this position with my dentist on a few occasions, always with success. Jurisdiction: new-york
    – phoog
    Sep 23, 2021 at 0:53
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    I'm not sure OP can claim there was a contract. The dentist gave an estimate of cost. Turns out the estimate was wrong. Additionally it was over the phone and not in writing. It might have been wrong on purpose but I don't think OP can do much about that.
    – quarague
    Sep 23, 2021 at 8:48
  • Of course there was a contract: the services were known, the price was agreed, there are no legal impediments - that’s a contract.
    – Dale M
    Sep 23, 2021 at 10:00

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