Justifying Dental Costs

April 2, 2020

For a profession that has such an intimate relationship with its customers, dentistry is not loved or admired as much as it should be. If you tell people you are a doctor, you are likely to be congratulated on the vital work that you do and commended for seeking out a vocation that does so much good for the world. Tell them you are a dentist, and they are likely to look at you the same way they would if you had just told them that you work for the tax revenue service. 

Part of that is because of the irrational fear that some customers have about visiting their dentist. You do not need us to tell you that very few people visiting the dentist — the stereotype exists anywhere. Just last month, we learned of the existence of a game on online slots websites called ‘Crazy Dentist’ like this, which perpetuates the myth that dentists just want to pull your teeth out and take your money. We are not suggesting that online slots websites should be held up as arbiters of reality, but if a belief is so widespread that it’s being used to market online slots games, there’s a problem. 

The other perception that leads people to be suspicious of dentists is a belief that dentists charge too much for what they do. This is upsetting for dentists. While dentistry is often expensive, there are very good reasons for that. The problem is that explaining this to patients is not always easy. If you find yourself having cost-related conversations with your patients more often than you would like to, here’s a handy list of facts that you can present to them. 

Dental Insurance Is Outdated

Barely a week goes by without someone pointing out in the press that Medicaid doesn’t adequately cover common dental procedures, or in some cases, even provide access to dental care at all. The problem is not even limited to Medicaid. The majority of dental insurance policies were written decades ago, and no longer reflect the realities of modern dental procedures or modern dental costs. Even well-rated policies are often capped at somewhere around $1500, and that is not an accurate reflection of the cost of labor anymore. Car insurance and home insurance caps have risen in line with inflation. Dental insurance caps never have, and that is not your fault as a dentist. More customers should be complaining to their insurers. 

Dentists Are Overworked

It does not matter whether you are reading this article in the UK, the USA, or anywhere else in the world — we can almost guarantee you that there is a shortage of dentists in your area. Fewer people than ever before are becoming dentists. At the same time, the world’s population is growing. Dentists are now likely to have a patient list three or four times longer than they did in the 1990s, and they only have so many hours in the day. They are stressed, they are tired, and they work far too many hours, often foregoing holidays. It is only right that they should be able to earn a good living from the level of effort they put in. Also, if there were more dentists, there would be a more competitive market and lower prices. The whole industry would be more relaxed, and it would be better for patients as a result. Ask your patients if they would like to become a dentist!

Overheads Keep Going Up

Running a dental surgery is not cheap, and it becomes more expensive with each passing year. New safety regulations are introduced, and adapting to them is often costly. Record-keeping has to be more stringent now than it used to be, and paying someone to stay on top of that is expensive. Taxes, business insurance, specialist equipment, rental or mortgage payments, technology to stay on top of appointments — the list goes on and on. It gets more expensive to be a dentist with each passing year, and that cost has to be passed on. In some areas, 80% of a dentist’s entire income goes on overheads. If a patient understands that only 20% (at best) of what they are paying you ends up in your back pocket, they may be a little more sympathetic. 

Expectations Are Higher

Many years ago, it was fine to replace a bad tooth with a basic crown and send a patient on their way. Now they want something more aesthetically pleasing. Bad teeth are often replaced with veneers. Dentures should look exactly like the mouthful of teeth that they have replaced. People’s expectation of what a dentist provides for them has become as much about aesthetics as it is about practicality. If someone wants a cheap replacement tooth or a cheap bit of work doing, you can probably provide it, but the fact of the matter is that almost nobody does. They want the product of dentistry to be pretty, and there’s a cost factor that comes with that because of the materials involved. 

Work Is More Intensive Than It Used To Be

Think about how often you see someone for a yearly or six-monthly checkup, do not find any problems, and send them on their way without doing any work or referring for work to be done. Now think about how often you used to do that ten or twenty years ago. We are sure that it is the exception rather than the rule today. That is because people’s lifestyles have changed, and people do not take care of their teeth, as well as they used to. A lot of that is down to diet — the food and drink that people consume wears their teeth down a lot faster than the food and drink our parents consumed regularly. You are charging more, because you are doing more work for each patient. Ultimately, if you have to perform a procedure on a patient, that patient has to pay for the training and development that gave you the skills to perform the procedure. You are also providing specialist advice on how to avoid those costs in the future once you’ve sent them on their way!

Ultimately, it is impossible to make everyone feel happy about the time they spend with their dentist, and some people will always have concerns about cost no matter how competitive your prices are and how necessary the work is. Never be afraid to be honest about costs, though. We very much doubt that you are charging significantly more than you ought to be, so make sure your patients are aware of that! 

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Andi Perullo de Ledesma

I am Andi Perullo de Ledesma, a Chinese Medicine Doctor and Travel Photojournalist in Charlotte, NC. I am also wife to Lucas and mother to Joaquín. Follow us as we explore life and the world one beautiful adventure at a time.

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