One of the greatest threats to dentistry is that it is often perceived by price shoppers as a standardized commodity. This off-the-shelf mentality undermines the dentist’s message and the value of dental services and creates a dental patient education challenge.
The mentality is as follows. Your child needs braces? No problem. Just shop for the orthodontist with the lowest fee, because—in the minds of many—the treatment is all the same and the orthodontist is programmed to work the same way again and again. Start with crooked teeth, put on braces, straighten the teeth, remove braces. Repeat with the next patient. Most people do not appreciate the diagnosis, treatment planning, and clinical skill necessary to get an excellent result in orthodontics, especially with complex cases.
Price shoppers are of course not limited to orthodontic treatment but are pervasive throughout the dental marketplace, whether the treatment involves impacted wisdom teeth, dental implants, or even a single crown. When told that a crown is necessary, a patient’s first question is often related to the cost of the crown, not the type of crown or the expertise of the doctor who provides it. If you told your patients that you have boxes of crowns in your supply room organized by sizes, like shoes, many would believe you and wait for you to grab one off the shelf to test the fit.
The need for dental patient education to combat this perception grows every day. When the patient says, “I can get it cheaper somewhere else,” the message should be:
Dental treatment combines my artistic judgment with all my training and experience in the science of dentistry. You can get something similar somewhere else, but the crown that I provide is unique because no two crowns are exactly alike. I am committed to high quality dentistry that is customized for you.
One well placed volley will not necessarily slow the onslaught of price shoppers who come to your practice, but the “dentistry-is-an-art-and-science” message is both high minded and resoundingly true. You are a Picasso in a studio creating masterpieces, not a Sam Walton opening chain stores filled with mass produced merchandise. There is no sale on crowns in aisle four of your practice.
Like so many other artists, you may not be fully appreciated in your own time, but you are teaching patients, often individually, and exposing them to unique dental artwork.
David Schwab Ph.D.