Every once in a while, there is a breaking news story that comes out regarding the inconsistency between dental practitioners. The most popular one I know of involved a journalist who received comprehensive exams at the hands of 50 different dentists. His experience showed an astounding discrepancy between the treatments that were offered, with a price tag ranging from about $1,200 to nearly $30,000! The conclusion that he drew was that dentists are not to be trusted – after all, they can’t even agree with themselves!
I understand where he is coming from – I really do. I am the father of four (soon to be five) children. I run a business that is just barely over a year old, and I still have plenty of debt from school. I know that budgets are important, and I know that it is frustrating to feel like you could be taken advantage of. Whether it is a new car or a new set of teeth, we expect to receive the value for our financial decisions.
At the same time, as a dentist, I can understand where most of these practitioners are coming from. The truth is that there is rarely only one way to treat any given dental condition. Besides the differences in price, treatment options can range widely in terms of quality, expected prognosis (often expressed as longevity), and anticipated side effects or complications. Because of this, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. Therefore, the problem I think the practitioners in these studies ran into is not one of disagreement over treatment. Instead, I think the disagreement is over the patient’s expectations. To use a more familiar analogy, some of these dentists are trying to sell Cadillacs and others are trying to sell go-carts, whereas the patient just wants a good reliable Toyota.
So, how can you avoid being taken advantage of? I think the solution is two-fold. First, find a dentist who is willing to listen to what you want before telling you what he or she wants. Be open and honest regarding fears, budgets, and expectations. In my experience, most dentists go out of their way to satisfy their patients, and they will take these things into consideration when devising their treatment plans.
The second part of the solution is more on you as the patient – and that is to ask questions. Ask if there are alternatives to the proposed treatment plan, and what the differences are between the options. Ask why a certain treatment is needed. Ask what the prognosis is, and what the possible complications are. If you are honest with your dentist, then it is only fair to expect the same in return.
As you approach your dental care in this way, you will not be disappointed and you will not be taken advantage of. I believe that I speak for many, if not most, dentists when I say that our top priority is your health AND your satisfaction. A truly customized treatment plan is what makes this ideal into a reality.