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Great financial conversations start before the appointment

May 12, 2023
Engaging in an open conversation about treatment cost and payment options early on goes a long way toward alleviating patient misconceptions and fears.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”1 Unfortunately, when it comes to dental care, many patients arrive not only unprepared, but also with some level of fear. This fear is often based in a lack of understanding—of their dental condition, the treatment they may need, the cost of care, and how their dental benefits will contribute to that cost. Great financial conversations are all about effective communication, which can be challenging when fear is present. One of the best things the team can do is make information available that will help patients gain understanding, especially about their dental benefits, before and during their appointment.

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I’ve found patients usually come into the dental practice with an assumption that their dental benefits work similarly to medical insurance and will completely cover needed treatment. If I break my hand, my medical insurance company will support me and, for the most part, the costs will be covered if my deductible has been met. However, dental benefits work differently. Patients just know that they have benefits, but they have no idea how much will be covered or the maximum amount the company will pay per year in support of their dental needs. When patients have these insurance assumptions, they are probably not prepared when they have an out-of-pocket cost. Even patients without benefits are often unprepared, because very few budget monthly for their dental needs. In fact, for the most part, it’s only when patients become aware they have a dental need do they consider the cost and how they are going to pay for care.

Preparation and understanding start before the appointment

Helping patients prepare and understand starts early in the patient experience. The first place to educate patients is when they visit your website prior to their appointment. Although you can’t provide treatment costs until diagnosis, your website and social media can include information about how dental benefits work and the types of financial solutions you have available so patients are familiar with their options prior to their appointment. The more familiar they are, the more comfortable they may be during the financial conversation. This will also help patients consider and ultimately choose a practice that is going to support them in getting the treatment they want and need.

If you offer financing options, such as the CareCredit credit card, you may want to consider including a link so patients can learn about and see if they prequalify before their appointment. CareCredit has over 12.7 million cardholders; some of your patients may already have CareCredit, and would appreciate being able to use it at your practice.

Establishing understanding, value, and trust during the appointment

If the patient calls the practice and wants to know a ballpark cost for a specific treatment, don’t shy away from that conversation. Avoiding giving an answer doesn’t help the patient understand or be prepared. Instead, you want to confidently give them a ballpark figure with the caveat that their specific dental needs may affect that cost.

At the appointment, understanding starts by knowing the patient’s needs and wants so that both your team and the patient are on the same page. Why are they at your practice in the first place? What is it they want to achieve? What does a great dental experience mean to them? It starts with knowing the person first and establishing trust, then moving into problem-solving on their behalf. During the treatment recommendation, patients need to understand their dental problem, the solution, and how it will benefit them, or the value. For example, “You have a cracked tooth that could break and fracture. When it does, you can’t control if it fractures below or above the gum line or if the whole tooth fractures off. We recommend creating a crown which is going to cover that tooth and protect it, so you don’t have to risk breaking it and needing more extensive treatment.” Only when the patient understands what you are doing and values the benefits of care will they be receptive to discussing the costs associated and what their benefits will contribute. 

Anytime a patient asks about money, everyone on your team should be able to either provide an answer or guide them to the person who can. When discussing cost and payment options, it’s important the patient feels heard, they know they have options, they have clarity (not confusion), and they feel in control and able to make a decision based on their dental goals and needs. We don’t ever want to feel like we have to convince the patient to accept the dentistry. Instead, we should do everything we can to make sure the patient is prepared before and during their appointment. And at the appointment, we give them the information and support they need to make a decision that is best for them—both clinically and financially.

Editor's note: CareCredit is a recent financial supporter of DentistryIQ.


  1. Forbes Quotes. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/quotes/1107/

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