Let’s Talk Money: Discussing Pricing with Dental Patients

Real World Insights from AADOM Authors - Lilson Curl

While growing up how many of you heard that it is impolite to talk about money with a stranger?

I was even told not to ask someone what they did for a living because they may be out of work at the time. Luckily, we can get around that since a patient’s occupation is part of their medical insurance identity and it is asked on the patient application and verified by insurance. Our dentist likes to know because he can provide more personalized and professional services; for instance, if a patient is in healthcare or an engineer with a science background, he will explain the treatment from a different perspective.

So, the million-dollar question is how do we approach the subject of money when we have to discuss a dental treatment plan?

The dentist says my price is my price and it is not up to you to determine what they can afford. In twenty years I have witnessed a lot of instances that may surprise you.

We had an eighty-six-year- old patient who paid cash for three implants because oil was discovered in his backyard. (Yes, we do live in Texas.) We had another lady at age eighty who wrote a check for $5,000 because she baked rum cakes out of her kitchen. I can still smell the aroma of rum from the cake she made for the dentist! Her son drove her to the dental office in a 1966 pickup truck. And lastly, there was the thirty-year-old that had just gone through a divorce, and her teeth were destroyed by acid reflux. Lucky for her, Dad had just won the lottery. In other words, you don’t know what a person can afford.

Broaching the Subject of Money

In my previous career, I worked for a bank, and I learned that there is definitely a technique for discussing money.

The patient should be taken to a consultation room with a closed door for privacy. We have a round table in the room so the patient can feel that we are on equal footing.

I approach the subject of money as if money is the third person in the room. We take ownership away from the patient and put the responsibility on money itself. I watch news shows for the state of the economy, the relationship between consumers and lending institutions, and if they are loaning money to consumers or just reinvesting in the markets. If you listen closely, you will understand if the federal government is exerting pressure on consumer lending institutions to loan money to the general consumer. It really does make a difference when you apply for a loan.

If the patients don’t get approved, I may ask a patient the last time they looked at their credit report to make sure the information is accurate and up to date. Reporting agencies make mistakes all the time, unfortunately.

If you put the responsibility on money itself, then the patient can have a different attitude and is more likely to tackle the issue of money and not take it personally.

When you are behind closed doors, patients tend to talk more freely, and you can go into the planning phase. You can set goals with the patient. We recently helped a single mother in her thirties with two teens get her total mouth redone, RCT, and crown on her son, wisdom teeth, braces, and we are working on an implant for her son. We provided goal setting and have accomplished all this in two years. She worked all the overtime she could get because she had a goal we were trying to accomplish. Divorced patients that may have filed for bankruptcy can still get approved.

Don’t let the patient feel defeated before they get started. When you apply for financing, let your friends at CareCredit make the decision and not you. There are a lot of factors involved with getting someone approved. Don’t be afraid to let the patient apply for financing. Call your friends at CareCredit and set up a Lunch and Learn for the entire office.

Remember it takes the entire office.

First of all, the dentist should never discuss money. The dentist is there to perform clinical duties. When the dentist leaves the room, the patient quite often turns to the registered dental assistant (RDA) and asks, “How much is all this going to cost? It sounds expensive!” That is when CareCredit’s expertise comes in very handy in helping the RDA as to how to best answer the patient. That is normally the first point of contact in discussing money. The dental assistant is not discussing prices but provides words of comfort to the patient, such as offering third-party financing. If you don’t start to put the patient at ease, then the patient often shuts down and stops listening to the dentist.

The dentist reminds us that most people don’t go to an auto dealership expecting to pay cash for a new automobile.

It is all about financing and if they can afford the monthly payment. Get the patient in the same frame of mind. Help them understand they are using their teeth every day and that dental health is connected to long-term bodily health and financing is a normal method to pay for dentistry. When the patient states that they can purchase a new car for what they are paying for dentistry, express that you are concerned for their overall health and well-being. Their overall health is more important. Express what health conditions could be affected such as periodontal disease, heart disease, and diabetes.

You can always set the tone when a patient arrives by stating, “Please have the dentist answer all your clinical questions, and I will be happy to go over all your out-of-pocket expenses and what the insurance will cover.”

Let them know you have already reviewed their insurance benefits, if they have any, and will call the insurance company while they are with the dentist if they have any additional questions. Let them know if they have any out-of-pocket expenses for the initial appointment before they come to the dental office. I obtain the insurance information and verify benefits before the patient arrives. I do not want to waste the patient’s time while I am calling the insurance company. I ask the patient before the appointment what their dental concerns are, so I can provide a heads up to the dentist and the entire clinical staff. Be proactive! Discuss health conditions, and provide an internet copy to the dentist and staff before the patient is in the chair. Remember to establish a bond of trust with the patient before they sit in the clinical chair. Let the patient know you have their best interests at heart.

Our dentist always tells his staff, “I take care of my patients and they take care of me. It has worked for forty years!”

Patients want to feel that you have their best interest at heart. Set goals, establish a timeline, and make it happen. Be their biggest cheerleader. Together, you can make it happen!

About the Author

Headshot of Lilson Curl Lilson Curl, FAADOM has been a dental office manager since 2003. She and her dentist husband (to whom she has been proudly married for 35 years) own Advanced Premier Dental and Implant Dentistry in The Woodlands, TX.

She earned her BS in Marketing, from the University of Houston, and her MBA in finance, from St. Thomas University. Lilson holds nine Financial Security licenses and has worked as an auditor in banking and investments.

Lilson is a lifetime AADOM member and was inducted as an AADOM Fellow in 2013. She is currently pursuing her AADOM Mastership (MAADOM) and plans to be inducted into the 2022 class in September.

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