Are You Ready to Cut Your Fees in Half?

Transparency in pricing is a powerful trend affecting most industries today, and I’ve seen indications that it is coming for dentistry.  In the car business, for example, you can go to TrueCar and see exactly what the factory invoice on any car is, as well as what the discount range is on virtually every vehicle.  Countless travel sites compare hotel room prices or plane flights. And the cheapest price for any appliance can easily be found online.

There are strong forces at work to do the same thing in dentistry. Brighter, for example is a company that has negotiated significantly lower fees with participating dentists, and allows the person searching to compare the costs of procedures by dentist.  They’ve raised $28 million in venture capital to launch a business specifically designed to cut your fees in half.  That applies to all your fees, not just a new patient offer.  This kind of win/lose proposition makes the dental insurance companies seem appealing by comparison.

This is also a problem if you are not a “Brighter dentist”, because consumers will start to believe that you are overcharging. It will also increase the number of calls that you will get asking about the cost of every procedure. In essence, this is the commodification of dentistry, and I can’t see how that’s a good thing.

It’s probably only a matter of time before someone feels the need to create a website that lists every procedure and what it costs all around the country, based on UCRs, or some other source.  While we in the industry know that many things control fees, from your location, to the degree of technology in your facility, to the insurance reimbursements, the average consumer thinks you make too much money, and this will only grow as a belief.Value is aperception-2

So what are you to do in the face of this inevitability? Here’s one thing I’ve learned in many years of business and advertising: value is a perception, not a calculation.  Granted, some people are just looking for the cheapest dentistry because they have no, or very limited, money to pay for it.  But for people who have anxiety about dentistry, who appreciate genuine compassionate care, who want an expert to work on their body, not the cheapest provider, then cost is a secondary consideration.

Zappos is not the cheapest way to buy shoes. It’s the most convenient way, with the best service. BMWs are not the cheapest cars, but just try to get one of their owners to switch to a Kia. Whole Foods is not the cheapest grocery store (not even close!) But they have built a perception of value that is not based on being the cheapest, and they are all doing tremendous business.  So maybe the exact perception you want to build is that you are not the cheapest dentist, nor do you strive to be.

I’ve also observed that many people use higher pricing as an indicator that the service or product is better than average, just as they tend to assume that the absolute cheapest price means the lowest quality. This is what we need to get them to understand about dentistry.  People tend to believe that almost all dentistry is the same, and it’s just a matter of finding the cheapest way of getting it.  You can only do that with effective, clear communication. It is going to be more and more important to create an overall experience in your practice that communicates higher value. (Did I mention that everything is marketing?)

That communication is often going to begin with the first phone call. Many practices ask me how to address this situation when someone is price shopping.  My recommendation is language like this:

“We’re not trying to be the cheapest dentist. Our fees are very reasonable, with many financing options, but what we offer is a practice that offers a very high standard of care in a comfortable environment, and we try to provide that as affordable as possible.  And we think if you come in and see for yourself, and we are happy to do an initial exam at no charge just so you can get a sense of the level of care we provide, then at least you’ll have something to compare it to when you visit the cheapest dentist’s office.”

Will this work every time? Of course not. But you don’t need everyone.  You will not get some people, those for whom price determines value, and their mouth is just an appliance in need of cheap repair.  But many people want a dentist that makes them feel comfortable, that they trust, that cares about them, and gives them good health advice.  I’m guessing you want to attract those people.  So be that kind of dentist.

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6 thoughts on “Are You Ready to Cut Your Fees in Half?

  1. If Brighter is doing this, why would any dentist remain with them? I don’t know any dentist that could stay in business with their fees cut in half, and many would not stay in business with a 25 to 30% reduction. I think dentists who participate should be made aware of these facts and be asked if they are tryi ng to commit financial and professional suicide. I know some young dentists graduating from dental school this year with almost $400,000.00 of school loans, and the AVERAGE for last last years graduates was well over $200,000.00 in loan debt, just from dental school. Somewhere along the way, if concepts like Brightest are successfull, there will be no one willing to be a dentist!

  2. I work as a dental consulting and I meet resistance and lack of competences among dentists when it comes to price discussions with patients. The dentists have a very defensive attitude toward this issue. Can anyone recommend literature regarding feelings and price discussion

  3. Pingback: Honesty: the Key to Changing Patients’ Thinking about “Dentists” – Part I | MyDentalCMO

  4. Hi Fred,

    I read the article on your blog today titled, “Are You Ready to Cut Your Fees in Half.” I am pleased to see that dental price transparency and Brighter ( are both on your radar. Greater price transparency in health care is inevitable and particularly important in dental care where patients pay well over 50% of the costs out of their own pockets. For the benefit of your readers, I want to clarify how our model actually works and how it benefits dentists and patients alike.

    First, the dentists in our network set their own fee schedules. They choose whatever prices they deem appropriate are appropriate for their practice taking into consideration their clientele, their costs and their interest in attracting hard to reach, direct pay clients. In many cases, dentists submit higher fees than those contracted with insurance companies. It’s their choice—we do not force the prices they offer on our site. What we offer to the patients is price transparency which is particularly important to the nearly 50% of the population who don’t have dental insurance and who are paying for their dental care out of their own pockets.

    There are many reasons why over 1,000 dentists in Los Angeles alone have decided to partner with Brighter and take advantage of our unique platform. We provide robust marketing on behalf of our dentists. Our services and marketing are targeted towards cash-paying patients—which oftentimes translates to those people without insurance. With half of the Americans lacking any form of dental insurance, this group is notorious for not going to the dentist at all, or very little, due to the high costs associated with paying out-of-pocket and the lack of price transparency. Recent stats showed that just 36% of all Americans visited the dentist last year. That’s a very large potential patient population not currently going to the dentist that are very difficult for individual dentists to reach. We are helping them reach this big group of potential patients, which in turn helps to grow their clientele.

    Brighter members also save dentists substantial administrative costs. Because our members are primarily uninsured, they pay cash, up-front at the time of their visit. This means that dentists don’t have the administrative burden and costs of filing insurance claims and billing the patient for co-pays and waiting to be paid.

    Finally, we provide Brighter members with extensive information about each dentist beyond just the price of procedurs. We publish the most extensive profiles on each of our dentists including their experience, education, technologies, amenities, photos of the dentists, staff and facilities as a well as a “Meet the Dentist” video. With software integration with the practice’s practice management system, we provide the convenience of online scheduling and 24/7 concierge service which results in reliable, knowledgeable patients who are ready for treatment.

    I hope this information has been useful in helping your readers understand how Brighter is making dental care more accessible and convenient for patients and dentists alike.

    Jake Winebaum
    CEO of

  5. Well said Fred. I used to have the same perception with dentistry and shopping. Like the more expensive it is the better the service. I also used to be so spend thrift in everything including my dental health. There was this one instance when I needed to have my bad teeth extracted so I went to the cheapest clinic in town. When I got there the place looked untidy,the room was dimly lit and the strong smell of some chemical were lingering around. It was then I realized that cheapest isn’t the safest so I went to another clinic that billed four times higher than the last one but I pushed through feeling confident that I am in good hands. It took longer than I expected the extraction to be and I felt massive pain during and after. It was like the anesthesia didn’t effect on me. The doctor was so ill tempered and foul mouthed he kept yelling at his poor assistant which made me really uncomfortable. From then on I have never returned to that clinic and have advised all of my friends against the dentist as well. Now, I am happy and satisfied with my dentist. I am given the care I needed and I get the assurance that I am in good hands.

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