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Be Prepared for Unprepared Patients


CareCredit research indicates that many individuals are not prepared to handle large dental expenses and may need payment options to follow through with treatments.

Be Prepared for Unprepared Patients | Source: CareCredit

Be Prepared for Unprepared Patients | Source: CareCredit

There are a lot of good surprises, like finding a $20 bill in an old coat pocket. Then there are surprises that are not as welcome, like unexpected dentistry. Synchrony, on behalf of CareCredit, conducted the Dental Lifetime of Care study in 2023 to understand individuals’ perceptions of the cost of dentistry and gain insights on how that perception may shape their dental health care decisions.1 One of the key findings was that 46% of survey respondents were unprepared for their largest dental expense, ranging from exams to implants. Utilizing the survey results, dental practices can help more patients move forward with needed or wanted dentistry by being prepared when their patients are not.

Be Prepared to Inform
Only 30% of survey respondents found it easy to understand dental health expenses. And of those with insurance, 50% did not know their annual maximum. A lack of information or understanding often results in a patient believing that the cost will be prohibitive, which can result in the patient walking out the door without a scheduled appointment or not committing to the recommended care.

To help more patients get the care they need and keep their appointments, we recommended that practice staff do the following:

  • Prepare in advance: Determine if the patient has insurance to cover the cost of the treatments and services and what their benefits might provide. Plan to supplement this information with a discussion about how benefits can help pay for the cost of dental care.
  • Educate: Have an honest discussion with the patient. Ask clarifying questions to make sure they understand the information completely.
  • Review your recommendation: Thoroughly review the cost of the dentistry with the patient and explain its value to their oral and overall health. Consider unique approaches for different patients. For example, use visual aids for those who are visual learners.
  • Clarify costs: Share details of any out-of-pocket costs in a way that is easy for them to understand, through discussions, informational materials, or videos.

Be Prepared With Solutions
Unfortunately, cost can be a challenge even when patients have dental benefits to help with the cost of the treatment. It’s especially frustrating to those patients who value dental care. In fact, cost or expense was the No. 1 reason respondents said they did not see their general dentist in the past 12 months.

Patients often delay or ignore treatments because of cost. Specifically, the survey results showed the following:

  • 29% of respondents indicated they have delayed care
  • 17% ignored a recommended procedure
  • 13% chose a less-costly treatment

With patients shouldering more financial responsibility for their dental care because of higher out-of-pocket costs, rising costs can result in individuals choosing between their financial and physical health. We think it’s important for individuals to proactively prepare for expenses when they believe they will need or want to pay those expenses in the future.

According to the study results, the out-of-pocket costs for the average adult aged 20 to 79 years was $51,000 to more than $95,000 over their lifetime, not including complex care such as implants or orthodontics for children. It’s important to help patients get a clear picture of what they can expect to pay in dental care costs over a lifetime so that they can plan ahead and look at financial options that can help them manage these costs today and in the future.

Proactively offering payment solutions that include major credit cards and a financing solution such as the CareCredit credit card may be appreciated by patients. In the survey, 58% of respondents indicated they would probably or definitely choose a payment option that provided predictable, set, equal payments without having to use their general purpose or retail credit cards.

Ultimately, the goal is to help patients be prepared and comfortable accepting recommended dentistry so they can have a healthy and beautiful smile. To learn more about the study, visit carecredit.com/sites/pc/pdf/dental-lifetime-of-care-study.pdf.

1. Synchrony; Americans May Forgo Dental Treatments Due to Cost, Risking Overall Health, New Synchrony Research Reveals. Accessed March 19, 2024. https://www.synchrony.com/contenthub/newsroom/americans-may-forgo-dental-treatments-due-to-cost,-risking-overa.html
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