Synchrony conducts study to learn how out-of-pocket costs affect decisions about treatments.
I've spoken with thousands of dentists and have found that delivering clinical outcomes that make patients healthy and happy is their primary motivator. Part of being able to get patients healthy is enabling them to move forward with needed care. Cost continues to be a leading barrier to dentistry. To better understand the impact of the out-of-pocket cost of dental care and how it affects patients’ care decisions, Synchrony completed the Dental Lifetime of Care Study report in February 2023.
The study provides insights to help the dental community, including CareCredit, help patients be prepared for the cost of care. Brian Harris, dentist, speaker, coach, and the CEO and founder of the Smile Virtual software platform, joins me to discuss the findings.
Bete Johnson (BJ): According to the study, the out-of-pocket cost of dental care for an average adult aged 20 to 79 years ranges from $51,000 to more than $95,000 over a lifetime, not including implants, orthodontics, or more complex dental needs, which could add thousands of dollars to the total. This range includes single coverage, couple coverage, and family coverage. Does this amount surprise you?
Brian Harris (BH): Not really. But I’m glad that Synchrony has quantified the lifetime cost of dentistry so that people are more informed and can be, hopefully, more prepared. I agree that dentistry can be expensive. Cost has always been something that captures people by surprise. That’s nothing new. And people are feeling a financial pinch now more than ever.
BJ: It also probably doesn’t surprise you that the findings indicate that 58% of respondents believe dental care is not affordable, which may be the reason why the majority of respondents (54%) said they did not go to the dentist this past year because of cost, and why 59% would ignore, wait, or choose a less costly dental procedure.
BH: No, that doesn’t surprise me either. I think it’s a bigger conversation than the cost and the relevance of financing to help enable care. It’s more about the conversation of how we as a dental community can make it easier for people to get the dental work they want to have done. How do we break down those barriers to case acceptance? We need to stop making things difficult and confusing for patients. I always say a confused patient will make the choice to do nothing.
BJ: One of the things that the research took a look at was patients’ understanding of dental benefits and costs. Three key findings stood out: Only 30% of respondents found understanding dental costs easy, half of insured respondents did not know their annual maximum, and just a quarter knew their annual premium. As you said, we need to make it easier and break down barriers. I believe there is a big opportunity for the dental community to educate patients…so they are informed and can choose what is best for their oral health.
BH: It is a big opportunity and, I believe specifically for dentists and teams, a responsibility. I think if we look at it more from the lens of the consumer and what does the patient really want? They want to be able to eat without discomfort. They want to have a confident smile. They want to keep their teeth for life. And they want us to make that easy for them. If you give people too many options it can be overwhelming and confusing.
First we have to educate patients about dental benefits so they have an understanding of how they work and what they contribute to the cost of dentistry. Then we need to be up front and transparent with our payment options. We have found that if we stick to 1 main financing company and have financing as part of the treatment plan discussions, it makes it simpler for patients. We always present an estimated monthly payment with financing along with the total cost of care so that patients know their options up front and can choose what works best for them so they can get care.
BJ: I agree. We all have a role to play in patient education. CareCredit goes beyond offering financing options to providing in-depth information on procedures, costs, and ways to plan and pay for care. In fact, CareCredit created Well U—a robust collection of articles and videos (carecredit.com/WellU) specifically for this purpose. That’s why 1 stat from the study concerns me, which is that 92% of respondents said they would consider holding off on general dental care because of cost and 83% would consider holding off emergency dental care. We all know that so many dental conditions left untreated result in additional problems and expense. We’ve got to put patients in control of their oral health.
BH: Exactly. You know, none of us can control interest rates or the economy. But we can control and take responsibility for the way we educate patients and how we present the cost of dentistry, explain their benefits, and provide them a path to get healthy. So they can control and better understand and manage their benefits and out-of-pocket costs, and ultimately get a healthy and beautiful smile they’ll enjoy for life.