Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Low cost dental treatment

The internet allows people we have never met to become our patients. It often starts off with an enquiry. This is followed by a consultation, a discussion and finally, treatment planning and finally the actual treatment is done. This source of patients is not to be under-estimated. It’s how we managed to build up a cosmetic dental practice. That was 6 years ago.

In recent months, however, we received a lot of enquiries from people who seemed like potential patients. This may sound like good news, but it isn’t. In the past when trust was easier to come by, a high percentage of people who contacted us via the internet did show up for consultation and treatment. Nowadays, enquiries are much harder to handle. Folks who seem interested try to settle the treatment plan, exact costs, guarantees and number of visits over a few emails. They don’t seem to realise that dentistry cannot be practised online. A lot of details of exact costs, procedures etc cannot be determined without an examination. Even with that, unforseen circumstances may result in a change of treatment plan. Insisting on precise figures is difficult at best and unreasonable at worst.

An example. How much does it cost to do a filling. $80. patient turns up with deep caries involving the pulp. This would require root canal treatment and it’s going to cost much more than $80.

“Can you guarantee that it’s only going to cost $80? No hidden costs.” comes the question by email.

Of course not! How can the dentist tell how bad your condition is and whether a filling is all you need? Don’t these folks realise that as far as I’m concerned, it’s their tooth that is hidden from me and not my costs which are hidden from them.

“I just want to do a filling. If you can’t guarantee that it’s not going to cost more than $80, then I won’t come.”


So what if we quote reasonable charges. Some folks may be suspicious why Dentist A charges less than Dentist B. So these folks ask even more questions in an attempt to determine how reliable a dentist is without even turning up for consultation. Some of these questions are irrelevant and some can be downright weird. The more they ask, the more uncertain they become. Someone ought to tell them that the real answers to their doubts don’t show up very well on email. So usually, it back to cost factors. Cheapest practice wins. Not to say that the cheap practices are no good, but what about this thing called trust?

C, a colleague of mine has just been diagnosed with diabetes. His doctor? None other than our schoolmate in JC. The doctor is not an endocrinologist. He is just a GP, but C and his family has been seeing him since he started his own practice more than a decade ago. C’s entire family has not been seeing any other doctor ever since. No matter where they go or how much they charge or what additional tests, medications and procedures they indicate, their pool of loyal patients who see them several times a year follow them. It’s all about trust.


If there’s such a thing as doctor-for-life, is there such a thing as dentist-for-life? I’m sure there are. Quite a few have followed me all the way from Hougang. How do you choose a dentist-for-life then? Simple. Try out a few dentists for simple, non-invasive treatment like scaling. Pick one you like, show up regularly for scaling and develop a close patient-dentist relationship with him/her. He knows you. He recognises the importance of the relationship and is far less likely to do anything “funny” than someone who is seeing you for the first time. So what if there’s no Medisave in his/her clinic? So what if the clinic would only allow a 70% claim of surgical fees? Do you have to look for a clinic that allows a 100% claim (like mine) and shoot 100 questions at me because you don’t trust me? Please go back to the dentist you trust. Entertaining all these doubts, mistrust and reluctance to pay consultation fees is a waste of time for me.

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