Is Dentistry Like Coca-Cola?


Imagine going into a convenience store, buying a Coke and being charged $5 for the single bottle. The next week, you buy a Coke at a store across the street from the convenience store and it only cost you $2. Why would you ever go back to the first store to buy a Coke? You wouldn’t, unless you like wasting money. The bottle of Coke is a “commodity”; it’s identical no matter where you buy it. Whether you buy it in Manhattan or Peoria, it’s the exact same product and buying it in one place over the other offers no advantage in the product itself.

It is truly disheartening to see that today’s consumers treat dental and orthodontic care like a commodity. The assumption is that braces and dentistry in every office are the same, and  the outcome will be the same regardless of where one goes. That simply isn’t true because dentistry is not a commodity. Where you get your work done DOES matter and the quality isn’t the same everywhere.

Things like doctor training, staff continuing education, quality materials & well trained laboratory technicians are all important criteria to consider when choosing an orthodontist and every one of them costs money. Sure, many orthodontists in a community may be similarly priced, within a couple of hundred dollars of one another, but what about the office that’s 20-25% less expensive than everyone else?

There was a famous study performed by Eastman Kodak that evaluated the effect of lower fees on profitability. If one operates at a 75% overhead (high for most orthodontists but in line for most non-specialist dentists) and lowers their fees by just 10%, they will need to perform 67% more dentistry  to make the same profit as before. A 20% discount in fees requires- get ready for this- 400% more dentistry to make the same profit as before!!!

If you take your child to a dentist who charges $5000 for braces and another office that charges $4000 for what they refer to as an “identical” treatment plan, consider that to make the same profit, they are going have to see roughly 4 times the number of patients that the first office. Maybe the second office is simply content with making less money or is thrilled to see 4 times the number of patients, but I am yet to come across that type of office in private practice.

It’s fair to say that just because someone charges more doesn’t mean that they’re going to necessarily give you a better outcome. That’s where you need to ask them to show you outcomes that they’ve provided to others with similar problems. Does the doctor make you feel like you’re getting the personal attention you deserve? Is their dental team changing all the time? Great offices generally show stability in their team over time.

“The more expensive offices are not necessarily the best, but the best offices are often more expensive.”

In a quarter century in the dental field I can tell you emphatically that the least expensive providers in an area are generally not the ones I would go to. Their labs tend to be cheaper, their team members are generally paid less, their equipment does not generally include the newest technology and their level of continuing education is generally not exemplary. Again, if they aren’t cutting costs on all of these items and are charging way less than everyone else, either they are content making very little or they have to increase volume, something that is very hard to do AND maintain exceptional outcomes.

Just remember that when it comes to choosing a provider, give some thought to the math. I understand that finances do play a role, but keep in mind that this is healthcare we’re talking about and not a commodity. You will see different outcomes and levels of attention depending on where you go, and cheaper is by no means the primary factor that should decide where you or your child get a beautiful and healthy smile for a lifetime.

All the best,


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