We often categorize our purchases into two categories – needs and wants.
When you ask a child why he bought this toy with his allowance, he replies “because I wanted it”; when you ask an adult why he bought this car, he replies “because I needed it”.
When you ask dentists why people spend money to fill a cavity or place a crown or have a root canal, we say “because they need it”; likewise, when our patients refuse treatment they need, we say, “they didn’t want it”.
Dentists need to change the way we think about how people buy and why people buy.
People don’t buy things that they need or want; people buy things because they believe that whatever they are buying is worth more than it costs.
This means, if a patient accepts your treatment plan, she believes that maintaining, restoring, or replacing her dentition is worth more than the estimate you are proposing. She may not believe she needs it, and she may not want it, but she knows that there is value in having teeth and that value is worth more than the cost of treatment.
Why does this matter? When it comes to the cost of dental care, we need to understand what money is, how money is perceived, and how our patients establish value.
What is money?
There are two types of money, commodity money and representative money.
Commodity money’s value comes from the material of which it is made and sometimes its use. Gold, silver, and other metals are obvious commodity moneys. Less obvious commodity moneys are hammers, swords, alcohol, and clothes.
Representative money can be used as a claim on a commodity. Gold certificates and silver certificates are representative moneys because the material of which the certificate is made holds little value, but the commodity the certificate makes claim to does.
We are all familiar with trading representative money, but it’s doubtful that we have spent much time analyzing what our money represents. Prior to 1971, the US dollar was convertible to gold (a commodity). However, in today’s economy, the US dollar is unbacked by any commodity, and instead, is backed by the government’s “legal tender” and the ability of the people to convert dollars into goods via payment. In other words, money is not real, and the value of a dollar is tied more directly to the story we tell ourselves about the money (how we earned it and what we can buy with it) than how much gold we can claim with it.
Chance Bodini is a general dentist practicing in San Diego, California. He is the founder of Embrasure Space (an online network for dentists) and Proximal Contact, LLC where he designs websites for dentists. OneLooseTooth.com is his blog.