This comment, or something like it, is something that every dentist has heard once they leave dental school.  Wouldn’t it be nice if money was taken out of the equation and we really could focus on what we were taught to do, what most of us love to do: help patients achieve a good level of health, function and cosmetics?

dental patients cant pay for treatment

Many of us get to treat friends and family. After all, doesn’t everyone need a dentist? Aren’t we all the same?  Why not go to someone I already know, that I like and have a relationship with? 

So was the thought of one of my neighbors, Jack. One summer day, Jack walked across the street to visit and we started chatting. He told me his dental story of things breaking and how every time he visits his dentist, something else is needed to be done. He believes it is money-motivated. Jack asks for advice.

I tried to appease Jack’s anger, but ultimately suggested he come to the office and allow us to do a complete examination. I suggested that the best way to give him the answers he desired was to be thorough, share our findings and allow him to decide what is best.

Jack was hesitant to travel the 20 miles into the city to my office, but did so. We reviewed his concerns and medical and dental history. All the data needed was gathered and we set a time to review it all. I suggested we do it at home, as all the information was on a computer.

So Jack and I were sitting at my kitchen table with my laptop computer and cups of coffee. We were chatting about the Phillies and life in general. Finally Jack asked me, “What did you find?” 

Those were the last words out of Jack for the next 15 minutes, though he had many opportunities to respond to my pauses in the tour of his mouth and rhetoric questions I asked. He had chances to add any comments of his own.  I could see him becoming withdrawn as the color of his skin turned pale.

Near the end of sharing the photographs, Jack interrupted me and spoke. “I don’t believe I can afford to go to you as my dentist.” The next breath from Jack was, “I don’t believe I can afford not to go to you as my dentist”.

It was at that moment that he understood the value of comprehensive care and not tooth dentistry. 

Yes, costs were a concern, but a plan was developed to address all the dental issues in a phased sequence.

Jack was equilibrated to where he had a mutually protected occlusion. Jack commented, “I can feel all of my teeth touching. Is that what my bite should feel like?”

This allowed him to understand why things were breaking, but more importantly, to feel a difference. We started with the end in sight.

Some fires needed to be put out quickly with provisional restorations. Periodontal health was established with an appropriate maintenance schedule. Restorative dentistry was done sequentially within the budget that allowed him to be comfortable.

Now, our conversations still go to the Phillies, but neither of us can change the outcome there.

We have the ability to change lives. Give patients an opportunity to say yes to your best work.

Good luck on your journey,

Carl Steinberg, DDS, MAGD, LLSR



Commenter's Profile Image Glenn M.
May 7th, 2018
Great info as usual Carl. One thing that opened my eyes was when I had a complete exam with photos and when I had veneers done . We need to walk the talk. I often ask Dentists when was the last time you were a patient? Glenn
Commenter's Profile Image Carl S.
May 8th, 2018
Hi Glenn Thanks for the kind words. I agree 100%. I also ask, "Do you recommend the same care for yourself and your family as you recommend to your patients?" Too often the answer is no. Carl
Commenter's Profile Image Polina V.
May 10th, 2018
I love the "I cannot afford to NOT go to you" perspective. It still surprises me how people don't always see the value in early diagnosis, being proactive and planning ahead.