“How Much will That Cost?

Dr. Greg Grillo
Dentist and Contributing Author

Every time you sit across from a patient and discuss the care they need, you initiate a battle. As a conscientious healthcare provider, you’re not trying to spark conflict. It just happens. But don’t take it personally: This internal struggle takes place whenever people choose how to spend their money. The tug-o-war for a limited number of dollars involves complex influences, and you’re just one of them.

In the bluntest terms, every marketing campaign tries to separate consumers from their money.  We’re constantly bombarded with advertising that asks us to trade dollars for a product or service. When a patient sits in your chair, you’re asking them to choose dental care over a thousand other options. A weekend escape, a new smartphone, or new tires for the car could be on a patient’s mind as they consider fixing a cavity they can’t feel. But you have something most marketers crave: Their attention.

There are entire courses on helping you direct patients to say “Yes” to treatment, overcoming objections, and selling dentistry. While you may develop skills by investing in this type of training, merely keeping a patient-centered focus may prove just as valuable. In your mind, switch places with the person sitting across from you.  If every effort your practice makes delivers an exceptional experience that values the individual, patients make decisions under the influence of trust. And no training or script can equal that.

Assuming you’ve built a high-trust environment, keep these three fundamental truths in mind as you discuss treatment and costs with your patients. Ultimately, this 3-legged stool forms the foundation on which most of their buying decisions rest.

1 – Consumers buy what they value


Don’t forget this overlooked axiom:  Price and value aren’t the same. If you discuss price before establishing value, you start behind the 8 ball. Build value by focusing on benefits from the patient’s perspective. Does a patient want a root canal, or do they want to eliminate infection from the body and keep their natural tooth right where it sits? Has the patient considered the 24/7 benefit of a molar they use to enjoy their favourite food, or do they just see today’s one-time cost?

Consumers buy:


• What they value

• To meet a perceived need

• To create a preferred future

“If every effort your practice makes delivers an exceptional experience that values the individual, patients make decisions under the influence of trust. And no training or script can equal that.”

2 – Consumers buy to meet a perceived need


Pain motivates. If a tooth hurts, everything else takes a back burner until the pain disappears. In this situation, the patient is fully aware of their need and often places a high value on a solution. A lot of the dentistry we provide doesn’t involve eliminating physical pain. But consider the mental or emotional “pain” that you can help sooth with quality dentistry.

For example, research shows a clear link between an attractive smile and self-esteem, sex appeal, and even career success. Help your patients connect with the internal need to feel better inside and out, and your case acceptance jumps.

3 – Consumers buy to create a preferred future


Most people want to be pain-free and confident in their appearance. But you can help your patients look further and consider the various benefits of a healthy mouth. Mentioning the link between oral health and heart disease is one way of moving a patient’s mindset to a higher plane. Or nudging a patient to draw on memories of a special meal with friends will link their current need to similar experiences in the future. 

Putting it Together


Intra-oral cameras and other forms of dental photography play an influential role in pulling these psychological factors together. As an example, consider a patient sitting in your chair with a broken molar that doesn’t hurt. You’ll make your efforts come to life if you take a close-up photo of it, sit the patient up, and paint a picture instead of describing a technical treatment. If you can’t use photography, grab a model, a print photo, or a computer graphic that aids your dialogue.


“John, your lower right molar has an old metal filling that’s left a few cracks, and that’s why that large piece broke away. Fortunately, you’re not having any pain at this point, but the broken area has opened the inside of the tooth to possible decay and infection. A toothache on vacation isn’t what you need, right? That tooth sits right in the middle of your chewing, so when you’re enjoying a nice piece of steak at your favorite restaurant, it’s a big part of making that happen. Despite the way it looks, the tooth has a solid foundation and can still allow you to enjoy thousands of meals in the future. The best way to make sure that happens and help you stay out of trouble is to rebuild the top of it with natural smooth porcelain. You’ll enjoy years of comfortable eating with something that feels similar to the original enamel.”


As a dentist, your focus should be on presenting the best options to your patients for their wellness. If you find ways to build value, price will be less of an obstacle than if you tell someone they need a crown. Train your team to reinforce the importance of the clinical care you recommend while shifting to a discussion about cost. Arm them with a series of options for patients to work through that answers the question, “Can I afford this?” A strategy for this critical step covers another topic for another day, but your team can help patients discover wellness through optimal dentistry.

Remember, patients don’t want treatment: They want to smile, chew, and feel confident and healthy. Help patients see that goal, and your case acceptance will leap ahead!


Dr. Greg Grillo is a 1995 University of Washington School of Dentistry graduate practicing in North Central Washington.

He balances clinical practice with a role as the Content Director for Legwork, a rapidly growing dental software company.

Dr. Grillo purchased his current practice in 2001 after four years as a U.S. Navy Dental Officer and proceeded to quadruple the practice by every productive measure. He’s now the senior partner of Grillo Robeck Dental, an innovative practice blending technology with exceptional staffing to provide relationship-based healthcare.


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