3 Things I Learned About Dentistry from Airlines

I’m a frequent flyer.  I have the good fortune to be able to fly around the world to lecture to dentists about dentistry.  Flying is such an amazing feat of science and technology that we all take for granted.  Just think about how cool it is to span great distances in fractions of the time it would take by car, train, etc.

We take flight for granted the way some patients take our dentistry for granted.  We heal damaged tissue and replace missing body parts.  Let me say that again in bold type face for emphasis: we replace missing body parts.  Why do our patients sometimes forget how awesome that is?

Dentistry is an amazing feat of science and technology, like human flight, that totally gets taken for granted.  I started to wonder if there were common reasons for this.  Do we treat our patients in a way that reminds them of dealing with an airline?  Here’s what I came up with:

(1) Fees

“Sir, do you plan on using the restroom during flight? There’s a $40 Pee-Pee Fee.”

Extra baggage fees. Overweight baggage fees.  Changing reservation fees.  Aaaaaaah!

In this tough economy, some businesses make up for lost revenue by sneaking in little fees for services that used to be free.  Airlines are notorious for this and it pisses us off.  Do we do this in dentistry?  I think a no-show fee or late cancellation fee is a different story; that can be very appropriate in certain situations.

Be on the lookout for certain discount dental plans that mislead their subscribers through tricky advertising.  You’ll present your correct fees for your services but the patient might think you’re adding additional services to inflate the bill.

(2) Bargain Shopping

I will often shop online for airline tickets to get the best price.  Expedia, Travelocity, and similar sites have revolutionized how we fly.  Can you imagine a site like that for dentistry?  Uh oh…

Thank goodness there isn’t one yet and I hope it never comes.  It would turn our services into commodities.  There are some dental offices that venture into this nasty territory with their advertisements, like this one here.  The result?  They may get more people in the door, but I have to wonder about the quality of those patients.  Bargain hunters do not make better patients.  We can’t let that bargain shopper mentality become contagious.  We see it with some patients who are on dental insurance plans, but overall the situation isn’t as bad as industries like airlines.

(3) The First Class Dilemma

Recently I was standing patiently in line for my boarding class to be called.  The ticketing agent announcement went something like this:

“We’d first like to invite our Priority Members and Priority Elite Members to board.  Now our Star Alliance passengers are invited to board.  Okay great, now it’s time for our First Class Cabin Select passengers and Superior Club Members to board.”

All that talk of super-duper class passengers made me feel like a loser.  And when you finally board, don’t you just love walking by all the luxurious first class seats before you get crammed into your shoe box seat?  I can’t help but think that us coach passengers take the magic of air travel for granted when we’re being continually reminded how third class we are.

Some patients have insurance plans.  Some patients demand high levels of esthetic care.  But regardless of a patient’s financial situation or their expectation for the quality of the care, we must always strive to do our best.  If a patient wants a denture, I do the best I can.  If a patient wants a full-mouth implant reconstruction, I do the best I can.  Offering lower levels of quality to a patient for some reason is not only a bad business practice, it might also go against our code of ethics.

One of the ways our profession maintains its professionalism is by maintaining high standards of care for all out patients.  If an office grants “elite” status to certain patients then our values are threatened.


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Please note that I can no longer answer questions from the public regarding their personal dental care. I am unable to properly diagnose or recommend treatment over the Internet. If you are looking for a dentist, please visit the "Find A Dentist" feature on healthysmiles.org