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Neuroscience: 3 Dental Office Hacks to Increase Treatment Acceptance

Neuroscience: 3 Dental Office Hacks to Increase Treatment Acceptance
Bob Bowers

According to neuroscience experts, 95 to 99.99 percent of thoughts, emotions, and learning occurs without our conscious awareness. Yet dental professionals spend all of their time appealing to the .01 to 5 percent of the cognitive, rational areas of the brain. When that doesn’t work, consultants and productivity experts talk about “creating value” for patients, when in reality, creating value is a myth.


Here are 3 simple dental office “hacks” based on neuroscience to improve patient’s perception of you, your practice, dentistry, and increase the likelihood of treatment acceptance.


Eliminate Price Anchors

If you are working with a marketing agency encouraging you to offer that mailer or put up that billboard for a $69 new patient cleaning, x-ray, and exam, I might be so bold as to recommend you tell them to go back to business school. While it might seem like a great idea to discount to bring in new patients, you aren’t running a supermarket. In reality, you may be dropping an “anchor” right on your own foot if treatment acceptance is important for the health of the practice.

When a patient views an offer, a key element on whether to accept or decline the offer is whether it appears to be a “fair deal” or not. But what defines a “fair deal”? The answer is Anchoring. That $69 fee immediately becomes the anchor by which a patient views their visit as being a fair deal or not. When they find out they need $3,500 in dental restorative work, the anchor kicks in and they immediately, consciously and/or subconsciously, feel like the interaction is no longer fair. While this may not seem rational, it is true.

Be careful with new patient discounts and how they may “anchor” your patient’s budget expectations. Or they may hate you more than they hate the “QuickeeLube” sales guy that brings them in with the $19.95 oil change coupon and then drops the $179.95 Radiator Flush, $259.95 Transmission Flush, and $25.95 PCV Valve Replacement on them while their hood is up.


Dump the Dollar Sign

The concept of priming can be somewhat disconcerting when you begin to understand how influential small priming messages can be. When it comes to money, money-related images can be one of the most potent forms of priming. In the case of dentistry, money priming will result in negative results.

Psychologist Kathleen Vohs has studied priming extensively and the research shows that even subtle money cues can drastically change people’s frame of mind. It causes them to become less social, more skeptical, and have a strong preference not to depend on or trust other people.

As a dental provider, you don’t want that. When it comes time to talk money. Format your treatment plans to be free of money symbols and use simple numbering.

For example,

Poor Priming   Good Priming
Cleaning, x-ray, and exam $229.20  229
Crown $947.50   948
Total $1176.70  1177


Neuroscience research has shown that simple numerical pricing, free of money symbols or decimals, caused consumers to spend significantly more on the exact same products and services than any other form of written pricing.


Bundle Whenever Possible

You know what is really painful? Seeing lots of little charges on a bill or statement of service that just keeps adding up. According to FMRI imaging, each time a consumer sees a price they have to pay they experience pain in the same brain area associated with physical pain. When the consumer sees the price increase with every small bit of consumption, it causes more pain, than getting the same exact product or service for one bundled price.

Consumers strongly prefer offers with a single price as it actually eliminates pain from the purchasing experience and in many cases will pay more for the same service when the amount is bundled than when it is not.

So, if you want to hear yes more often, give these simple hacks a try: eliminate price anchors, dump the dollar sign and bundle whenever you can. The great thing about science is that it is reproducible, so anyone can see success by implementing these simple strategies.




Gerald Zaltman, How Customers Think (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2003)

A.K. Pradeep, The Buying Brain: Secrets for selling to the subconscious Mind (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons , 2010), 4.

Brian Knutson et al., “Neural Predictors of Purchases,” Neuron 53, No.1 January 2007

Richard Thaler, “Transaction Utility Theory,” Advances in Consumer Reserch 10 (1983): 229-232

Lisa Scherzer, “Professor: Pain, Not Logic, Dictates Spending,” Smartmoney, March 22 2007

Sybil S. Yang, Sheryl E. Kimes, and Mauro M. Sessarego, “$ or Dollars: Effects of Menu-price Formats on Restaurant Checks,” Cornell Hospitality Reports 9, no. 8, The Center for Hospitality Reserch, Cornell University School of Hotel Administration

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