How to motivate your dentist

Sitting in the dentist’s chair yesterday, and knowing I will return tomorrow (don’t worry, it is only root canal work), I realized I had nothing to read.  So I started thinking about the immediate incentives of the dentist, or lack thereof.

I have a very good dentist, but surely there is variation in the willingness of a dentist, across patients, to try harder and do a better job. 

When there is no incentive at all, perhaps the dentist does not try hard enough to alleviate your pain.  Yes there is long-run reputation, but Daniel Kahneman and others find that the duration of a pain has little bearing on your memory of that pain.  So patient reports, as they are filtered into the marketplace, are an imperfect signal.  Furthermore for any given average reputation your dentist seeks, you still want to receive relatively favorable treatment within the distribution of patients.

You might pay a bonus at the end of the visit, if you thought the performance of the dentist was especially good.  But then the dentist might put you though too little pain.  "Fragmented tooth?  Don’t worry, you can ignore it."

Last year I stopped going to a dentist who put me through too much unnecessary pain while cleaning my teeth.

Perhaps you should pretend you are a dentist yourself?  (Toward that end, here is a dental dictionary.)  Or a lawyer?  Should you talk about the breadth of your social circle?

With my new dentist, I pretend to have no fear.  And at the end of the visit I said what a great job she did.  I expect better performance by supporting her self-image as a good dentist and I find high-powered incentives difficult to apply.

But might I improve on this approach?  Comments are open…


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