📚 2019 Dental Patient Preferences Study

We completed a survey of dental patients across the continental United States, ages 18 to 65+, to learn about their dental care behaviors and feedback on in-house membership plans.

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Jeff Cole
Chief Executive Officer
8 min read
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The Pearly Practice Growth Academy recently completed a survey of Americans across the continental United States, ages 18 to 65+ with average household income ranging from $25,000 pear year to $200,000+ per year.

Our mission was to gain insight into dental care behavior and feedback on in-house dental membership plans.

The following is a brief summary of our findings:

  • Uninsured patients are 35.5% less likely to have visited their dentist in the past year.

  • Adults will pay an average of $25.19/mo for an in-house dental membership plan.

  • The majority of insured patients are willing to cancel their insurance for an in-house membership plan.

This white paper outlines additional findings on the behaviors of insured versus uninsured dental patients as well as actionable tactics for your dental practice to increase revenue based on our findings.

To provide additional information on our panel, the following is the regional breakdown of where our respondents are located in the United States. While no survey is ever perfect, we feel that this represents a fairly even distribution.

In addition, our proportion of ages represented is decently balanced, with Millennials (23 to 38 years old as of 2019) and Baby Boomers (55 to 75 years old as of 2019) featured prominently. For our analysis of these two groups, we cut the survey data based on the specific age of the respondent as of October 2019 for proper segmentation.

Please continue reading for our high-level findings and takeaways:


Patients with Dental Insurance

How often do insured patients visit the dentist?

We first asked people with dental insurance when the last time they visited the dentist was. Interestingly, 52% have in fact visited their dentist in the past 6 months. This mirrors the ADA Health Policy Institute Report from 2014 that stated 52.3% of adults reported visiting the dentist every six months during the last few years.

Below is a summary of the response breakdown from insured respondents:

As you’ll see below, the frequency of visits for insured patients is significantly higher than the uninsured population.


76.7% of people with dental insurance have visited the dentist in the past year.


Why do insured patients not visit their dentist?

While the vast majority of insured dental patients visit the dentist at least once per year, we attempted to better understand what prevents insured patients from visiting their dentist more often.

We asked people to note all of the factors that apply including: 1) Costs too much; 2) Takes too much time; 3) I’m too busy; 4) Dentist is too painful; and 5) No dental benefits.

Interestingly, only 40.7% of insured patients stated cost as a factor preventing them from visiting the dentist more often. The ADA Health Policy Institute Report cites that 59% of adults forgo dental care due to cost. Given that our 40.7% statistic comes only from insured patients, this fits as 66.7% of our uninsured patients polled stated cost as a blocker (more details below).

See below for a summary of the results. Note that we asked respondents to check all that apply, which is why the percentages exceed 100%.

Based on our findings, there are several key takeaways for dental practices when serving insured patients:


1) Be Transparent About Price: most patients expect dental procedures to cost more than they actual do.

2) Show Low Wait Times: Given that 1 in 3 stay away from the dentist because they believe it takes too much time, you need to be straightforward about your average wait and appointment duration.

3) Make it Easy to Book Appointments: People being “too busy” is an all too familiar phrase in today’s world so your practice needs to do everything possible to overcome this objection from online booking to evening and weekend hours.


What do insured patients think about in-house dental membership plans?

Our hypothesis was that insured patients would not be inclined to ditch their dental insurance to enroll in an in-house membership plan. This was based on the assumption that people receive subsidized dental benefits from their employer and/or are used to their insurance coverage.

We were wrong.


56.8% of patients stated that they would be willing to cancel their dental insurance for an in-house membership plan.


That’s right, the majority of your insured patients are interested in dental membership plans directly from your practice. Assuming cost is relatively similar, patients are frustrated with their complex coverage and terms.

While in-house membership plans are a no-brainer for your uninsured patient base, this insight related to your insured patients represents a substantial opportunity. By converting your insured patients to your in-office membership plan, you’ll increase your FFS base and generate recurring revenue.

Now let’s dig into dental patients without benefits.


Patients without Dental Insurance

How often do uninsured patients visit the dentist?

As your practice knows, uninsured patients behave differently compared to insured patients. They are less likely to come in and accept treatment. Our survey data supports this notion:

Only 44% of uninsured patients have visited the dentist in the past six months compared to 52% of insured patients. When you expand the window to one year, the results diverge further.


Uninsured patients are 35.5% less likely to have visited their dentist in the past year versus insured patients.


This gap is significant and something that your practice feels every day. Uninsured patients do not visit the dentist nearly as often as insured patients and accept less treatment. Offering an in-house membership plan to your uninsured patient base can close this gap.

Why do uninsured patients not visit their dentist?

We know that uninsured patients visit their dentist less often than insured patients, but why? The uninsured respondents were asked the same question: What prevents you from going to the dentist more (check all that apply)?

As you can see, cost and a lack of dental benefits are the prime culprits.


66.7% of uninsured patients don’t visit the dentist due to perceived cost.


This is a significant jump, a 63.9% increase, versus insured patients with 40.7% citing cost as a blocker for visiting their dentist. Every time an uninsured patient comes in for an appointment, they know they are going to get charged. Even if it’s just for a professional cleaning, they know they are pulling out their wallet. Insured patients, on the other hand, typically understand that their standard preventive care is covered.

Offering an in-house membership plan reduces the cost barrier. Most membership plans include preventive care, as well as discounts on other procedures, for a straightforward monthly or annual membership fee, paid directly to your practice.

Membership plans also solve the other leading obstacle – not having dental benefits. With 61.1% of people without dental insurance reporting “no dental benefits” as a factor preventing them from visiting the dentist, your practice can immediately eliminate this concern with a membership program.

Interestingly, “I’m too busy” and “ it takes too much time” are much less frequent objections for uninsured patients compared to insured patients.


Uninsured patients want dental care, but don’t visit due to cost and lack of benefits.


What do uninsured patients think about in-house dental membership plans?

People are not sure if their dentist offers a membership plan.

We asked uninsured patients: “does your dentist offer an in-house membership plan?” We even provided a description with other phrasing to clarify our definition.

The response was surprising:


2 out of 3 uninsured patients are not sure if their dentist offers an in-house membership plan.


For us here at Pearly, working hard to power the membership movement, this breaks our heart. In-house membership plans are great for patients, providing simple, comprehensive, and affordable dental coverage, and for practices, delivering recurring revenue and increased patient loyalty.

The good news is that this is a huge opportunity for your practice.

We asked uninsured patients what they would be willing to pay for membership plan that includes 2 professional cleanings per year, regular exams, and a 20% discount off other procedures.


Uninsured adults will pay an average of $25.19/month or $302.28/year for a dental membership plan.


This validated our stance on membership plan value, as we see the average price for a standard adult membership plan ranging from $20-$29 per month. Of course, the price your uninsured patients are willing to pay will vary based on your patient base demographics and what you ultimately decide to include in your membership plan.

If your practice is not offering in-house dental membership plans, think about the opportunity to have, for example, 300 active members paying an average for $300 per year. In addition to increased treatment acceptance and higher net revenue per patient, your practice would generate $90,000 per year in recurring subscription revenue.

To dig in further, we segmented the "willingness to pay" metric by age group to see if there is a difference between Millennials and Baby Boomers. These large and growing groups are prime candidates for in-house membership plans, as retiring boomers are losing employer-sponsored dental insurance and a growing number of Millennials work in the “gig economy.”

We found that Millennials are willing to pay an average of $26/mo ($312/year) and Baby Boomers are willing to pay $25/mo ($300/year). Overall, 83% of uninsured patients surveyed are interested in purchasing a membership plan directly from their dental practice.


The benefits of in-house membership plans resonate across generations.


Bottom Line

Our survey findings confirm that your patients want to enroll in membership plans. Insured and uninsured patients behave differently and have different blockers that prevent them from visiting your office more often.

By launching a dental membership program using turn-key software and successfully promoting the plan to new and existing patients, your practice can and will grow.

To learn more about how your dental practice can convert patients into profitable members and provide better access to care, please click here to request a demo.

Ready to learn more?

Schedule a demo with a Membership Consultant who will show you how Pearly can grow your practice.

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