Let’s be honest, we are all guilty of being a ‘cheapoholic’ not just once but many times in our life. We go wild whenever there is a sale, and we start searching for the best price for a certain prized item, be it items of clothing, bag or shoes in question. Well, who can blame one for such a trait with the glaring disparity between cost of living and earning power. True enough, anything that can boost savings is the way to go but that begs the question – how far would you extend the trait of ‘cheapoholic’ especially when it involves your dental care? With the boom of aligners in the market, the conundrum of quality care versus affordability is now more relevant.
Behind The Scenes…
Say, you come across an intended product on the internet with a price to die for. Being a cheapoholic, everything seems hunky-dory from its description right down to the services offered. A true bargain isn’t it? How lucky we feel to have chanced upon such an offer but herein lies the problem. While the initial dangle of the low price is enough to lure any consumer to its doorstep, the truth is many of us are pretty clueless at what actually goes on behind the scenes.
We can all relate to it; the temptation of signing on or buying something that we think is a good bargain without actually doing the research and reading the fine print. Now, imagine it pertains to something so pertinent such as your dental care. While the concept of Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) is made popular in the USA, Europe and Australia, it remains ambiguous in Malaysia. So how does this impact the dental aligners industry and what does it mean to us, consumers?
The Lure Of Direct-To-Consumer
From a financial stance, DTC is obviously more cost effective because it targets the consumers directly, bypassing the dentists as the intermediary. Of course, the idea of not paying a hefty dentist fee is a pull-factor but it then poses the question; are we ready for treatment with minimal dentist involvement? By now we are familiar with the modus operandi of online marketing to gain customers before directing them to either a virtual or a one-off consultation with a dentist. The impressions are done with the approval of dentists or ‘specialists’ and patients have nearly zero visits to the dentists. Sounds like a dream isn’t it? But what are we actually missing out and are we truly aware of its consequences?
The Cheapoholic Predicament
It was a paradoxical statement on an aligner website; 24/7 treatment monitoring with 0 clinic visits. The truth is consumers are nowhere near knowledgeable to monitor their own progress without a tangible dental consultation. If monitoring only consists of consumers taking photos of varying angles of their teeth and uploading it on the website for ‘assessment’ by specialists, it already raises a red flag. On the flip side, some may argue that it is similar to Telehealth (telecommunication to support clinical health care) and which has proven to be beneficial. True enough, it has in some scenarios but would you be comfortable with consultations and assessments without knowing who these ‘specialists’ are in the first place. The reason why Telehealth is even sustainable is due to patient-doctor interaction via telecommunication technology and not the lack thereof.
While certain chronic illnesses can be monitored via Telehealth, it is not always the case for all dental care. Although photos can provide an estimation of a patient’s dental conundrum, it is NOT a substitute for proper clinic visits. Moreover, how sure are we that the photos taken are sufficient for monitoring? In reality the purpose for clinic visits is to instil compliance as well as dental care education amongst patients. Without proper consultation, compliance is a mere figment of imagination with a dire outcome.
Why do we even need proper consultation for something as simple as aligners? While the usage of aligners is convenient and easy, complications can arise from unsupervised usage. Not only will you be introducing new damage to your teeth, you risk damaging your roots and gums. The end result usually finds the customer is forced to spend another sum of money for remedial dentures and gum grafts.
A Firm Warning
“It is of utmost importance that Dental Practitioners to be aware that they are fully responsible for the patient even when they merely act as “technicians” or “impression takers” for the companies.”MALAYSIAN DENTAL ASSOCIATION (MDA)
This is the unsettling truth; aligners companies using dentists for impression scanning and one-time fitting without further involvement. The aligners are then shipped directly to the patient’s doorsteps and a ‘virtual monitoring’ takes place. Recently, the MDA released a cautionary advice to dental practitioners with emphasis on the medico-legal implications. While the DTC modality is convenient, consumers must be aware of its repercussions. Bear in mind, it is the responsibility of the dentist and NOT the aligners company to discharge the right duty of care within the confines of the code of professional conduct!
The Price Of Being A Cheapoholic
While it is understandable why many take up the cheapoholic trait, when it comes to our health and well-being, we must tread cautiously. Aligners may seem like a simple treatment but it IS a treatment nonetheless, and it deserves the same standard of care as any other medical treatment. As a consumer, it is also our responsibility to compare and research a product before signing on the dotted line. At the end of the day, bearing the risks of irresponsible parties is too big of a price to pay. Wouldn’t you agree?
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