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Satisficing in Dentistry. Who decides? Who benefits? Part 3

From Volume 51, Issue 4, April 2024 | Pages 232-241


Martin Kelleher


Specialist in Restorative Dentistry and Prosthodontics, Consultant in Restorative Dentistry, King's College Dental Hospital

Articles by Martin Kelleher

Email Martin Kelleher

Kevin Lewis


Special Consultant, BDA Indemnity; Founder and Former Trustee, College of General Dentistry

Articles by Kevin Lewis

Email Kevin Lewis


This series of articles challenges some popular myths about supposedly ‘ideal’ treatment plans and is designed to provoke reflection and stimulate debate. It explains the concept of ‘satisficing’ (as opposed to ‘maximizing’) in dentistry, and illustrates how subconscious bias and self-interests might lead supposed experts to promote arbitrary aspirational standards and confuse them with what the law expects (the Bolam Test standard) and what is genuinely in the best interests of an individual patient. It is argued that sound, patient-centred, pragmatic planning and treatment is equally valid, with wider applicability, than routinely defaulting to a self-serving ‘maximalist’ approach.

CPD/Clinical Relevance: The ‘satisficing ‘concept has wide and profound application across many fields of clinical (and non-clinical) dentistry.


‘Satisficing’ is a word created by combining ‘satisfy’ and ‘suffice’. It may be unfamiliar to some readers but is not new, having been first described in 1956 by the US psychologist and economist Herbert Simon, who later won a Nobel Prize. It means approaching something in a way that is sufficient for it to be a satisfactory solution for the required purpose at the time in question. ‘Satisficing’ can be viewed as the polar opposite of ‘maximizing’ which involves seeking the single, supposedly ‘ideal’, outcome or solution to a problem. Maximizing tends to be a culture of idealism and excess, seeking out the most extreme, extensive, intricate or complicated approach - while satisficing aims to do what is necessary and achieve a perfectly reasonable, adequate outcome without the downside risks of that additional complexity and perhaps cost that maximizing tends to involve. Advocates of maximizing often claim that they are pursuing perfection, excellence or the ‘best’ solution, while satisficers may question the basis for, or the validity of, such claims.

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