Have a sore tooth and some Bitcoin currency in your virtual wallet? Dr. Ben Donn, owner of Word of Mouth Family Dentistry, 202 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., accepts Bitcoin in exchange for fillings and crowns.
Bitcoin, a digital currency based on valuable computer codes, is exchanged for goods and services. Like gold, Bitcoin is a precious, limited resource. There are only 21 million Bitcoins in existence. A year ago, at its peak, a single Bitcoin was worth almost $20,000.
That value has steadily declined, plunging below $3,500 earlier this month. Watching the rise and fall of this nascent currency is similar to following the fluctuations of a stock investment. Donn said the volatility of the Bitcoin market means he can only accept so many Bitcoin payments. He currently has 10 patients who pay him with digital currencies like Bitcoin.
One of his patients, who made millions investing in digital currencies, introduced Donn to Bitcoin more than a year ago. Donn said he wants his office to keep pace with technology by giving his patients a range of payment options that include Bitcoin.
Bitcoin is exchanged across a vast computer network. Unlike other currencies, Bitcoin has no central bank and is exchanged directly from one person to the next without government regulation. Exchanging Bitcoin currency comes with low transfer fees, allowing Donn to pass the savings to his patients.
“The more Bitcoin becomes common practice, the more people will want to dabble in it,” he said. “People like new … Our addiction to technology is not going away. People will want to spend in digital currency.”
Proponents of digital currencies say the database used to exchange Bitcoin is much more secure than banks when it comes to protecting user information. As startling as it is to find an $800 charge to your credit card for clothing you never bought, fraudulent purchases have become the norm.
Before he became a dentist, Donn worked for a database company where he provided technical support to customers. Because Bitcoin transactions are verified across a vast computer database, Donn said hacking the Bitcoin network would be extremely difficult. While Donn is still cautious and said anything can be hacked sooner or later, he said cutting out the bank as the middleman makes Bitcoin transactions safer.
“Nothing’s secure,” he said. “If you think something’s secure, you’re living in another world. But Bitcoin is a more secure and cheaper form of payment for the patients because it’s happening between that patient and me instead of going through a bank … there are less hands in the pot.”
Using extremely powerful computers to solve complex mathematical puzzles, people actually mine for Bitcoin. By solving these puzzles, the miners are verifying Bitcoin transactions and making the Bitcoin database more secure against cyber attacks and fraud. The miners earn a certain amount of Bitcoin for every puzzle they solve.
Every new technology, from email to GPS, poses a challenge to people who don’t understand how it works, he said. But people don’t need to know the intricate details of how something works to know how to use it.
“We want something so easy to use that we don’t have to think how it works. We just know that it works,” he said. “I don’t know how email works. I don’t know the data that occurs. I don’t know how a credit card really works. I know that I put it in a machine and it sends the information somehow. I don’t even know how my car works. I jump in my car every day.”
Donn sees a future for digital currencies like Bitcoin. In light of recent turbulence in the market, he’s using Bitcoin less than he normally would. But he predicts that Bitcoin’s market value will stabilize as people become more comfortable using it.