Get Off the Dental Treadmill for Ultimate Success

Colin Receveur


The recent market correction notwithstanding, the United States is currently experiencing one of the longest periods of economic growth in its history. Savvy dentists will take advantage of this trend to position their practices for maximum profitability. There are a number of ways you can accomplish that. The only question is how hard and how long you want to work.

The Dental Treadmill

Many dentists face a disheartening scenario—day after day of performing routine, low-value exams, drill-and-fills, and one-and-dones. That’s the dental treadmill. You keep trudging along, but you’re not really getting anywhere. It’s certainly possible to have a viable practice with this scenario, but it’s hard on your back and your neck. And your spirit. 

This is almost certainly not what you hoped for when you graduated from dental school. Dentistry was recently ranked as the top profession in the United States. But dentistry on the treadmill is anything but a top profession. It’s a trap.

Dentists get on the treadmill because they’ve swallowed a lie about dental patients, that all prospects care about is low price and insurance acceptance. That’s certainly true of some, or maybe even most, of the prospects in a given market. But it’s certainly not true of all of them. Dentists who advertise low price, insurance acceptance, and payment plans get what they market for—low-value patients with no loyalty to the practice.

To be fair, almost every dental practice has a certain number of lesser-value patients. It’s when the majority or even the vast majority of a patient base consists of one-and-dones that the treadmill kicks into high gear.

With multiple practices in a market advertising low price, margins are shaved and collections stay artificially low. The only way to make a treadmill practice more profitable is to work longer hours to see more patients. That’s a pain, literally and figuratively, and it’s not the best way to position your practice for success.

Take the High Ground in Your Market 

There are people in your market with the ability and willingness to pay more for the right dentist. In fact, 20% to 30% percent of prospects aren’t motivated by low price, specials, or insurance acceptance. Those “better” patients constitute the high ground in your market, not the low ground on which you and your competitors have been battling.

These patients tend to be fiercely loyal to the dentist they choose, and their lifetime value to your practice is many, many times that of a one-and-done. And since it costs roughly seven times as much to attract a new patient as it does to retain a current patient, you’re likely to save quite a bit on your practice marketing.

Your advertising is largely wasted on those better patients. They’re looking for something different in a dentist. They’re looking for the person they regard as the trustworthy, relatable dental expert. Convincing prospects that you’re the right dentist for them isn’t a sound-bite proposition. Postcards, print ads, radio spots, and taglines such as “The Dentist You Can Trust!” do a poor job of conveying subtleties and offer little proof.

Get Systematic

Reaching and convincing those prospects requires an integrated, broad-based approach. Since more than 90% of people begin their search for a dentist online, your website, your blog, and your practice’s social media have to consistently convey to your prospects that you are the right dentist for them.

Other aspects of online marketing such as pay-per-click ads, reviews, press releases, and testimonial videos also have to work together to convince the prospects you want to choose you to solve their dental problems.

One of the advantages of a systematic approach to marketing your practice is that you can pursue multiple types of high-value cases. Depending on your areas of interest and practice, you can attract more implant cases, cosmetic dentistry cases, clear aligner cases, or full-mouth reconstructions. Those types of cases are both more enjoyable and much more profitable for the practice. 

Creating and maintaining an integrated system to attract better patients is a time- and labor-intensive proposition. Few dental practices have the specialized skills and the bandwidth to create such a system, which consists of dozens of pieces and parts. Those practices would be the rare exception. 

There’s another reason dental practices shouldn’t handle their own marketing. Practice marketing doesn’t directly make dentists any money. You and your staff make money by seeing patients and solving their dental problems. Overseeing marketing is almost always a complete waste of a dentist’s specialized knowledge and talents.

Low Ground or High Ground? 

If yours is a high-volume practice, you have a decision to make. Continue on the dental treadmill, or reposition your practice to dominate the high ground in your market. As noted, shifting to a systematic marketing approach that will allow you to take and hold the high ground isn’t easy, but the rewards are well worth it. 

In today’s booming economy, dentists who want to experience great practice success will refocus their marketing to attract the kinds of patients who define the high ground in their markets. But almost all dental practices will benefit from outsourcing their marketing to a provider that demonstrates the ability to construct and maintain a marketing system that will attract the kinds of patients dentists want. 

Mr. Receveur, a nationally recognized dental marketing expert and speaker, is the author of several bestselling books on internet marketing, including The Four Horsemen of Dentistry: Survival Strategies for the Private Dental Practice Under Siege. His company, SmartBox, helps more than 550 dentists on three continents get more patients, more profits, and more freedom. Reach him at

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