Smile Direct Club has been a point of controversy for many dental and orthodontic professionals. But what many of us forget, is that they weren’t the first to offer a new smile delivered to your mailbox.
In many parts of the country during the early and mid 1900s, you could purchase groceries from your local market over the phone, then drive by, park your car, and they would deliver the groceries curbside to your car. Other dairies, grocers, and butchers also began offering home delivery. Door to door salesman would hit the pavement knocking doors to get people signed up. Amazon did not invent this.
Today, you can do the same thing, only you click instead of call, but the concept is not new. The reason grocery stores switched to the open “cash and carry” model later in the 1900s, is because store owners found shoppers would buy more when they could “browse the isles” inside. On the surface, cash and carry was less expensive, but gradually items at the checkout isle were marked as high-margin, letting any last second add-ons in the cart increase sales for the markets.
If you ask a dentist who graduated dental school in the 1980s, there were lots of concerns and plenty of fear over the economy and the changing landscape of dentistry. Interest rates were much higher for much of the 80s than today, as high as 16% for a home mortgage. Corporate dental and orthodontic chains began to develop and grow in size.
There was even an orthodontic chain listed on the New York Stock Exchange, but only a few years later it was nowhere to be found. New dental schools were opening around the country. Student loan debt was rising exponentially. Competition developed the “scarcity” mindset of territory and overpopulation of dentists in desirable areas to live.
Then insurance pressures grew as many employer plans switched from indemnity to PPO or HMO/managed type of insurance plans with downward pressure on dentists to reduce fees.
How much of this sounds familiar to you?
In the 1980s, cosmetic dentistry began to grow as whitening and porcelain veneers took rise in the marketplace. Then comprehensive dentistry, full mouth reconstruction, implants, sleep apnea, adult orthodontics, and so on. The iPad of today is really a knock off of the game boy from the 1980s, only today’s iPad has many more games and apps. Our mobile devices today are really just combinations of things that were invented over many decades.
Think about it. Your mobile phone is a flashlight, compass, notepad, telephone, and computer all in one. None of those things are actually new, they’re just combined differently and put to a new use. It’s easy to feel threatened by new advances, changes, corporate or DSO pressures, increased debt or economic and insurance pressure.
When it comes down to it, it’s really about your relationship with your patients and the experience they have in your office. If Walmart and CVS start putting dental practices in their stores, it really shouldn’t have a big effect on your practice because 50% of the population doesn’t go to the dentist regularly anyway.
Many of us are feeling the pressure from lower insurance fee schedules, and have for many years, and in my opinion, that’s our own fault because we’ve allowed this to happen. However, there are some great things underway, changing the landscape of how we set our fees when we have insured patients.
Different groups and committees have formed locally and nationally, health savings accounts, and FSA benefits are growing in popularity, as well as alternative options to patients for care so that the insurance landscape can change to help both the private practitioner and patients.
By the numbers, I’m sure over the next few decades we will see many fewer private practices and more larger corporate and group practices. However, that doesn’t mean private practices are going away. Just because Wendy’s rolls out a bunch of new restaurants across the country, it doesn’t mean that a great mom and pop restaurant is automatically put out of business. The ones who go out of business are the ones who don’t keep up with the times, or don’t continually work to provide an exceptional experience for their customers.
Great dentistry is the same service it has always been, just packaged in more ways today that it was a few years ago.
So the question is, what are you doing to allow your patients to “browse the isle” at your office?
I would never recommend being pushy or salesy to any of your patients, but you should offer them options and let them know about the services you offer. What do you do to stay in touch with them regularly? Sending out an email or postcard once a quarter for a $50 coupon doesn’t count. That’s not building a relationship. That’s just you asking them for money when you need it, and it feels desperate to your patients.
How does your staff treat each patient when they come to the office? Are they greeted by name, or are they asked “who are you?”
Is your team continually trained and reminded of this?
With advances in communication and technology, I think there has never been a better time to have a great dental practice, because many of the advantages that were only available to larger companies, even just a few years ago, are now available at a much reduced cost and easier access to each of us.
With the powerful video recorder in your pocket, you can do amazing things. You can record your patients (with their written and verbal permission of course). You can shoot a video to train your team how to use a piece of equipment, or how to do a certain task or procedure in the office. Then you don’t actually have to be there or say it over and over. It’s amazing if you think about it, but still, it’s not new. It’s just reinvented and packaged differently.
In his classic book, The Science Of Getting Rich, Wallace D. Wattles writes, “The more men who get rich on the competitive plane, the worse for others; the more who get rich on the creative plane, the better for others.”
Rich can have financial context and meaning, but it goes much deeper than that too. Rich can mean quality of life, friendship, and even health.
There’s always a new “shiny object” treatment or idea right around the corner. But creativity is one of the few things in this world that is not actually “scarce.” It is, in fact, a tool that builds and grows as we use it more. It may sound a bit idealistic, but when we create a community of dentistry that is more giving and able to help each other implement ideas, as well as educate the public on what we have to offer, more people will see value in dentistry and trust us more as a profession.
We can get to that other 50% who don’t see a dentist at least once a year.
Here’s to a successful 2022 for you and your patients!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Tyler Williams is the founder of both Pinecrest Dental and Pinecrest Practice Growth. He is a proud husband and father of three.
He has written numerous articles for the Utah Dental Association, Dentistry Today, The Profitable Dentist and Dentistry IQ. He is the author of three books, including The Owner’s Guide to a Productive Dental Practice: 7 Pillars Every Dentist Needs to Grow in the New Economy.
He is a real, “wet fingered dentist,” and has completed thousands of dental implant and restorative procedures.
Dr. Williams has been featured on ABC’s Good Things Utah, NBC News Radio, the ForbesBooks Radio podcast, The One Thing marketing podcast, Sirius XM Radio, UK Health Radio, KTALK Utah radio, and in several national dental research publications, including peer-reviewing articles for the Academy of General Dentistry’s General Dentistry journal.
He has also been recognized as one of the most influential dentists in Utah by Kleer’s list of Most Influential Dentists in America.
He also hosts a bi-monthly podcast called The Practice X-Factor. He is currently the owner of Pinecrest Practice Growth, which helps practice owners create a high value, relationship driven, prepaid dental practice that can be free of insurance dependency.
(To contact Dr. Williams, please email him at email@example.com.