Stop Practicing “Dentistry as Usual”

Colin Receveur


Dentistry was recently ranked as one of the top two professions in the United States. But if you talk with a cross-section of dentists now, you’ll have to wonder.

It’s not that dentists aren’t busy. Most of the dentists who contact SmartBox are far too busy. They report that they’re practically on roller skates, hurrying between rooms trying to keep up with their ridiculously packed schedules.

Yes, business is booming, and the economic recovery has legs. In fact, CNN reported on June 1 that unemployment is now at its lowest level since the release of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” in 1969!

The result is that more people are working and more people have dental insurance. That sounds like a dream scenario—except for two things.

The first is that wages have not come close to keeping pace with the rise in dental care costs. The patients that these dentists are seeing aren’t looking for elective dentistry in the vast majority of cases. They’re looking for routine cleanings and exams, drill and fills, and the occasional crown. Basically, what insurance will pay for, at least in part.

The second problem is that, as any dentist who accepts insurance knows, reimbursements aren’t what they used to be. Led by Delta Dental, the squeeze is on, with more of the cost burden shifted to patients and insurers apparently looking for any reason to deny coverage.

The result is that dentists find themselves working too hard for too long for too little in return. Quite a few of them are worried about their backs or their necks, particularly those who have extended office hours to meet the demand. Many are disillusioned with dentistry as a profession. Others are worried about the eventual sale price of their practices. 

This new version of “dentistry as usual” is a losing proposition for a large swath of dentists.

The Curse of Competence 

The standardization of medical and dental education has assured the general public of a minimum level of competence. When it comes to dentists, that expectation is a handicap. Prospects have no real reason to choose one dentist over another. 

Few prospects understand the difference between dentists with and without a postdoctoral fellowship or between postgraduate cosmetic dentistry training programs. Even fewer will read research authored by dentists.

Basically, one dentist is perceived as being as good as the next. To attract better dental patients, your marketing must change that perception. You need to give them reasons to choose you instead of one of your competitors.

Change the Paradigm 

The increasing dominance of the internet in daily life demands a shift in marketing by dentists who want to stop working too hard, too long, and for too little.

Traditional dental marketing is largely price-focused, touting specials, discounts, and insurance acceptance. That approach appeals to most dental prospects in almost every market, but not all of them. The relatively large minority of more affluent prospects can pay more for the right dentist and is willing to do so.   

These “better” patients aren’t overly influenced by discounts and insurance acceptance. It’s not that they won’t take advantage of those opportunities, but their selection process is primarily driven by other considerations. They’re looking for a dentist who they believe they will like, who will relate to them, and who can solve their dental problems.

In the mental calculus of better dental patients, relationships place second only to outcomes. And why not? It’s no different in principle from choosing a more expensive massage therapist, hair stylist, or accountant based on perceived compatibility and the expectation of a superior experience. Better dental patients can afford to be choosy, and they are. 

Changing Perceptions Takes Time

Price-based marketing is quick-hit, designed to encourage people to act now, or at least soon. In contrast, attracting better dental patients is a process that requires both time and multiple exposures.

Choosing a dentist is a process that culminates in a decision. Dentists who do the best job of remaining in front of prospects while continuing to differentiate themselves from the competition will attract more patients who will stay, pay, and refer.

With higher case value and higher lifetime value to your practice, you need far fewer patients to make as much or even more money than you’re making now.

How to Market to Better Dental Patients

Today’s dental prospects overwhelmingly begin their search for a dentist online. That’s a good-news, bad-news scenario. The competition for eyes in the online space is fierce and steadily growing. 

Since online search is becoming increasingly local, your dental practice website must appear relatively high in search results to be found. That’s an ongoing challenge. Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the fastest-changing areas of online marketing. 

As important as SEO is to your success, effective social media marketing is essential to converting prospects to appointed patients. Social media like Facebook, Google+, and Twitter offer the opportunity to share both your professional self and your personal self with prospects. It’s a glimpse of the person behind the mask, to speak.

Social media is designed to foster interaction and relationships, so follow the 80-20 rule: 80% of your social media posts should be about engaging your followers, while only 20% should be specifically dentistry-related. Ultimately, your social media marketing should encourage followers to visit your website.

Once you’ve established rapport with your followers, convincing them to receive email communication from you is vital. The best way to accomplish that is to offer something of value in exchange for their email addresses.

Check your state regulations, but generally you can offer a white paper, article, or short book authored by you that speaks to their dental concerns and the solution to those concerns. When you have opt-in, you can send them a series of emails that address the solutions to their dental problems and influence them to choose you. 

That’s Not All, But It May Be Enough 

Attracting better dental patients is the cure for “dentistry” as usual, but not all dental practices are up to the challenge. There’s considerably more involved than what is outlined in this article if you’re going to reap the full rewards of your patient attraction system: pay-per-click advertising, dental patient testimonial videos, a patient-responsive website that focuses on them rather than you, and more.

It’s time- and labor-intensive to make the switch from quick-hit, price-based advertising to a marketing approach that influences prospects with the means and motivation to choose you. But the rewards, both financial and personal, are well worth the effort.

Colin Receveur, a nationally recognized dental-marketing expert and speaker, is the author of several books on internet marketing, including the recent release, Rise UP! The Keys to Ultimate Dental Practice Success. His company, SmartBox, helps more than 550 dentists on three continents thrive by providing a steady stream of better dental patients. Reach him at

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