You Can’t Get Ahead by Offering Discount Dentistry

Colin Receveur


If you’ve been in dentistry for a while, your attitude about your career probably falls into one of 2 camps. One is that you thank your lucky stars every day that you made the choices you did. The other possibility is that once, or more than once, you’ve stopped to ask yourself why you ever got into this business.

This may sound naive, but I don’t think dentists should ever have to ask themselves that question. You could say that I’ve dedicated my life to trying to make sure that more and more dentists never do. 

Dentistry is a perpetual top finisher among the best professions in America. It’s got great working conditions, excellent income, and a good work-life balance, but that’s only if you’re doing it right. If you think there’s no incorrect way to practice dentistry, I’ve got a lot of experience that says you’re wrong.

Speaking of Wrong Ways

I know thousands of dentists. None of them, as far as I know, has a degree in marketing.

Dentists generally market their practices the way they see other dentists marketing: on price, specials, insurance acceptance, and discounts. There’s nothing wrong with that, since roughly 60% of prospects in any given market will respond to that approach. But where dentists go wrong is in not considering the effects of income stratification.

If you look at a chart of household incomes in the United States, you’ll see it’s heavily skewed toward the left. In other words, there are a lot more households making less than there are households making more. Among those making less, the priorities are food, housing, utilities, transportation, clothing, essential medical care, and education. In other words, their money goes toward covering the basics.

That 60% of prospects is on the lower end of the income scale. The vast majority don’t have discretionary income to spend on cosmetic dentistry, implants, and other high-value procedures. They’re far more concerned with cleanings, checkups, and fillings. That’s why they respond to low-price and insurance-acceptance advertising. That’s also why you see them once and never again. They’ve found another dentist with a lower price for what they need. 

And the Result Is…

Those hard-earned marketing dollars you’re putting out every month are attracting prospects who can afford the least amount of dental care. In this scenario, which plays out every day in almost every market in the country, the dentist with the lowest price “wins.” That’s in quotes because the lowest price returns the least profit. Dentists who want to grow their incomes and their practices must work longer and harder to make up the difference.  

That scenario alone takes some of the shine off the dental profession. Dentists don’t go to dental school to be chained to their operatories, but that’s what happens in practices that market on price. Work-life balance is seriously affected for dentists and staff when the practice has to offer extended hours during the week and even on Saturday. 

A never-ending stream of routine, uninteresting, low-value cases also impacts a dentist’s professional satisfaction. It’s what I call the “dental treadmill,” and, over time, it’s demoralizing for dentists and their staff. 

If you’re marketing on price, it’s no wonder that you may have wondered why you ever became a dentist. 

The 40% Is the Answer 

Prospects with the discretionary income and the willingness to pay more for the right dentist will put the joy back into the practice of dentistry.

These better prospects don’t necessarily have more involved dental issues than the 60%, although some certainly do. What they represent, though, is a much higher lifetime value to your practice. As a group, better patients are fiercely loyal. They’re not chasing the lowest price because they’re more interested in the overall experience they have with your practice. 

In particular, these kinds of patients are looking for a dentist they like, trust, and relate to. Persuading them that you are their only logical choice requires a different approach to your marketing. You simply can’t attract those patients on price because it’s not a big motivator for them.

Your marketing has to shift from chasing prospects to attracting prospects. That’s not a throwaway line. It’s the essence of good dental marketing these days. You’re creating an entire value proposition for those better patients and using every aspect of your advertising to convey that proposition.

A Rewarding, but Time-Intensive, Proposition 

Dental prospects overwhelmingly begin their search for a dentist online. To attract high-value patients, your online presence has to be persuasive and extensive.

First, your website could almost certainly use some revision unless you’ve done that in the last year or so. Pay attention to ease of navigation. Your website is a direct reflection of what your prospects will expect from their experiences in your practice. Today’s prospects are spoiled for choice, and if they have problems finding what they want, they’ll be gone from your site in a heartbeat.

Next, your website, your blog, and your social media must feature content that is written for patients, not other dentists, and provides the answers to prospects’ dental questions and problems. Focus less on the procedures and more on the benefits to the patient. The vast majority don’t care about the details. They care about how their lives are going to be better by choosing you. 

Also, dentists can’t work in a vacuum anymore. Your public face is just as important as how you appear within the walls of your practice. Engaging with your prospects via social media, email campaigns, and community events is crucial for your patient-attraction efforts. That’s not something that you need to do personally on every occasion, but somebody has to do it. It’s an additional task that, done well, takes considerable time.

Above all, you—or a member of your staff—must manage your online reviews. They are the new word-of-mouth advertising, and a few negative online reviews can seriously diminish the number and quality of new patients you get. 

Finally, your practice has to deliver the seamless experience that your better prospects are looking for. It’s beyond the scope of this article to cover the practice management aspects of dentistry, but you absolutely must provide the best experience that your practice can provide if you want to keep these better patients and begin enjoying dentistry again.

Mr. Receveur, a nationally recognized dental marketing expert and speaker, is the author of several best-selling books on internet marketing, including the recently released The Four Horsemen of Dentistry: Survival Strategies for the Private Dental Practice Under Siege. His company, SmartBox, helps more than 550 dentists on 3 continents get more and better patients. Reach him at

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