Th 125378

No caries ... No perio ...

May 1, 2003
During the past three decades, three major evolutions took place in the services offered by dental practice.

by Jerry Simon, DDS

Could the fellow below use a dentist?

Click here to enlarge image

He most certainly can. Most patients in your community are not aware that you are very adept at providing occlusal therapy for head, neck, and facial pain. Get the word out about this value-added service.

During the past three decades, three major evolutions took place in the services offered by dental practice. In the 1970s, we observed the dawn of periodontal treatment, which was delivered by Drs. Charles Barkley and Paul Keyes. The 1980s witnessed the birth of stronger and color-matched composite materials, and the era of true dental bonding became a reality. The 1990s proved to be the glamorous age of cosmetic dentistry, and we learned to consistently apply the newest porcelain technology to the bonding process.

In time for the millennium, a fourth major evolution is now taking place — occlusal therapy. Advancements in dentistry — and open-minded attitudes by patients toward alternate and drug-free treatments of head, neck, and facial pain (HNFP) — will fuel the growth of occlusal therapy, helping to spark another remarkable moment in dental history.

The alarming rate of undiagnosed cases of occlusal disease, and the willingness of patients to accept occlusal therapy treatment, creates an enormous opportunity for dentists to expand their practices, provide better treatment, and increase annual gross revenues by at least 10 to 20 percent, merely by incorporating occlusal therapy into practice and properly marketing the service.

The problem

The public, medical professionals, and, unfortunately, many dentists are unaware of the fact that dysfunctional occlusal interference is the cause of over 40 million people's HNFP. In addition, most people are unaware of the newest research that indicates that any treatment for ongoing chronic pain can help decrease the impulses of afferent neural input that travel along a nerve trunk. This reduction of input along a neural pathway can potentially make patients less susceptible to other types of chronic pain that travels along the same neural pathway.

In the case of muscle contraction pain due to occlusal interference that travels along the trigeminal nerve, this might include tension headaches, migraines, and fibromyalgia. Finally, many are also unaware of the fact that there is a history of more than 50 years of successful occlusal therapy. As a result of this lack of awareness, most patients do not associate HNFP treatment with the dentist and are slipping through the cracks untreated.

The solution

Effective marketing is one way to increase the awareness of occlusal interference and occlusal therapy. Patients, dental, and non-dental medical professionals need to know that the "bite does matter." Examples of good marketing tools are brochures in the reception room, the magazines in the reception room, the office signage, and even the music in the office. In short, everything that you do or do not do in your office is marketing, influencing the public's perception of your practice. A strong marketing plan will target existing patients, new patients, and your community.

Existing patients

When launching a campaign to market the value-added service of occlusal therapy, dentists should begin with their own patients. Initially targeting this group is practical on three levels. First, dentists are already in contact with their patients, both in person and by mail, several times a year. Second, positive long-term relationships between dentists and patients often makes acceptance of treatment recommendations much higher. Finally, according to recent studies more than one in three people in the United States suffer from HNFP caused by occlusal interference or biomechanical disease, meaning that, on average, at least four people in need of treatment are passing undetected through your office every day.

Four simple steps can help dentists educate existing patients about the importance of the bite.

• Educate patients in the reception room — A wide range of products, including brochures, short looping movies, and posters are available for dentists to display in their reception rooms and around the office to educate patients about bite problems, encouraging patients to share information about their symptoms with dental professionals.

• Telephone recordings — Many dental practices now play music for patients who are on hold. Playing brief, professionally recorded messages about both bite problems and the dental practice can make this an informative "wait" for patients.

• Educate dental staff — Dental assistants, hygienists, and treatment coordinators are on the front line of patient interaction. The team must be acutely aware of the implications of bite problems, working together to identify and educate potential candidates about bite treatment.

• Statement stuffers — Add a small, brightly colored piece of paper to your patients' statements that alerts them to dentistry's wide success treating the millions of people who have head, neck, and facial pain caused by their bite.

• Introral cameras — Using this technology allows the dental team to demonstrate the presence of dental damage due to occlusal interference so that the patient can easily see and understand the problems.

New patients

A successful marketing campaign will help bring new patients to your practice. Several studies show that treating head, neck, and facial pain caused by occlusal interference and biomechanical dental disease not only generates extra revenue, but also helps differentiate your practice.

Ancillary services and unique, leading-edge capabilities draw patients to practices. Remember, almost every patient in your practice was another dentist's patient first. They will probably switch practices again if they believe they can receive more advanced or more comprehensive dental care elsewhere. Getting the message out that your practice includes occlusal therapy will help you attract new patients. Tactics for targeting this audience include:

• Referrals — In most practices the single greatest source of new patients is existing patients. When a dentist identifies and successfully treats a person who has suffered from HNFP, the patient shares the success with her friends and family. Providing that patient with brochures, books, or videos to facilitate this sharing process is certain to generate strong patient referrals.

• Direct mail — Many dental offices send thousands of pieces of direct mail every year to their community. Focusing on new dental treatment for head, neck, and facial pain is certain to make your literature stand out and attract some of the 40 million HNFP sufferers in the United States.

• Print advertising — A brief trip through the Yellow Pages or local newspaper will quickly demonstrate the uniformity of advertising strategies employed by most dental practices. Shifting the focus of advertising to head, neck, and facial pain treatment will not only differentiate your practice but also quickly catch people's attention.

Community education and outreach

Finally, your marketing campaign should also target your community. Most people, including medical doctors, are not aware of the relationship between 40 million people's head, neck, and facial pain and proper dental occlusion. Therefore, dentists have the exciting opportunity to initiate several important educational initiatives that will raise awareness about proper occlusion, and draw attention to the particular dental practice.

You can reach your community using several methods:

• Local media outreach — Dentists can easily create a media outreach packet that includes information about occlusal interference, the clinician's biography, and several patient testimonials to facilitate placement and interviews in local media outlets such as television, radio, and newspapers.

• Medical community outreach — Realizing that a majority of the patients who suffer from pain due to malocclusion are in the care of medical doctors who have not been trained to recognize bite problems and therefore are unable to successfully treat them is important. Dentists should get into contact with neurologists, ENTs, and internists in their community and educate them about the importance of proper occlusion to facilitate referrals.

• Community groups outreach — Almost every city and state has community groups of patients who are suffering from chronic head, neck, and facial pain. These groups provide forums where leading local doctors can provide brief educational seminars to heighten patient awareness of innovative medical discoveries and treatments. Often, these groups provide easy access to large networks of patients in need of and receptive to treatment.

Head, neck, and facial pain and biomechanical dental disease has the unique quality of being a great opportunity to build your practice and reputation while serving your patients.

Hundreds of leading practitioners have already successfully adopted many of the simple marketing concepts outlined in this article.

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