Rewind two years to the start of the pandemic. The word “normal” was about to take on a whole new meaning. Face masks, lockdowns, virtual school, and telecommuting were about to become the “new normal.” From visits with friends and family to how we travel and go to work, the world was becoming an entirely different place.
The initial shutdowns caused businesses to experience financial strains. Nonessential businesses were forced to close for a minimum of two weeks, depending on their location. Employees were laid off. Business owners felt the strain of paying rent and providing for their staff while trying to keep up with customers’ demands. Even with government aid, many stores, restaurants, and small businesses were forced to close their doors permanently. During the first year, an estimated 200,000 businesses closed due to the pandemic.1
Unfortunately, the effects of this “normal” have taken their toll on businesses, regardless of size, location, or type. Drive through any town or visit a shopping center anywhere, and the changes are hard to miss. There are new hours due to staff shortages. The signs of distress are clearly visible—Closed. For sale. Help wanted.
What does all this mean for dental practices?
Dental needs are forever
During the first wave of shutdowns, the World Health Organization (WHO) did not consider dentistry an essential or frontline industry. They even advised patients to delay nonessential dental needs.2 Although the American Dental Association (ADA) disagreed,3 many dental offices were forced to temporarily close. In many cases, only emergency dental cases could be seen.
However, the overarching lesson that many practices learned is that dentistry is not an emergency-only business. People are always going to have medical and dental problems, and there will always be dental emergencies—a lost filling, a broken tooth, or tooth pain.
As dentists can attest, prevention is the best medicine for good oral health. Through routine exams, early diagnoses and treatments, and maintenance appointments, dentistry keeps patients smiling. These services keep the teeth and gums healthy and reduce the risks of more severe oral and medical issues. There is always a need for dentists and oral health care.
Change your mindset to thrive
Although dentistry was initially hit hard with the effects of the pandemic, it is still alive and thriving. Now is not the time to sit on your hands. Take a look at your marketing strategies, patient numbers, and schedules. Use that information to embrace the changes from the pandemic and grow your practice.
Consider virtual options
Telehealth was a popular option at the start of the pandemic. Medical and dental practices turned to virtual platforms and video conferencing to meet with patients for nonurgent needs. For dentistry, telehealth appointments work well for initial consultations or procedure follow-ups. These appointments do not require hands-on treatment and are usually about discussing concerns and establishing a course of action.
Although most practices are seeing patients in person for their appointments now, teledentistry is still valid. Many patients found virtual appointments convenient. They like it because they don’t have to leave their home or office or spend time traveling to and from the dental office. Who can beat that?
From a dentist’s perspective, teledental appointments are quick and easy. The office schedule can be adjusted to allow time for virtual appointments. Perhaps a specific time of the week can be set aside for telehealth appointments and followups to maximize the schedule for high need or more profitable treatments.
A world that was highly dependent on technology—the internet, computers, phones, and tablets—became even more reliant on online opportunities during the pandemic. From virtual school, work, and appointments to shopping and ordering food, the internet has become a necessary platform for all businesses.
To make the most of your marketing strategies, you must have an online presence. A practice website is a must. Your patients need to be able to find you and do a little research about you to understand your services and learn who you are. Regardless of whether your patients are children, teens, adults, or seniors, you need to be online. Even older adults use the internet to seek out health-care information.4
Include photos and videos of your team and office on your website. This helps patients feel like they already know you and your environment. Consider adding a Google 360 tour to really showcase your office. Give yourself an edge over your competitors by showing off that new piece of technology or your calm, relaxing exam rooms.
Make yourself visible
Take digital marketing a step further. Your website is your home for internet marketing. This gives patients insights about your practice and a way to contact you for an appointment or more information. Increase traffic by creating streams or funnels to your website through social media, a Google My Business profile, email marketing, and more.
Use social media platforms: Social media allows you to reach patients on their level. It personalizes you, the intimidating dentist, and shows that you are human and interesting. Social media allows you to showcase your story, brand, and voice. Introduce your team, share hygiene tips, discuss a treatment, or even share your latest promotion. This gets people interested and drives traffic to your website.
Maintain your Google My Business (GMB) profile: Your Google My Business (GMB) profile is another necessary update for marketing. Google is a driving factor in how patients find services and land on your website. This profile must be up to date with your practice name, hours, contact information, and website URL. Photos and reviews also help boost the appearance of your profile.
Create weekly or monthly newsletters: Think about those email addresses that you’ve been collecting on patient data forms, and use them! Don’t let them just sit in the charts. Put them to use through monthly newsletters or promotions. Again, link to your website to continually drive traffic and encourage patients to schedule appointments.
Think outside the box
Every practice offers procedures or treatments that are more profitable or that bring in more patients. Create a promotion around that service to attract patients. Announce your promotion via newsletters, social media posts, and website pop-ups. The key is to get patients in the door.
Remember, finances may be tight for some people due to job losses or employment changes. Financial incentives and discounts can bring back those patients you’ve not seen recently. If you offer an in-office savings plan, let patients know this. Those who lost or never had dental insurance may be worried about how to fit dental care into their budgets. Your savings plan may be the answer.
For more localized marketing opportunities by getting involved in your community. Sponsor your child’s sports team, attend or host a fundraiser, just give back in some way. The options are endless. This is a great way to lend a helping hand, build a sense of community, and show that you care and are compassionate. Patients can relate to that.
During the first two months of the pandemic, dental services fell by 75% in March and 79% in April.5 Although practices have reopened and are seeing patients on a more regular schedule, some are still feeling the pressure. Rather than continuing with your original marketing strategies, embrace the new normal and go with the flow. Adapt to the changes in technology and reliance on the internet, and meet patients on their level in the digital world.
- Sheffey A. The pandemic may have caused 200,000 business closures - fewer than expected. Business Insider. April 16, 2021. Accessed January 12, 2022. https://www.businessinsider.com/small-business-closures-pandemic-less-expected-past-year-fed-survey-2021-4
- Considerations for the provision of essential oral health services in the context of COVID-19. World Health Organization. August 3, 2020. Accessed January 12, 2022. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/333625/WHO-2019-nCoV-Oral_health-2020.1-eng.pdf
- Statement on dentistry as essential health care. American Dental Association. August 10, 2020. Accessed January 12, 2022. https://www.ada.org/about/press-releases/2020-archives/statement-on-dentistry-as-essential-health-care
- Tennant B, Stellefson M, Dodd V, et al. eHealth literacy and web 2.0 health information seeking behaviors among baby boomers and older adults. JMIR Publications. March 17, 2015. https://www.jmir.org/2015/3/e70/
- Gelburd R. A new study explores COVID-19’s significant impact on the dental industry. September 18, 2020. Accessed January 12, 2022. https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2020-09-18/study-how-covid-19-affected-the-dental-industry
Editor's note: This article appeared in the April 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.