The right ways to reach the right new patients: Retirees

There’s a large, untapped patient population that dentists can market to, and that’s retired baby boomers. Many of them don’t know how to navigate dental care after they lose their dental insurance. You can educate them and develop some strong patients.

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Vicki McManus Peterson, RDH

If you’re like many dentists, new patient numbers are one of the measures you obsessively track. It makes sense. New patients can be an indicator for the success of your marketing, what your referral rate is, or how well your staff is doing at converting calls into appointments. Most of all, new patients are a popular metric because they’re easy to measure. You can tell at a glance how many of your patients each day are new to the practice. So, the more new patients, the better. Right?


Editor’s note:
This article is the
first in a four-part
series. The next
article will appear
in the July issue of
Dental Economics.

Not exactly. It’s important to reach out and attract new patients, but they need to be the right new patients. New patients are good for your practice when they like you, when you can help them reach their dental goals and change their lives, and when they’re so impressed with your care that they become a source of referrals. On the other hand, if your marketing is bringing in new patients who show up for a cut-rate cleaning and never return, you might have been better off not seeing those patients in the first place.

This four-part series will be dedicated to helping you attract new patients—but not just any new patients. You can focus your efforts on those who can benefit most from your skills while they make you more productive. Here I’ll focus on a demographic group that can most benefit from your expertise but who may not realize that you can help them: retirees.

Retired from work, but not from life

Allow me to share some examples. Paul retired two years ago and lost his dental insurance. He’s afraid to see what treatments will cost without insurance. Rhonda became widowed a few years ago. She wants to start dating, but she’s embarrassed by her smile. Sam has struggled with bad teeth his entire life. He assumes there’s nothing anyone can do to help him. He’s just biding his time until he can justify dentures since his family history shows that dentures are his destiny.

These are not unique stories. Every town and city has its Pauls, Rhondas, and Sams. They care about their health, but they don’t realize you have the tools to help them. There are barriers that keep them from coming into your office, but these are mostly mental barriers. With targeted marketing, you can reach retirees and help them live fuller lives with healthy smiles.

Loss of dental insurance is one of the biggest barriers for older Americans who want dental care. While dental insurance is common for working adults, only about a third of retired adults have dental coverage.1 For adults who have had insurance their entire working careers, dental care without insurance is frightening. They’re used to getting two appointments a year for “free” and they have no idea how much preventive dental care will cost them. Since this loss of dental insurance hits many of them at the same time that they’re dealing with bills for doctors and specialists, they may avoid the dentist and assume they can’t afford treatment.

Meanwhile, retirees also face new health challenges as they juggle medications that cause xerostomia, an increased risk of root caries, a lifetime of wear on their teeth, and systemic health issues such as diabetes and heart disease. Many Americans remain unaware of the oral-systemic health link, or how their medications and chronic illnesses can affect their teeth and gums. One of the first steps to getting retirees into your office is to educate them about how their oral health can affect multiple aspects of their lives.

Retirees may also not be aware of recent advances in dental technology. They remember how the oral health of their parents or grandparents deteriorated with old age, and they may accept tooth loss as a fait accompli. Many baby boomers spent their childhoods without fluoridated water, or they have aging dental restorations that could benefit from replacements made from newer and better materials. Information about implants, new materials for crowns, adult orthodontics, and treatments that target unhealthy biofilms can help persuade retirees that it’s worth their time to visit your office. Good marketing can give them hope.

What retirees can do for your practice

You have a lot to offer retirees, but they also have a lot to offer your practice. Their unique situations in your patient mix may lead you to do some of the following:

  • Engage in more cosmetic dentistry. Many retirees are concerned with maintaining or improving their appearances, especially if they plan to reenter the dating market or start a new business.


  • Meet hourly production goals. Retirees can fill slots during daytime hours when students and workers are not able to book appointments.


  • Challenge your hygiene team with more perio care. Retirees are prone to receding gums, dry mouth, and weakened immune systems. According to the CDC, 23% of older Americans suffer from severe periodontal disease.2


  • Increase your pool of “payment worthy” patients. While retirees are on fixed incomes, they’re willing to budget and work with a payment plan in order to get the work they need.


  • Provide access to a strong network of friends and family for referrals. Retirees are increasingly staying at home or moving close to family. Giving them excellent care helps you reach all local demographics.


  • Gain a foothold in one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in the US as baby boomers retire.


Going where the patients are

Broad-based marketing plans are not as useful when you’re targeting a narrow demographic such as retirees. To reach them, it helps to meet them where they are. One excellent way to introduce your practice to retirees is to offer educational programs at senior centers, retirement communities, and gyms, especially gyms that participate in SilverSneakers programs. You can tailor your approach to each venue. For instance, at the gym, you can focus on the oral-systemic health link and how biofilm can affect the risk of adverse cardiac events. At the senior center, you can focus on how you can improve esthetics and function for aging teeth.

Contact local specialists such as cardiologists, pulmonologists, oncologists, and endocrinologists about how your services can help their patients manage and live with other conditions. Give them toothbrushes to hand out to their patients.

Do not ignore social media marketing. According to the Pew Research Center for Internet and Technology, 35% of Americans over the age of 65 used social media on a regular basis in 2015,3 and that number keeps growing. Make connections with potential patients by participating in groups and pages for local neighborhood groups, arts programs, and other organizations that draw retirees to their pages.

When you participate in the same organizations that retirees do, you earn their trust. Build on this connection by changing your marketing approach to target specific types of individuals on Facebook and Google Ads. Pay-per-click ads maximize your marketing dollars by connecting you with people who actually want to be your patients.

Finally, retirees actually read their mail, so don’t neglect direct mail. In our experience, the best pieces aimed at this age group build trust and authority with education. Show retirees what you can do for them and they’ll make an appointment to learn more.

Messaging for retirees

Remember to target your messaging specifically to retirees. Effective messaging includes: “Being seen now saves money down the road.” “Financing options and payment plans are available for those without insurance.” “You’re not doomed to dentures. New technologies can improve looks and restore lost function.” “You don’t need to live with pain.” “Proper dental care may help control diabetes and prevent cardiovascular complications.” And, “We are here to help you have the retirement of your dreams.”

In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This is not true! In researching the question, “What do baby boomers want to be called?” the number one response is, “their names.” When marketing to retirees, avoid words like seniors, senior citizen, and geriatric. Instead, remember that marketing to retirees is based on earning their trust. Highly targeted direct mail combined with social media is the one-two punch for attracting baby boomers.

Baby boomers represent $30 trillion dollars in wealth. Given the challenges of dry mouth, root decay, and periodontal disease linked to coronary heart disease, there are many opportunities for practices willing to focus on this group.

Author’s note: For more information on attracting the right patients to your practice, request a complimentary analysis of your current marketing and PDA | Marketing Group’s white paper, “Boom! Marketing to the right target.”

References

1. Manski RJ, Moeller J, Chen H, et al. Dental care coverage and retirement. J Public Health Dent. 2010;70(1): 1-12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2864343/. Published May 5, 2010. Accessed January 28, 2018.

2. Vargas CM, Kramarow EA, Yellowitz JA. Oral Health for Older Americans. CDC website. https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/publications/factsheets/adult_oral_health/adult_older.htm. Published December 2006. Updated July 10, 2013. Accessed January 27, 2018.

3. Perrin A. Social Media Usage: 2005-2015. Pew Research Center for Internet and Technology website. http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/10/08/social-networking-usage-2005-2015/. Published October 8, 2015. Accessed January 27, 2018.


Vicki McManus Peterson, RDH, is the cofounder of Productive Dentist Academy, a public speaker, and the owner of a dental practice in Wisconsin. She is the collaborative author of FUNdamentals of Outstanding Dental Teams, and recently published her latest book, Frustration: The Breakfast of Champions: Turn Powerful Emotions into Career Success. She is an expert in the industry regarding leadership communication, solid hygiene strategies, and effective dental practice marketing.

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