Does dentistry need to be ‘sold’?

March 1, 2019
We need to care enough about patients to help them through their concerns. That is “selling.”

Gregory A. Winteregg, DDS

“Doctors should not ‘sell’ dentistry.” I heard this statement or some variation from the first three consultants I brought in to help me with my dental practice. It’s an idea that appears to be prevalent throughout most of the dental practice-management industry.

I disagree.

Beyond addressing why I feel this way, I want to show you how this attitude might not be good for your patients or their long-term dental health.

When we hear the word “sell,” what do we think? We might conjure up a vision of an unethical sales rep tricking someone into buying something they don’t need for an inflated price. In essence, we equate selling with ripping someone off. I don’t like it when someone tries to do that to me, and you probably don’t either. But in my mind, that’s not selling. That’s being a con artist.

I believe that selling in dentistry is about caring for the patient, answering all the patient’s questions, and working with the patient to get the care that is going to help him or her stay healthiest for the longest period of time. Objections must be addressed and handled.

When people buy things online, they are “sold” before they turn on their computers, phones, or tablets. But dentistry is notlike that. An in-person diagnosis and treatment plan created by a licensed dentist is needed. Then someone needs to sit down and enlighten the patient on the options.

Let’s face it: dentistry oftentimes costs thousands of dollars and involves needles and drills in the mouth. That has to be “sold”—meaning questions and concerns must be answered. I don’t like needles and drills in my mouth, and I’ll bet you don’t either. But we do it because we understand the long-term consequences of not having a necessary treatment done. My point is this: considering the potential discomfort and cost associated with dentistry, it’s only natural that people are going to find objections to having it done—even though it might be best for their long-term health. They must then be “sold” on doing what is best for them.

We need to care enough about patients to take the time to help them through their worries and concerns. To me, thatis selling. Sure, it would be easy to let them order off of your menu of services. But I’m sorry; dentistry is notlike ordering for a child at a restaurant.

To extend the analogy, if you ask a child what he or she wants for breakfast, most would say, “Ice cream!” or “Pizza!” That wouldn’t work out so well, would it? Parents who complied wouldn’t be doing what was best for their children. Most parents instead “sell” their children on something healthier.

This isn’t to compare your patients to children. (Unless you are a pediatric dentist, of course.) I’m just making a point. When you ask patients with no dental education or background to decide what is best for them, what criteria are they using to make their decision? Probably cost—they understand that!

So, sure, present options as required, but patients must be “sold” on which one is best for their overall, long-term health. That seems logical to me.

Then why is there such an overwhelming agreement in dentistry that doctors don’t sell? Well, let’s start with the explanation I’ve heard the most: If a doctor sells, patients will think the doctor is unprofessional and money-motivated. I sincerely believe this broadly held viewpoint is suppressing dentistry and denying patients needed dental care. I believe it is motivated by our own experiences with untrained and unethical sales representatives.

Each of us has been sold by a rep who we found repulsive and money motivated. Maybe the rep even lied to close the deal. No one reading this article would want to be perceived that way. You would find it disgusting—and so would your patients. If patients felt that way about you, it could destroy your practice, and that thought should scare the daylights out of you.

Thatis the problem. We are afraid of being perceived as uncaring and money motivated. We are potentially losing patients or going out of business as a result.

It is fear that causes us to do just what the patient wants done, to do just what the insurance company allows, to do dentistry for free, etc. (Been there, done that.) But think of the sales rep who you love. The one you always ask for when you go back to that store or establishment. The one who cares about you and helps you solve your problem, better your situation, or meet your goal. You love and appreciate them! Why do you feel that way about them? Because they care about you!

And that’s the difference between a great salesperson and a discreditable one. One cares about you. The other cares about himself.

Being good at “selling” dentistry is almost too simple. You must do the following:

• Care about your patients.

• Tell patients what they need to help solve their dental problems so they live healthier lives.

• Forget about whether the insurance will cover it or not.

• Have financing plans available to help patients afford the cost.

When I state it like that, don’t you agree that it sounds too simple? That’s because it is. Now, you may say, “What about the patients who just want to do what is cheapest and don’t really care about their long-term oral health?” You’re the doctor, so I can’t tell you how to practice. That’s a clinical decision only you can make.

It’s easy to become jaded and believe that no one cares about their teeth, or that no one wants to spend money on their teeth, or that everyone just wants to do what the insurance allows and not pay their co-pay. Well, of course they are going to behave like that. Remember: every kid wants ice cream for breakfast!

There are always going to be some people who will want to do something in the cheapest manner. There’s nothing you and I can do about that. But I want you to do an experiment for me. Ask every patient you see for the next week this one question: “Do you want to keep your teeth?” If possible, have a staff member record the answers. I did this many years ago. I was convinced at the time that maybe 25% of patients would say “yes.” I don’t remember the numbers exactly, but it came in somewhere around 75% saying “yes.” (Full disclosure: I counted, “Yes, but just the front ones,” as an affirmative answer. My viewpoint was if they wanted to keep the front ones, then I could help them learn why it was important to keep the back ones too. Technically, I was “selling” them.)

I soon realized that if the majority of my patients wanted to keep their teeth, then I needed to help them overcome their fears and concerns so they would do what was best for them. If people wanted to say I was a bad person for doing that, I figured that was their problem and not mine.

The aha moment was when I realized most people wanted to keep their teeth, and therefore there was nothing for me to be afraid of when talking to them about the treatment and the price.All of a sudden, many of them started agreeing to do what was needed rather than just what insurance allowed. Within five months, I was swamped with business and had to hire an associate.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I decided I was sick and tired of being afraid. I started confidently telling patients exactly what they needed and how much it was going to cost. More than half of them said yes, and the rest is history.

Ask your patients if they want to keep their teeth. I predict well over half of them will say yes or some version of yes. Do them a favor and talk to them about what is best for their long-term health, work through their concerns, tell them how much it is going to cost, have someone make a financial arrangement, then schedule them for appointments to give them what they really want. They just told you they wanted to keep their teeth. Do them a favor and help them do just that. I call that “selling.”

Gregory a. Winteregg, DDS, is an internationally recognized practice management speaker and author. After transforming his small-town office into one of the top practices in the nation, Dr. Winteregg joined MGE Management Experts as a partner in 1994. Since then, he has personally consulted and lectured to tens of thousands of dentists across the US and Canada. Visit or call (800) 640-1140 to complete Dr. Winteregg’s Effective Case Acceptance Course online.

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