Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA
Last weekend, I gave a seminar for Dr. Irwin Smigel and the American Society for Dental Aesthetics. I spoke to over 200 dentists who were very excited as I explained the concept of reinventing the dental practice. They had all traveled to Washington, D.C. for the annual meeting, and represented the higher-level esthetic dentists in the country.
What I told them was how dentistry is changing and that a group of this nature must be moving toward elective procedures. I then pointed out, with respect to Dr. Smigel, that the truth was that there was very little pure cosmetic dentistry being done in the United States. What I mean by that is, if a patient has a fractured #8, we put a crown on it. That crown truly is a prosthetic procedure, but since it is on #8, we have to make it more beautiful. Therefore, we think of it also as a cosmetic procedure.
The truth is that this procedure is a component of cosmetics, but is not a cosmetic procedure. A true cosmetic procedure is one that is done strictly to enhance the beauty of the individual. When we analyze our clients using monthly management-tracking forms, we find that very little pure cosmetics is being done. This truly is a missed opportunity.
I then went on to explain that the future for their type of dentistry would require that they become a boutique practice. The practice that wants to do a lot of pure cosmetics and high-level procedures is going to be serving patients in an elective nature. Patients judge the quality of the practice by everything except the actual dentistry. They judge quality by the:
1. Physical appearance of the practice. It needs to be beautiful.
2. Level of customer service and "wow" factor.
3. Level of technology. This requires patient education to make them aware that the technology exists and to help them understand the technology well enough so that they feel that the quality of care will be improved by its presence.
4. Overall positive experience.
I explained to these high-level esthetic dentists that while all of the above factors were true, there was one more aspect which they would be judged by-how beautiful they could make smiles. None of this had anything to do with margins, type of materials, laboratory use, etc. Patients, who will pay for elective procedures to become beautiful, only want one thing: To be beautiful. They do not care about technical explanations. They simply want to be beautiful.
Expanding Our Services
In order to move into elective dentistry, practices today must begin expanding their services. The time has come for every patient to receive a universal esthetic exam and to realize that we are dealing with want services and not need. As dentists, we are not good at selling want services because it is much harder. A patient who has a fractured tooth or is in pain makes it easy to gain treatment acceptance. Patients who may want to look better, but do not have full motivation, are more challenging.
Since there will be less and less "needed" dentistry to perform in the future, we have no choice but to move into the world of "want" dentistry. This can happen only if we recognize that our role is no longer just to fix a broken tooth. Instead, we must motivate patients to want the elective procedures through the process of patient education. If you ask me today what business we are in, I would have to answer that we are no longer in the business of dentistry. Today, we are in the business of education. The better we educate patients about our products, the better chance we have that they will want those products.
Some of you reading this probably felt it was strange to use the word "products" in the previous paragraph. It was not an accident, but a deliberate attempt to emphasize that, in our own minds, we typically sell products. We have a crown fee. We have a veneer fee. We have a denture fee. We charge for the product. We do not think about charging to read the radiograph, but we charge a fee for the X-ray. Today, we really must begin selling services instead of products. The services that I am referring to are those that educate patients. We will not be paid for these, but you will never get to do a large number of veneers unless patients are well-educated first. Educate first and then you will get to place the product.
The time has come for more practices to understand the limitations that we are placing upon ourselves. Elective dentistry must become the wave of the future boutique practice. If your elective services are not moving into a 40-percent category relative to total services provided, you need to rethink your management and marketing programs. Do not hesitate to gain professional guidance from consultants or others who can help you restructure your practice long before major problems occur.
Dr. Roger Levin is founder and president of The Levin Group, a national, dental-management and marketing-consulting firm. He can be reached at 410-486-1089.