SHHHH!! Dont Say That Word!

At a recent luncheon with some colleagues of mine, I mentioned that word. You know the one. The word most dentists think about, but don`t realize it would easily benefit us more than the air turbine, local anesthetic, fluoridation, bonding agents, computerization and the intraoral camera combined. Think about it-something so relatively inexpensive, so easily created, so profession-promoting, so common, so effective, so obvious. What is it, you ask? Well, it is the method that can elevate our sta

Andrew Schwenk, DDS

At a recent luncheon with some colleagues of mine, I mentioned that word. You know the one. The word most dentists think about, but don`t realize it would easily benefit us more than the air turbine, local anesthetic, fluoridation, bonding agents, computerization and the intraoral camera combined. Think about it-something so relatively inexpensive, so easily created, so profession-promoting, so common, so effective, so obvious. What is it, you ask? Well, it is the method that can elevate our status and familiarize members of our community who currently are not interested in or aware of what we can do. It is marketing.

You can breathe now. Once established, this could be done with minimal effort, but maximum results. After all, dentists, as a collective whole, already are held in high esteem because the public trusts us. I am not suggesting or condoning the compromising of this trust in any way. This faith in us is, in part, due to the continual focus we have paid to oral health in the general population and the constant research-and-development commitment to improve our science, educate our patients and service their needs. It also is due to the way we have promoted our profession to those previously unaware of what we had to offer by media concurrent with the times; that is, until the age of information we currently are witnessing, which could allow us to reach many more potential people faster, cheaper and easier-we seem more vehement than ever to try to resist informing our potential patients. This article will attempt to persuade those who previously have been opposed to marketing, not advertising, within our profession to consider a second look (for some, a tenth look) before establishing their views permanently.

First, we must establish the fundamental difference between marketing and advertising. According to the Random House Dictionary, marketing is, "the total of activities by which transfer of title or possession of goods from seller to buyer is effected, including advertising, shipping, storing and selling within a marketplace," while advertising is "the act of producing or placing advertisements." By comparison, educating and informing the general public in an unbiased manner within our "marketplace," would create an awareness toward our potential services, which is not considered advertising because we are informing them of what is available and where it can be received, in an entirely neutral fashion. Creating this awareness among the public, therefore, raises their consciousness of offered treatment, but would not prejudice them as to who may be a better clinician, whose office is more appealing, etc. It would, however, inform the people within our communities as to what services could be obtained through their local dental office.

Marketing is more than geometric in its effect and progression. In fact, it is exponential. As generations of families become familiar with products or services, this is passed along to their families and friends and can expand at a dramatic pace. The audience (potential patients) in our case is captured and identifiable, as are the providers (practicing clinicians), because we are the only ones licensed to treat patients under these circumstances. This group of potential patients, and even current patients, could be reached easily through simple marketing techniques as some other industries have done with their own products, merely by informing potential purchasers of the marketing program a few years ago.

Have you ever seen one of those commercials or magazine photos of an actor whose upper lip is coated with what appears to be milk? Note also in these ads that no individual dairy farmer is mentioned as having superior stock or new milking equipment. These ads merely promote a product universally and nonprejudicially. By the way, milk sales have never been greater! If white upper lips can sell milk, imagine what smiling adults and children could do for us. Suppose dentists ran some simple ads with children in front of their bathroom mirrors brushing their teeth with an voice-over asking, "When was the last time you and your family saw your dentist?" Neutral? Yes. Informative? Yes. Motivational? You bet!

With the vastness of what has now become known as the information superhighway, too many of us are either creeping along in the right lane with our knuckles whitened against the wheel, or are paying consultants to tell us why we cannot pay our bills or are stranded on the shoulder, awaiting help from some governmental liaison to solve our progressing dilemma of making our profession more commonly discussed at the dinner table. We now live in an age where the ability to reach and communicate to a potential market and promote ourselves is greater than ever by an abundance of media-television, radio, on-line, magazines, etc.-yet we do not, for the most part, incorporate this into our profession. Regardless of your personal definition of "profession," the need to promote and educate the population about ours should be atop our legislative agenda. Imagine for a moment a nationally sponsored marketing program, entirely neutral in nature, designed to educate and inform the public as to what cosmetic-enhancing procedures are now available from their local dentist. Imagine for a moment, patients commenting how much they enjoyed the new ADA ads they say on television. Imagine for a moment if just 1 percent of those who viewed the Super Bowl (approximately 100,000,000 viewers) called their dentists the next day requesting a bleaching kit-wow! Imagine for a moment if occlusal sealants were perceived to prevent decay as highly as a decrease in the consumption of eggs is perceived to lower cholesterol. Imagine for a moment if patients requested porcelain veneers, in spite of the fact that their insurers will pay no part of it, because veneers looked good on the television commercial.

Why is this so out of line? Why do we tend to look upon motivating and educating our patients outside of our own operatories as taboo? Why are we so terrified of making our patients as desirous of porcelain crowns as they are of the newest video camera? Is the concept of dentists marketing their services by educating the general public through media such a dangerous thing? As long as we do not diminish our abilities, credentials and concern for our patients, how are we decreasing our professionalism?

There is an important issue that is paramount to understanding the key to marketing dentistry to the masses. Unlike dentistry of the past, dentistry today has a myriad of options, choices and alternatives to nearly every procedure. More importantly, today we have patients electing dental care that in no way involves the removal or replacement of disease, but rather, the restoration of smile lines, enhancement of tooth contours and even a change in tooth shade, with little or no anesthetic, very little invasion of natural tooth and with very predictable results!

Finally, for over 150 years, our profession has been honored in retaining a level of respect and confidence heretofore unheard of or unseen by any collective group, save the clergy. Why not take that confidence and expand that sacred relationship we share with our patients by using every opportunity to help them and ourselves simultaneously? While you think of your answer, you may realize that the cure for a lag in business may be your own personal decision not to let yourself and what you do become talk at your neighbor`s dinner table. Please do not think so loud and SHHH!!...don`t say that word, scream it!

The author is a practicing dentist in Loves Park, IL, and currently serves as the one-year member of DE`s Editorial Board.

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