Recommendations for practice recession recovery

In 2009, our growing cosmetic practice was dying. We were told it was the economy. Yes, the economy was a mess, and people were holding on to their money. But now what?

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by Christian Yaste, DDS

In 2009, our growing cosmetic practice was dying. We were told it was the economy. Yes, the economy was a mess, and people were holding on to their money. But now what? This is the "comeback story" of how our practice recovered. I've synthesized the essence of what we did into suggestions that might benefit others who are facing the same challenges I did. As a disclaimer, I mention several different companies and people in this article, because they helped us along the way and are responsible for the success we enjoy today.

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Acknowledge a problem exists

It can be easy for dentists to put their heads in the sand and dismiss red flags and warning signals. Our practice's recovery began when we realized there was a problem. That might seem like an easy thing to do. However, I'm sure many of us realize that often, unless we diligently use tracking systems in the practice, it can take months or even years for us to realize there's a problem.

Our old practice model was not working. We realized the problem was not our patients, location, practice environment, our clinical skills, or our team. Though all of these things are important, they don't determine your ultimate success.

Recognize change starts with you

What determines your ultimate success is "us." To be successful, we had to control our thoughts and attitudes. My faith and family were instrumental in helping me in this endeavor.

I believe each of us has a greater purpose, and when we start to focus on that, things will get better. It may sound cliché, but maybe we don't take this to heart as much as we should. There is nothing that special about me, but there is something different about me.

Seek knowledgeable assistance

Because I'm not the smartest dentist, I learned early to be teachable and coachable. Also, I always try to implement what I learn. Therefore, I have a history of searching for mentors and successful people. It was not difficult for me to find Dr. Tony Feck, an instructor for DOCS (Dental Organization for Conscious Sedation).

During a course we attended to retain our licensure, I asked Dr. Feck for advice. He, like many successful people I've met, was happy to chat with me, and he directed me to Sunrise Dental Solutions. It was time to get our house in order.

Working with a consultant was one of my most important considerations. A consultant can be an objective source of advice, since sometimes it's difficult for dentists and team members to really know how the practice is doing; they're on the inside looking out. The key is finding a consultant you can trust.

Over the years, we worked with many practice management companies that provided good advice, but they didn't always satisfy all of our needs. After attending a summit hosted by Sunrise Dental Solutions, we knew they were the perfect fit for us.

Begin the transformation and diversification

The next phase of our recovery was the most uncomfortable -- the change. We needed to change some things, in fact, a lot of things. However, part of growth is change, and dentists and their teams must accept that it is not often easy.

Our consultants kick started our changes by implementing Advanced Hygiene Concepts, a proven soft-tissue program, into the practice. During the following months, it became clear that one secret to surviving a new dental paradigm, as I refer to it, would be diversification of dental services and implementing new technology and ideas into the practice. We needed to add more to the menu, as well as keep our customer service a top priority.

Initially, one of the more unusual things we did was fill gaps in the schedule with affordable professional teeth whitening. We formed a partnership with a teeth whitening company, and we began experimenting with different types of in-office whitening. At one point we scheduled 100 people for teeth whitening in two days (days we didn't have patients), and generated $25,000 of revenue. Since then, we've provided this affordable solution to more than 5,000 patients, generated hundreds of thousands dollars from teeth whitening, and even created a duplicatable system that any dentist can use.

Market your new message

It wasn't easy at first, but we were persistent. With the help of some trusted friends, we implemented marketing strategies so that the public would come to know who we are.

Marketing on the Internet helped tremendously to spread the word about our practice, and we continue to use Internet marketing today. Unfortunately, many dentists fall prey to some of the many different Internet marketing predators out there. Just as finding the right consultant is important, so is finding a marketing company you can trust. "Your Marketing Practice" became that trusted partner for us, and provided the help we needed to form our marketing strategy.

We worked hard to change our exclusive cosmetic image to one that emphasized our practice as a place where dental phobics could receive comfortable dentistry while resting. We didn't like the slogan "Cater to cowards," so we focused on providing a safe environment for people to get most, or a lot, of their dentistry done in one visit "anxiety free."

Our next order of business was incorporating implants into the practice. Although we'd taken several implant courses, we never really implemented them to any real capacity. We marketed this to the public and our patients. But in addition to implants and sedation dentistry, we also introduced short-term orthodontics (i.e., Six Month Smiles) to the cosmetic side of our practice.

Incorporate a game changer

By now our practice had become more diversified, and the numbers were headed back to where they had been. Yet it was clear that maintaining these efforts and services would not be sufficient for sustaining growth for the long term. To really grow and reach our goals, we needed to provide service, care, and treatment that no one else was offering.

That's when we found TruDenta, a company that provides a complete system for treating patients who suffer from chronic headaches, migraines, TMJ/D, bite issues, bruxism, tinnitus, and other symptoms resulting from dentomandibular sensorimotor dysfunction. We thoroughly investigated the FDA-cleared technologies, and spoke with several dentists who had incorporated the treatment system and protocol into their practices. We decided to pull the trigger on the biggest "out there" service we thought we could offer. We immediately saw the benefits for our own patients, and we began attracting new patients into the practice as well.

Don't look back

It has been just over four years since we realized that dentistry isn't ever going to be the same as it was before the 2008 recession. We're more profitable today than we've ever been, and in addition to physically expanding our practice, we're also adding an associate. It took some hard work and prayer to make it all happen, and it will continue to be challenging. But we're still here -- better and stronger than before -- and that's a good feeling.

My hope is that what worked for us can help others, but if anyone reading this would like to talk with me personally about my experiences, feel free to contact me. Nearly everyone I've contacted has been gracious and helpful, and I would like to do the same for someone else who wants help or advice.

Christian Yaste, DDS, graduated from University of Michigan School of Dentistry in 1996 and completed a two-year residency in oral medicine at Carolinas Medical Center. He practices full time, and has a vested interest in "Your Marketing Practice." You may reach him at dryaste@ballantynedentistry.com.

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