2112 De Chal Z01 61a8fc77464a3

Avoid this fundamental dental marketing mistake

Dec. 16, 2021
An occasional negative review, especially if you politely respond to it, can actually boost your credibility because it feels more honest.

For most of your purchases, you have a perceived need and a product or service that meets that need. Your hair needs washing, so you buy shampoo. Your car is making a strange noise, so you take it to a mechanic. Dentistry is different in that it relies to a large extent on trust. When you tell a patient that they have periodontitis, or one new cavity, or an old filling that needs to be replaced, they most likely have no clue that they need any of these things until you tell them.

Patients usually have no symptoms that indicate something is wrong. This leaves them with a strong feeling of vulnerability in your care. Your marketing must take this into account. Unfortunately, some dental marketing actually sends unintentional signals that undermine patient trust. Here, I’ll show you how to avoid this.

Related reading:

Marketing: Make no mistake!
Stay ahead of your competition with dental marketing best practices

The need for trust

In my practice, I liked to provide copies ofReader's Digestin my reception room. To my great dismay, the cover story in the February 1993 issue was "Exclusive investigation: How dentists rip us off.” It was written by an investigative reporter who visited 50 dental offices across the country to compare suggested treatment plans, with the intention of showing dentists as not trustworthy. He received treatment plans varying from one crown and four fillings, to full-mouth reconstruction, and many variations in between.1 While the article was later debunked to a degree, the idea that a dentist might try to overtreat in order to make more money was firmly planted in the minds of many people.

Try this experiment to learn how prevalent this is. Bring up the subject in a social setting and see if anyone has a story about dental overtreatment. When I do this in a group of about five or six people, someone usually has a personal story or knows someone with a story.

Dental marketing consultant Suzanne Boswell has conducted numerous focus groups about how patients choose their dentist. “A common focus group comment is ‘I want to go to someone who cares more about me than the money,’” she writes.2 The fear behind that comment is that people feel vulnerable to overtreatment and want to be able to trust what we say.

Boswell also reports on a survey in which she asked dentists and patients on what basis patients accepted treatment recommendations. Out of multiple factors, dentists said the number one factor, by a margin of about 12%, was patient perception of need. Second was the trust patients had in the dentist’s recommendations. But patients said the number one factor was trust by a factor of seven to one over their perception of need (figure 1).3

In spite of all your explanations, patients don’t feel like they really know what is going on in their mouths and feel a strong need to be able to trust you. Thus, to be successful, your marketing needs to center around cultivating trust.

One woman told me that she went to a new dentist who gave her a visual tour of her mouth with an intraoral camera and told her she needed extensive work. She said that the pictures were compelling, but that it felt gimmicky. She declined to make an appointment for treatment. Instead, she went to another dentist who told her that she didn’t need anything. She never went back to the first dentist and to this day, some 20 years later, she hasn’t needed any of the proposed work.

How to convey trust through your website

People get a first impression of your practice through your website, and you want that impression to convey trustworthiness. The primary way to do this is with the tone of the writing. Here are ways to do that.

Don’t brag: An award-winning marketer and author of the landmark book on marketing, Unconscious Branding, wrote about creating trust, where he warns about bragging. “When someone tells us how great they are, we just see their flaws.”4 You need to present your credentials, but there is a way to present them in a matter-of-fact tone so you don’t look like you’re bragging. If you don’t have strong credentials, don’t embellish. An example is a dentist claiming their dental school is prestigious. Focus on something else you’re good at. Maybe you’re affordable, convenient, gentle, or particularly friendly. Highlighting these aspects can be very effective, especially if you can document them with patient testimonials.

Pay attention to reviews: Our surveys show that about 60% of new patients check your online reviews before asking for an appointment.5 They perceive this as a great way to validate the claims made on your website. However, there is still a level of distrust in reviews. Surveys show that people become suspicious when there are no negative reviews. Search professional Greg Gifford reports, “Many companies have run studies—BrightLocal, GatherUp, UberAll—and they all found the same thing. Businesses with a perfect 5.0 rating ended up with fewer conversions.”6 Almost counterintuitively, an occasional negative review, especially if you politely respond to it, can actually boost your credibility because it feels more honest.

Share pros and cons: Similarly, when you discuss treatment options on your website, be honest with your visitors about their pros and cons. Otherwise you end up sounding like you’re making a sales pitch rather than providing accurate information. Also, avoid the temptation to tell website visitors why you are the best dentist in town to provide their treatment. This looks like you’re bragging. Our surveys of patients show that when they read quality information about procedures on your website, this leads them to feel like you’re an expert in that area, so you don’t need to say anything more.

Eagerness is viewed with suspicion: Acting too eager for new patients sends a signal that maybe you’re more concerned about money than about taking care of people. Let me illustrate this with an experiment we ran in my company.

Five years ago, one of our clients wanted us to help him capture the email addresses of his website visitors so he could contact them and encourage them to become patients. We warned him that this aggressive approach could backfire, but he insisted. So, we agreed, but we asked his permission to run an experiment. We put a small box in the corner of his home page inviting people to share their email so they could receive information and specials. We put it up and took it down in alternate months for most of a year.

We discovered two interesting things. One was that people apparently didn’t find the box annoying because it didn’t increase the bounce rate. But it did depress phone calls to the practice by 30% whenever it was up.7 Whether consciously or unconsciously, people read his intentions and took this moderately aggressive marketing stance as a signal that this dentist might care more about money than them. Other studies plus our experiences with clients confirm that when a dental website appears too eager for new patients, this has a negative effect on conversions.

The bottom line is that people feel very vulnerable when it comes to their dental care. They feel a great need to be able to trust you. Be honest with them, make sure that your website conveys that feeling, and this will maximize conversions.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the December 2021 print edition of Dental Economics.


1. Ecenbarger W. How dentists rip us off. Reader’s Digest. February 1993. Accessed September 29, 2021. https://digitalsmiledesign.com/files/Old-Website-Assets/PDF/How-Dentists-Rip-Us-Off.pdf
2. Boswell S. The Mystery Patient’s Guide to Gaining & Retaining Patients. PennWell Books; 1997:123.
3. Boswell S. The Mystery Patient’s Guide to Gaining & Retaining Patients. PennWell Books; 1997:137.
4. Van Praet D. Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing. St. Martin’s Press; 2014.
5. Hall DA. How many dental patients check reviews first? Infinity Insights. December 5, 2016. Accessed September 30, 2021. https://www.infinitydentalweb.com/blog/many-dental-patients-check-reviews-first/
6. Gifford G. What is the ideal Google review score? SearchLab. July 21, 2020. Accessed September 30, 2021. https://searchlabdigital.com/blog/whats-the-ideal-google-review-score/
7. Hall DA. How pop-ups can hurt your dental website. Infinity Insights. December 12, 2016. Accessed September 28, 2021. https://www.infinitydentalweb.com/blog/popups-hurt-your-dental-website/

About the Author

David A. Hall, DDS, AAACD

DAVID A. HALL, DDS, AAACD, graduated with honors from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry and ran a private practice in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for many years. In 1995, he launched a website promoting his own dental practice. After requests from other dentists for help with their websites, he founded Infinity Dental Web in 2009, a marketing agency that does digital marketing for dentists. Dr. Hall may be contacted at (480) 273-8888.

Sponsored Recommendations

Clinical Study: OraCare Reduced Probing Depths 4450% Better than Brushing Alone

Good oral hygiene is essential to preserving gum health. In this study the improvements seen were statistically superior at reducing pocket depth than brushing alone (control ...

Clincial Study: OraCare Proven to Improve Gingival Health by 604% in just a 6 Week Period

A new clinical study reveals how OraCare showed improvement in the whole mouth as bleeding, plaque reduction, interproximal sites, and probing depths were all evaluated. All areas...

Chlorine Dioxide Efficacy Against Pathogens and How it Compares to Chlorhexidine

Explore our library of studies to learn about the historical application of chlorine dioxide, efficacy against pathogens, how it compares to chlorhexidine and more.

Enhancing Your Practice Growth with Chairside Milling

When practice growth and predictability matter...Get more output with less input discover chairside milling.