Reaching the right patients: The young

In our last article about reaching the right patients, we talked about retirees. Baby boomers are a large group and make up about 24% of the current US population, so it makes sense to target them.

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Vicki McManus Peterson, RDH

In our last article about reaching the right patients, we talked about retirees. Baby boomers are a large group and make up about 24% of the current US population, so it makes sense to target them. However, they’ve also peaked as a percentage of the population. According to Pew Research Center, the number of millennials—people born between 1981 and 1996—will surpass the number of baby boomers by 2019. Meanwhile, the oldest members of generation Z are 18 to 22 and just entering the workforce.1 Older Americans may be an underserved market, but young workers are also in need of dental services, and they may not have chosen a dentist yet or realize how easy it can be to afford dental care.

Who are the young workers?

Young people are future focused. They’re looking forward to marriage, new careers, and promotions. Their whole lives are ahead of them, and they want smiles that match their goals and dreams. However, they often don’t have dental insurance and many have no idea what dentistry costs. For instance, a young person might skip dental visits because he or she assumes that a routine visit costs as much as a visit to a medical specialist. Who has the money for that? They also work long hours and sometimes on odd schedules.

These young professionals are rarely without their smartphones, which they use to communicate, consume media, and research providers. Raised in an Amazon Prime world, they expect excellent service and short turnarounds. They can be demanding patients, but they can quickly become enthusiastic fans. Whether they love you or hate you, they’ll make sure everyone knows.

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What young workers can do for your practice

Would young workers be a good demographic for your practice? If you want to increase production, the answer is a resounding “yes!” Young workers are often seeking short-term orthodontia or cosmetic treatments; are very focused on the appearance, not just function, of their teeth; are used to monthly payment plans for phones and cars, so they’re willing to enter into a payment plan for dentistry; and are accustomed to living without insurance and paying out of pocket for care. They are natural “brand evangelists.” If they like you, they will let the world know. Attract them now, and you’ll have years with them, their spouses, and their children. They’re also eager to start treatment plans as soon as possible.

It’s a population who tends to want cosmetic treatments, who’s willing to participate in your payment plans, and who will, over time, bring even more patients into your practice. If you’re planning to be in business 10 or 20 years from now, you can’t afford to ignore this demographic. You need the young workers as much as they need you.

Where to find young workers

Young workers aren’t reading the daily paper, and they’re not likely to be watching much broadcast television. They prefer podcasts and their own digital music collections to the radio. Junk mail goes right into the trash. After all, they pay their bills and communicate with loved ones online, not through the postal service. To reach this group, you need to move beyond traditional forms of advertising. You need a robust social media presence and a solid website, and you should consider going out to find millennials at their workplaces.

Social media is your most important marketing tool

If you’ve shied away from social media marketing, you’ll need to reevaluate your strategy in order to reach young professionals. In a recent survey from and subsequent article in Adweek, 81% of millennial women said the best way for marketers to connect with them was through social media.2

If you want to attract the young professional demographic, you need to be a social media superstar. That doesn’t just mean “have a Facebook page.” After all, 40% of the respondents in the same survey said Instagram was their preferred social media platform.2

Creating a great social media presence can be time consuming. Millennials don’t want to passively consume the advertisements you send their way. They expect to be able to comment and ask questions, and they expect a prompt reply when they do. To reach the young, you’re going to need either a staff member or a contractor who can monitor your social media accounts, create engaging content on a daily basis, and be a point of contact for customer service when potential patients interact with your pages.

Does this sound like too big of an investment? The median pay for a social media manager is $56,000 a year, but a new patient is generally estimated to be worth about $2,000 the first year. Can a good social media manager bring in three new patients a month? One would hope so. If the manager can bring in at least three new patients per month, the person will more than pay for your investment.

Don’t neglect the old-fashioned website

Social media is king for this demographic, but you still need a solid website to refer potential patients to for more information. There are a few important features for millennials that your website must have to appeal to them.

  • A mobile-friendly format—Young professionals will be investigating your site on their smartphones. Make sure it displays well and is easy to navigate on any device.

  • Lots of visuals—Millennial patients want to be able to quickly get a sense of your practice. Take good photos that show you and your team at work and play.

  • Evidence of community engagement—Millennials value service, so don’t be shy about letting them see the volunteer work you and your team do, such as the children’s sports teams you sponsor and your community outreach.

  • An easy way to make appointments by chat or text—Millennials consider phone calls a waste of time. If you demand that they call for appointments and your competition lets them text or chat, they’re going to go to your competition.

Find young workers where they spend most of their time—at work

While social media is a must, you can also get creative in reaching this group. The fact is that young workers often spend much of their time at work. See if local employers will let you come in and give educational seminars on what you can do to improve people’s smiles. Bring snacks and be prepared to meet young workers and answer questions. Hospitals, nursing homes, marketing firms, restaurants, retail firms, and manufacturers all have large numbers of young workers. Do a little digging and find out who the biggest employers of millennials are in your community, then go out and meet them.

The messages they want

The same survey that found that millennials prefer social media advertising also gathered data on the types of advertisements and posts that attract their interest and encourage them to spend more time investigating an advertiser. In order of preference, they said that ads should feature humor, social good, motivational texts, and real-life situations.2

This is great news for you. Dental practices lend themselves to inspiring visuals, real people and their testimonials, community service, and quirky humor. To reach this group most effectively, avoid falling into a rut. Use all four types of messaging so that your social media accounts stay fresh and interesting. Include quizzes, contests, testimonials, and uplifting photos. The mix will attract young people who are motivated to improve their smiles and who want you to be their dentist.

Another recent survey from a British travel agency found that millennials tend to make discretionary purchases based on how they’ll look on Instagram.3 Consider filming and photographing patient testimonials in interesting local surroundings, such as a nature preserve, winery, or local landmark. This will let potential patients imagine themselves in the same glamourous locations with their new, great smiles.

If you have existing patients who had cosmetic work before a wedding, graduation, or big vacation, acquire pictures of them smiling at those events. Millennials crave memorable experiences. Send the message that you can help them achieve the smile they’ve dreamed of so that they can have photos and memories they can be proud of.

Since millennials live in a social media world, social proof marketing is one of the most powerful items in your tool kit. Take the time to ask your existing millennial patients for reviews, testimonials, and referrals. Have them like you on Facebook, and run regular contests that encourage them to share your content with their friends. These types of marketing campaigns are very low cost but come with a huge ROI.

Finally, remember that millennials are often starting out and don’t have a lot of savings, though they are used to purchasing phones and cars on installment plans. Consider offering membership plans or in-office payment options. Compassionate Finance is one company that can set up the logistics to identify payment-worthy patients.

Always mention to patients that payment plans are available to fit most budgets. For this generation, the total cost matters less than the monthly payment, and they need to know that you’ll work with them to help them reach their dental goals.

Millennials: Gotta catch ’em all!

Appealing to millennials means letting them see the amazing services you provide and persuading them that you’re a kind, sympathetic, and skilled person who can help them reach their goals. If you take the time to market to this demographic now, you’ll attract loyal, enthusiastic patients who will be assets to your practice for decades to come. While the emphasis on social media may be a change of focus for your practice, you’ll quickly find that using this medium leads to exponential growth as your new and current patients connect you with their families and friends.

Millennials may be much maligned in the media, but they’re the future of our patient base. It pays to reach out to them.


1. Fry R. Millennials projected to overtake baby boomers as America’s largest generation. Pew Research Center website. Published March 1, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2018.

2. Richards K. 40% of millennial women say Instagram is the best way for brands to reach them, per Bustle. Adweek website. Published December 13, 2017. Accessed May 30, 2018.

3. Hayhurst L. Survey highlights Instagram as key factor in destination choice among millennials. Travelution website. Published March 24, 2017. Accessed May 30, 2018.

Vicki McManus Peterson, RDH, is the cofounder of Productive Dentist Academy, a public speaker, and owner of a dental practice in Wisconsin. She is the collaborative author of FUNdamentals of Outstanding Dental Teams, and recently published her latest book, Frustration: The Breakfast of Champions: Turn Powerful Emotions into Career Success.Contact her at or call her at (800) 757-6077.

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