Jan. 1, 2006
Living the good life, but afraid retirement will drain your savings? Cosmetic dentistry can help.

Living the good life, but afraid retirement will drain your savings? Cosmetic dentistry can help.

Dental practices have two main objectives - excellent patient care and practice profitability. Some people think these goals are mutually exclusive, but they actually support one another. A commitment to quality oral health care requires that a practice have a strong financial foundation. Profitability allows dentists to upgrade services and equipment. Conversely, a practice in decline will have difficulty maintaining needed supplies, products, and equipment for exemplary care.

Profitability is a goal that enhances patient care. It is the end point for all the management systems in a practice and should be established as an ­annual goal. By setting a goal for profitability, dentists can design all systems to achieve this objective. In my 21 years of observing practices, I have come across many practices that do not set goals or set unrealistic ones.

In most cases, when their profitability goals are not achieved, the first thing dentists cut is retirement funding. They say, “I’ll fund it next year or the following year.” That mentality can contribute to practicing years longer than necessary to fund a long-delayed retirement plan.

When a practice operates without a focus on profit, the doctor cannot evaluate what contributes to success. This is one reason why many doctors live comfortable lifestyles throughout their careers, but have insufficient savings. A lack of practice profitability is why some ­dentists are forced to rely on the sale of their practices for retirement.

Untapped growth potential

Dentists can substantially increase profits with cosmetic dentistry. The market for cosmetic dentistry has increased tremendously during the past 10 years because more patients are interested in improving their appearances. According to the recent State of Cosmetic Dentistry survey commissioned by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, 40 percent of responding doctors experienced more than 15 percent growth in cosmetic production during the past five years. Nearly 80 percent of dentists expect growth to increase during the next five years.

I agree. Adding cosmetic dentistry and growing it as a percentage of production is one of the fastest and most effective ways to boost profits. I am not suggesting that every general practice should open tomorrow as a strictly cosmetic practice. The most successful practices offer traditional and cosmetic dentistry, and thereby cater to more patients. The following nine tips can help you offer more cosmetic services, expand your patient base, and increase practice profitability:

Tip 1: Set goals

Adding cosmetic dentistry or even designing and developing a purely cosmetic practice takes planning and goal setting. Goals must be written down, have deadlines, and be measurable. If your objectives do not include these characteristics, then they are wishes rather than goals.

Before expanding cosmetic services, look at key performance indicators, including current production, revenue, overhead, and profitability. If your practice has trouble collecting on routine dentistry, then introducing cosmetic procedures will only exacerbate the problem. Is your practice schedule constructed in such a way that cosmetic procedures, many of which are lengthy, can be added?

You must answer these questions to set realistic goals for esthetic services. In addition, you must target exactly how much cosmetic dentistry you intend to perform to reach goals, such as adding X amount of profit to your practice. By understanding what cosmetic dentistry can do for your practice, you can set and achieve your goals.

Tip 2: Share the vision

As a leader, you must share your practice vision with your team so it can be effectively understood. Remember that cosmetic dentistry, whether it is in the form of simple whitening or more complicated procedures such as veneers, is most likely not going to be covered by insurance. Only through transferring the enthusiasm of your vision for cosmetic dentistry to patients and staff can esthetic services be increased.

Every member of your dental team must buy what you’re trying to accomplish. Levin Group has worked with some practices in which the dentists had solid, achievable, and realistic cosmetic dentistry goals. Staff members did not enthusiastically embrace the doctor’s new practice vision and therefore, did not provide the customer service necessary to increase cosmetic case acceptance.

To increase enthusiasm for cosmetic dentistry, suggest procedures that might benefit team members. Nothing creates an enthusiastic attitude for increasing cosmetic dentistry like team members who have had procedures done and can share their experiences with patients.

Tip 3: Educate patients

Just as with need-based dentistry, patient education is critical to boost the number of cosmetic services performed. What are the best ways to educate patients about cosmetic services? Some practices purchase expensive advertisements in the local media, but external advertising is not always the most effective marketing to dental patients.

Internal marketing strategies are usually more effective ways to educate and motivate patients about cosmetic dentistry. They include -

Office messaging

Pamphlets, brochures, and posters that explain all your cosmetic services

Models of cosmetic procedures

Before-and-after photos and case testimonials from patients

Office appearance

These strategies and others, combined with an enthusiastic staff, will help you educate and motivate patients to accept cosmetic treatment. While not every procedure is right for every patient, there is likely a cosmetic treatment that suits each patient.

Tip 4: Start with whitening

Whitening boosts cosmetic dentistry revenue and can lead patients to accept more complex procedures in the future. Patients who are agreeable to whitening treatment are also more willing to be educated and motivated to accept other forms of cosmetic dentistry.

The market developed by over-the-counter whitening systems has identified millions of patients who are legitimately interested in improving the whiteness, brightness, and overall esthetics of their smiles. Knowing that this market already exists, build on this consumer awareness by presenting more whitening treatment to patients. If you want to perform more cosmetic dentistry, whitening is the perfect start.

Tip 5: Emphasize benefits

Case presentation for cosmetic services should emphasize the emotional benefits of accepting treatment. For patients, elective dentistry is more about emotional perceptions than oral health. Unlike traditional dentistry, patients will not make a decision to accept such a case based on need - they are not usually experiencing pain - but rather on the feelings they get when they think of how much better they will look and feel after treatment. During cosmetic case presentations, avoid overwhelming patients with lengthy clinical descriptions. Rather, focus on the many emotional benefits of the treatment. Telling patients how good they will look and feel about their smiles is an excellent way to present a procedure.

Patients are willing to listen to ways their smiles can be enhanced, especially because many are unaware of the options. If value is built for the treatment, patients will be more likely to accept the fee. Emphasizing benefits creates greater case acceptance that will lead to increased practice profitability.

Tip 6: Schedule for success

Design your schedule based on production. Large, comprehensive need-based and cosmetic procedures should be performed within seven days and scheduled in the morning. Simple, less time-consuming procedures should be saved for the afternoon. This keeps you and your staff from becoming fatigued, while allowing higher-revenue cosmetic procedures to be built into the schedule.

Blocking time for cosmetic dentistry procedures will allow you to effectively schedule patients while they are motivated to receive treatment. Motivation can dissipate quickly. Most patients are motivated to have appointments for their cosmetic procedures within 10 days of accepting treatment plans. By scheduling patients within this time, practices are likely to avoid a high percentage of patient cancellations and no-shows. An overbooked schedule can wreak havoc on case acceptance. As a dentist, you do not want patients to accept a comprehensive cosmetic dentistry treatment plan only to find out that no appointments are available for a month or longer. Frustrated by the delay, these patients will cancel their appointments, resulting in decreased production, declining revenue, and possibly even lost referrals. Case acceptance depends on patients being scheduled for cosmetic treatment within a reasonable time while motivation is high.

Tip 7: Look at your cosmetic fees

Many dentists who have added cosmetic procedures to their service mix, or who offer cosmetic dentistry almost exclusively, have raised their fees in recent years. While a few have thrived, others have suffered drops in production and profitability because of higher fees. Patients are going elsewhere for more basic, need-based dental procedures. Setting higher fees to become a purely cosmetic practice can work, but it is risky. One way practices become most profitable is by offering a mix of cosmetic services with the basic dental procedures. While cosmetic dentistry fees usually are higher than those of need-based services, keeping fees to a level that patients perceive as reasonable will ensure steady patient flow, increased referrals, and greater production - all of which increase practice profitability. Reasonable fees are those that are at or above the 80th percentile.

Tip 8: Upgrade your office appearance

Appearance does matter, especially to patients interested in cosmetic dentistry. Patients are unlikely to accept cosmetic treatment if the dental office atmosphere is not esthetically pleasing. Update the look of your office every few years. Some doctors still have the same office décor as when they purchased their practices a decade or more ago. Look around your office, reception area, restrooms, and exterior. Is it time for a makeover? A dentist’s office says a lot about the practice. But does it say the right things? Does it say your office is a leading practice that holds patient care, comfort, and convenience in the highest regard?

Tip 9: Wow patients with superior Tip 9: Wow patients with superior customer service

Cosmetic dentistry candidates deserve to receive the best patient experience. Most cosmetic services are not mandatory procedures. From an oral health standpoint, patients are not going to suffer any ill effects if cosmetic treatment is not performed. For this reason, these patients should receive the best WOW-level customer service you can provide. Cosmetic services are an extra revenue stream beyond need-based procedures and regular check-ups.

Superior customer service requires enthusiasm from the team. No one likes to walk into a place of business and be greeted by unsmiling faces. For example, it is not enough for staff members to thank patients for selecting the practice. The dental team must do it the right way - sincerely and enthusiastically. Simply going through the motions reflects poorly on the practice. Cosmetic dentistry is about making patients feel good about themselves, and that requires an enthusiastic, friendly team that provides outstanding customer service. When you WOW patients, they will accept treatment ­recommendations, refer friends and family, and return to your practice for other services and procedures.


Profitability is the primary business goal for dental practices. Incorporating more cosmetic dentistry into your practice is one of the best ways to increase revenue and reach your profitability potential. These nine tips can help dentists who offer little or no cosmetic services as well as those doctors who want to achieve marked improvement in their overall cosmetic production.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, is founder and CEO of Levin Group, a leading dental-management consulting firm that is dedicated to improving the lives of dentists through a diverse portfolio of lifetime services and solutions. Since the company’s inception in 1985, Dr. Levin has worked to bring the business world to dentistry. A popular lecturer, Dr. Levin addresses thousands of dentists and staff worldwide each year in more than 100 seminars and at the dental industry’s most prestigous meetings. Levin Group may be reached at (888) 973-0000, or at

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