Dentistry and the recession

Dec. 1, 2008
I recently returned from speaking at the International College of Oral Implantology August meeting and I have to say, I was blown away!

by Louis Malcmacher, DDS, MAGD

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: Common Sense Dentistry, Dr. Louis Malcmacher, minimally invasive dentistry, recession, procedures, laser dentistry.

I recently returned from speaking at the International College of Oral Implantology August meeting and I have to say, I was blown away! About 1,000 dental professionals gathered during what is supposedly a "bad" economic time to learn more about implant dentistry. Don't these dentists know we're in tough economic times? Are patients really paying for implants and esthetic procedures now? Are these dentists just fooling themselves or are they being eternal and naïve optimists?

In reality, these dentists know exactly what they should be doing during the economic downturn. I speak to many dentists every single week, and for some, you'd think the end of the world is near. None of their patients are proceeding with elective esthetic cases, they can barely talk patients into doing standard crown and bridge, and their revenue is rapidly falling.

Other dentists I speak to are holding their own, doing more basic bread-and-butter procedures, and their production is maintaining or just below their 2007 numbers. A third group of dentists is producing like they have been for the past few years. Their numbers are up, maybe not as much as they'd like, but definitely up, they are still doing a good number of elective implant and esthetic cases, and their practices are growing.

What are the differences between these dentists? Certainly there are differences in the economic standards of their diverse patient populations, but that is likely not the answer here. The biggest difference that I find even during good times, and certainly when we hit a rough economic patch, is the mindset of the dentists and how they respond to what is happening economically.

If your mindset says that times are terrible and people have absolutely no discretionary income, then without even knowing it you'll present only very basic treatment and you will steer away from offering elective dentistry, telling yourself that "times are bad."

If your mindset is that people will always pay for what they want, you may have fewer patients choosing elective treatment, but there are many of those patients still out there. You will run your practice the way you always have and you will see the fruits of your mindset. In other words, your mindset becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In my experience while traveling this summer to give lectures in some of the major tourist cities like New York, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Chicago, I saw that the streets were still packed, from Times Square to the Miracle Mile to the Gaslamp Quarter, with American consumers on vacation.

These consumers are the same patients who you may have hesitated to present veneer or implant treatment to, and who are using those consumer dollars on a vacation or a new big-screen TV.

Focus and learn about the areas of dentistry that patients want — minimally invasive Lumineers or Vivaneers; laser dentistry with a hard- and soft-tissue Waterlase that reduces the number of injections needed; narrow-diameter implants, like Atlas implants by Dentatus or MDI by Imtec, that easily create a denture that snaps into place; minimally invasive periodontal treatment with Arestin; Vizilite Plus by Zila or the VELscope by LED Dental, or the brush test by OralCDx for oral cancer screenings.

Recessions and poor economic times are not new to dentistry. There is no question that this economic crisis is fundamentally different than anything we have ever seen before. We need to develop new tools on how to build our practices in this new economy. Now is the time to reevaluate your practice, work on the fundamentals of building a great dental team, take a new look at your marketing approach, and learn new skills to deliver more services to your patients.

There is a new reality that will affect the dental industry for years to come. Those dental offices that adapt will thrive, while those who go along as if nothing has happened will struggle to survive. Now is the best time to prepare for the future.

Dr. Louis Malcmacher is a practicing general dentist and internationally known lecturer, author, and dental consultant known for his comprehensive and entertaining style. An evaluator for CLINICIANS REPORT, Dr. Malcmacher is a consultant to the Council on Dental Practice of the ADA. Contact Dr. Malcmacher at (440) 892-1810 or e-mail [email protected]. His Web site is where you can find information about his lecture schedule, audio CDs, download his resource list, and sign up for a free monthly e-newsletter.

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