HOW TO PROFIT FROM...lasers A dentist's 'field of dreams'

July 1, 2001
Patients and doctors alike have dreamed of a time when we can do fillings without a shot, without a numb lip, without a drill, and provide aesthetic restorations on which patients can chew immediately.

by Dr. L. Don Wilson

Patients and doctors alike have dreamed of a time when we can do fillings without a shot, without a numb lip, without a drill, and provide aesthetic restorations on which patients can chew immediately. If you believe the impossible, the incredible can come true!

Because of laser technology, our dream is now a reality. We are thankful for the brilliant minds who have helped to advance this technology. But there is another perspective we must not forget — the practice-management side of lasers. If the companies that sell hard-tissue lasers can't get their products into dental offices, then they can't stay in business, and all of this wonderful technology will not be passed along to our patients.

Dentists frequently offer excuses such as:

  • "It's too expensive."
  • "I'll wait for it to improve."
  • "It's just a passing fad."
  • "It can't do any procedure I'm not already doing."

In reality, these are the same excuses used in the 1950s, when dentists converted from belt-driven to air-driven handpieces. We hear these excuses today as dentists think about changing from handpieces to lasers. Approximately 500 hard-tissue lasers are in use in the United States today for 150,000 dental offices. This means that only 0.3 percent of practices currently use this great technology.

I am the senior practitioner in a three-doctor practice, with a wonderful staff of 14 employees, in rural Florence, Ala. We have both the Millennium I Er,Cr: YSGG laser by Biolase and the DELight™ Er:YAG laser by Continuum in our office.

We prepare all of our direct-fill restorations with the erbium laser. We did not purchase a laser to do a select few restorations; we purchased one for use on all classes of all teeth on both adults and children. We also do all of our soft-tissue procedures with the erbium laser, such as fibroma removals, frenectomies, and crown lengthening. Since first placing the erbium laser in our office in April 1999, we have completed over 2,300 hard-tissue procedures, resulting in nearly a quarter of a million dollars in direct production. We have completed more than 98 percent of these procedures without anesthesia on patients of all ages.

So why should general dentists want to use hard-tissue lasers in their offices? Well, let's look at the proverbial "top 10" list:

  • Eliminate the smear layer
  • Bacteriocidal effect of the laser
  • Increase case acceptance
  • Practice conservative, less-invasive dentistry
  • Less trauma to the tooth
  • A good opportunity to eliminate amalgam
  • 50 percent stronger bond
  • Decrease chairtime
  • Multiple-quadrant dentistry
  • Complete restorations without anesthesia

All of these reasons produce happy, excited patients who tell all of their friends, which results in an increased new-patient flow and increased production. This, of course, produces a happy doctor and staff! So what impact can the erbium laser really have on a dental practice? The direct effect, as I have already shown, is tremendous, but the ripple effect is awesome.

In the 12 months prior to incorporating a laser into the practice, our production was a little over $1 million and the number of new patients averaged 81 per month. However, in the first 12 months after incorporating a laser into the practice, our production increased to $1.5 million (a 45 percent increase); new patients increased to 135 per month (a 67 percent increase). This was wonderful, but it gets better. In the second 12 months, our production jumped to $1.85 million (an 80 percent increase) and our new-patient flow soared to 187 per month (a 130 percent increase). Simply stated, if we compare our production and new-patient flow before and after the incorporation of our erbium laser, we have seen an average increase in production from $1 million to $1.9 million and new-patient flow increased from 81 per month to 161 per month, in just over a two-year period. Each extra new patient brought into the practice by the laser resulted in a $675 increase in our production during that patient's first year in our practice.

In the 1989 movie, "Field of Dreams," starring Kevin Costner, the statement, "If you build it, they will come" became popular. Let's carry this thought over to lasers in a dental practice: Just because you have one doesn't necessarily mean they will come, and if you think they will, then you are dreaming! We must make our potential patients aware of this new, wonderful technology ... and if we do, they will come.

Here are some ideas you might use to share this technology with your existing and potential patients:

1. Staff — Your staff must be knowledgeable and excited about laser technology and communicate this enthusiasm to patients.2. Public relations — We were interviewed by local TV stations on all three networks, as well as the local newspaper. It's great advertising — and it's free.Logo — We redesigned our logo to reflect the use of laser technology in our office.Sign — The sign in front of our office has a message board that we use for ongoing messages about lasers.Giveaways — We give a T-shirt to each of our patients who has a laser filling done. The front of the shirt asks, "Got Laser?" and the back answers, "Family Dental Care Does!"Yellow Pages — Let your Yellow Pages ad announce the laser technology you have added to your practice.Newspaper ad campaign — We produced two award-winning series of eye-catching ads that ran weekly in our local newspaper. One series was titled "No Problem," in which we described a life situation where you could have a laser filling done and then carry on with your normal routine without a numb lip. The other series was titled "If you don't like this ... you'll love this," in which we depicted something in the dental office patients might not like — such as a syringe — followed by something they might love — the laser! For more information on ad campaigns and marketing ideas for dentists, call Signature Studios at (256) 766-5595 or visit www.dentalpromo.com.

I am convinced that the erbium hard- and soft-tissue laser can change our practices and take them to a exciting, new level. Your patients will be happy because they can receive beautiful aesthetic restorations on which they can chew immediately, all without a numb lip! Everybody wins ... except the 149,500 practices that don't have an erbium laser and their patients.

At one time, all of this may have seemed to us to be only a field of dreams, but thanks to erbium laser dentistry, we now know that dreams can come true.

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