Asking the right questions

Many dentists ask the wrong questions when planning to purchase new materials and techniques.

Common Sense Dentistry | Louis Malcmacher, DDS

Many dentists ask the wrong questions when planning to purchase new materials and techniques. We make many different kinds of purchases for our dental offices every day. One area is the consumables that we use in our daily practice of dentistry. There are two main issues to consider when buying consumables: quality and price. It’s easy to look for the cheapest cotton rolls out there and to price shop for 2x2 gauze pads, latex gloves, and sterilization bags. However, there is a quality issue as well, especially when it comes to things like sterilization bags. I know a lot of dental offices will purchase the cheapest sterilization bags without regard to the quality.

The key is to look for products that are reasonable in cost and provide a high level of quality, especially in the sterilization arena. A perfect example is PeelVue+ by Dux Dental. Dux Dental is an interesting company made up of a combination of several companies which make a number of key products for the dental office. They have been able to keep their prices very reasonable. My message is don’t just buy on price alone! There are many areas where you can be price-competitive and still sustain a high quality product.

The main question most dentists ask when it comes to new equipment is, “How much does it cost?” For example, when they are told the price of a new dental CAD/ CAM system is more than $100,000, many dentists instantly think “unaffordable” and walk away. When they look at a dental laser at a price of $84,900, they wonder if it makes sense to buy something that expensive. Dentists easily get “sticker shock” and then decide that a new technology is not for them.

You need a broader view of your own practice. The right questions to ask are:

  1. How can this new technology fit into my practice?
  2. What can it do for me clinically, as well as from a practice-management perspective?
  3. How can I make it affordable so I can expand my practice and reap the benefits?

Let’s use a dental laser as an example. Monthly payments on an $84,900 dental laser are approximately $1,900. Now, the right questions to ask are:

  1. Will this laser bring in new patients to the practice?
  2. Will it allow me to do faster, easier, better dentistry so I will be more productive?
  3. Will it allow me to do new procedures?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then you will easily be able to produce more than $1,900 for lease payments.

But the overriding factor about dental lasers is that dentists will no longer have to “keep an eye” on dental lesions, which usually require an anesthetic to treat. For instance, geriatric patients often come to us with dug-out incisal edges on the lower teeth. These are usually brown in color and the teeth may be sensitive. Many dentists tell patients, “We will watch these,” or they instruct patients to use toothpaste with potassium nitrate for sensitivity. Dentists don’t like to treat these lesions because it is hard to get patients numb. Should we give them a mandibular block just for these small lesions? Will it work? Never mind, we’ll just watch it. What are we watching, when we know it will only get worse?

The same is true with abfraction and cervical lesions, especially on the lower molars. It’s hard to get these areas numb. Even if a patient says he or she is anesthetized, these areas often are still sensitive. I bet you can count 10 to 20 of these in your office each week. These teeth should be treated, not “watched” as they deteriorate.

With a dental laser, anesthetizing and treating these patients is not an issue. I pick up the laser, treat the teeth as they should be treated, and we are done. Treating these lesions alone will easily cover the monthly lease on a laser and more. This is how the dental laser becomes affordable.

From a practice-management perspective, a dental laser will differentiate your office to patients in your area and give you a competitive edge. I could probably make a case from a practice-management perspective alone that a dental laser is worth having just for the “wow” factor. But, when combining the clinical and practice-management aspects, you’ll see how a dental laser is affordable and profitable, and why you should say yes to investing in laser technology.

One caveat - you can’t just drop a dental laser into your office and expect things to happen. You and your staff will need to be well-trained in the proper use of the laser to achieve the most benefit for you and your patients.

With a CAD/CAM system, the same thing applies, but just a little differently. A dental CAD/CAM system will directly affect your monthly bill from the dental laboratory. A reasonable estimate is that a general office would need to perform about 18 to 20 CAD/CAM restorations per month to break even on the monthly payments. If your office does 30 to 40 units of inlays, onlays, and crowns per month, then a CAD/CAM system can be a profitable purchase.

The same caveat applies to the CAD/CAM - you need to learn how to use it. If it takes you three hours to do one restoration with a CAD/CAM system, then it will not be profitable. Investment in technology is not only a financial investment; it is an investment of time.

The right questions to ask when looking for new technology are what will it do for my dental practice and how will it change my life and the lives of my patients? The wrong question to ask is how much does it cost. Cost is almost irrelevant if new technology is made affordable by monthly financing and you take the time to learn to use it properly and productively. Let’s all develop a better business sense and start asking the right questions when we want to update our offices with new technology. The best investments you can make are in your dental office and in yourself!

Dr. Louis Malcmacher is an international lecturer and author known for his comprehensive and entertaining style. An evaluator for Clinical Research Associates, Dr. Malcmacher is a consultant to the Council on Dental Practice of the ADA. For details about his speaking schedule, Dr. Malcmacher can be reached at (440) 892-1810, or via e-mail at dryowza@iname.com.

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