HOW TO PROFIT FROM...aesthetics An interview with Dr. Deborah Gray King

by John Jameson, DDS

This month, Dr. Jameson interviews Dr. Deborah Gray King, president of the Atlanta Center for Cosmetic Dentistry. A clinical instructor with PAC-Live Aesthetic Continuum at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco, Dr. King holds the distinction of being one of only two women dentists, among 31 dentists worldwide, to achieve Fellowship status with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.

Dr. Jameson: What type of marketing or patient education programs have you found to be the most beneficial in building an aesthetic practice? What kinds of referral resources will elevate these services into the treatment mix?

Dr. King: We have a saying in our practice: You get what you ask for, and what you focus on. I recommend that early marketing efforts focus on the type of dentistry that you want to do and that you enjoy doing. We still laugh about my first Yellow Page ad. I listed "root canals," "crowns," and "24-hour emergency service." Predictably, we were getting calls in the middle of the night!

I finally came to my senses and began to focus on what on I really wanted to do, which was cosmetic dentistry. My external marketing efforts reflected this; we began featuring beautiful smiles in our ads along with general practice information.

Patients have always been our best referral source. Having said that, it's also very important for aesthetic practitioners to have a Web site; we get a lot of patients from ours!

Dr. Jameson: Would you agree that a dynamic and active Web site should be a primary focus for practitioners wanting to build the aesthetic side of their practice?

Dr. King: Absolutely!

Dr. Jameson: What role does staff development play in growing a successful aesthetic practice?

Dr. King: In the early years, I attended cutting-edge courses like those offered through the AACD. I would return pumped up, ready to rock-and-roll — and my staff would be skeptical. Then, I started taking my staff with me. Attending courses increased their enthusiasm; they returned ready to implement new ideas and innovations.

I couldn't afford to take everyone with me in the beginning, so I limited it to one or two staff members who showed a good attitude and a willingness to perform "above and beyond." It became a real job "perk." You can control costs by being upfront about what the expectations are, and agreeing ahead of time that the privilege of attending courses comes with the responsibility of learning as much as they can. My staff takes notes during every course, and we generally have a meeting upon our return to discuss the highlights and how we can implement what we've learned into the practice.

Taking your staff along to meetings and courses benefits everyone. The staff benefits from listening to the nation's top authorities on dentistry, and the practice benefits from their increased enthusiasm and motivation. It pays to involve your staff.

Dr. Jameson: This naturally brings up another topic for dentists who are building an aesthetic practice, that of continuing education. What kinds of courses do you recommend?

Dr. King: Solid clinical skills are a must and the foundation for any cosmetic practice. My highest recommendation would be for practitioners to take a true hands-on course from companies like PAC-Live or Las Vegas Institute.

I'm an instructor at PAC-Live. Every time I go out there, I'm amazed at the knowledge and skill of people such as David Hornsby and Mark Montgomery. It's such a gathering of minds, and everyone is so open to sharing their knowledge. They are up on the latest materials and procedures; I always return from a session completely invigorated. And it's not just for the doctor — employees should attend as well. It's important for them to experience clinical excellence first hand.

Dr. Jameson: The word "passion" seems to come up repeatedly when discussing a cosmetic practice. How important is passion — from the clinician and staff — in gaining the case acceptance necessary for an aesthetic practice to thrive?

Dr. King: Confidence and enthusiasm will sell more cosmetic cases than anything else. Patient education systems like CAESY certainly help! So does role-playing — dentists and their staff have to know what to say, and presentations must be consistent.

Wall and Hollett just came out with a publication called Colossal Case Acceptance, and it discusses how vital every person in a practice is. Every staff member has a role when it comes to case acceptance. Tony Swallow has developed a PowerPoint template that practitioners can customize; it walks team members through the basics of a treatment presentation and is especially helpful if your staff is new and trying to build confidence for case acceptance. As confidence grows, so does enthusiasm!

Dr. Jameson: You've mentioned CAESY and other technologies. How can we use all of the emerging technology and implement it into the aesthetically oriented practice?

Dr. King: Technology is, of course, essential. It's the nature of a cosmetic practice to be as up-to-date as possible. On the other hand, practitioners should avoid getting in over their heads and taking on too much debt. Acquire technology as you can afford it.

The first and most indispensable piece of equipment for a cosmetic practitioner is an intraoral camera. Next would be the CAESY patient education system. In a new practice, it's important that every patient hears the same information and explanations. It really gives patients a solid overview of different treatments, like bonding vs. veneers.

I would also invest in imaging software. Digital X-rays and instruments like the DIAGNOdent also are crucial.

Dr. Jameson: Where do you see cosmetic dentistry going in the next 10 years?

Dr. King: "Star" service will make the difference in cosmetic practices. People can go anywhere these days, and they expect to be treated exceptionally. Disney World gives its customers the royal treatment; that type of service has become the standard.

I see an increase in spa-like amenities and extraordinary customer service. Patients need to feel pampered. We constantly ask ourselves, "What can we do to make the customers feel pampered and the visit as pleasant as possible?" We've put in a spa chair specially adapted as a dental chair. It has headphones that play relaxing music and sounds, which drowns out all external noise in the office. It also vibrates in tandem with the music — almost like a massage. It puts the patient in a state of deep, almost Zen-like relaxation. Our patients love it!

More and more practices are incorporating things like vibrating pads in the dental chair, or even offering manicures and pedicures! Whatever the strategy, it's clear that customer service will make the difference for aesthetic practitioners.

Dr. John Jameson is chairman of the board of Jameson Management, Inc., an international consulting firm. Dr. Jameson lectures internationally on high-tech dentistry and its integration into the dental practice. He provides research for manufacturers and marketing companies. Dr. Jameson may be reached at (580) 369-5555 or by email at jameson@brightok.net.

Dr. Deborah Gray King will present "Tough Times Never Last, But Tough Practices Do!" on February 14 during the Cosmetic Dentistry 2002 conference in Las Vegas.

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