Don G. Asmus, DDS
I awakened this morning to find a full-page advertisement from a well-known toothpaste manufacturer, touting its over-the-counter "tooth-whitening system," in my morning newspaper. As soon as I saw it, I had three thoughts. First, the cost of this single ad, which is probably part of a nationwide campaign, must have easily exceeded $50,000. Second, how many patients will be lured into drugstores, rather than dental offices, as a result of this campaign? Third, the same thought that strikes me every time I see an ad for an OTC whitening product that promises people the same type of care they could expect from a dentist: This is a monster of our own creation!
I`m concerned that our profession is unwittingly going to kill the golden teeth-whitening goose in exactly the same way that we carelessly created the denturist movement. Dentists are kidding themselves if they think there is any difference between sending an impression to a lab and saying, "Construct full upper and lower dentures," and saying to a dental assistant, "Take upper and lower impressions on Mrs. Smith and give her an at-home whitening kit."
From the all-important patient`s perspective, it must sound pretty hollow and self-serving to hear dentists denigrate the OTC whitening products when our personal involvement in the whitening process is rapidly approaching zero! Despite the admirable potential for "supervision" by a dentist, the most likely impression among our patients is that they are simply being sold an at-home whitening product by a dental auxiliary. With many dental offices serving as mere dispensaries of teeth-whitening kits, why shouldn`t OTC products state that they provide the same type of care one would receive from a dentist?
I think it`s interesting to note that when marketing their at-home whitening products to the dental profession, the very same manufacturers who compete with us (by also selling directly to the public) attempt to make a virtue out of "keeping patients out of our chairs." In other words, in the name of what may prove to be very short-term profits, we should try to minimize the amount of time during which we develop the type of trusting, personal relationships that are most likely to keep people from seeking their dental care in drugstores.
It`s important to remember that it wasn`t our patients who rejected in-office whitening in favor of the time-consuming hassles associated with the use of whitening trays. It was the dental profession that switched most patients to the at-home whitening method in an effort to increase our profit margins by reducing the amount of time we spend with patients. Unfortunately, this bean-counter logic (which states that we must never personally perform any procedure that could be delegated to someone else) may ultimately come back to haunt us. In the new millennium, we are likely to find that there are fewer and fewer procedures that can only be performed by a dentist. We just might live to regret the day that we allowed in-office teeth-whitening to slip through our singularly qualified fingers!