21 tips for beocming a "cosmetic dentist"

Nov. 1, 2006
There are many aspects of practice involved in successfully transitioning into a cosmetically oriented practice, but it’s well worth the effort.

There are many aspects of practice involved in successfully transitioning into a cosmetically oriented practice, but it’s well worth the effort. You are not only transforming a practice, you are changing the lives of your patients in ways you may never have imagined.

After years of developing and maintaining a successful general practice, my professional life changed in the course of one morning. This change began approximately five years ago, during the first hour of my level-one program at Dr. Larry Rosenthal’s Aesthetic Advantage. This course got me “pumped up” more than any I had ever attended, and influenced me to begin changing the focus of my practice immediately. Rome was not built in a day, however, and the past five years have been a continuous process of change.

Based upon my successful experiences, I would like to share some suggestions so that others can make a smooth transition to becoming a “cosmetic dentist.” Although all of the steps taken to expedite these changes are too numerous to discuss in this article, the following are 21 of the most significant ones. There are many excellent companies that supply some of the services mentioned here, but I will give the names of those that have worked successfully for, and with, me.

1. Take hands-on courses.It is not possible to become competent with new skills by sitting in a lecture hall. Completion of all levels of Dr. Larry Rosenthal’s Aesthetic Advantage gave me the tools and confidence to move forward. This was the best investment I ever made.

2. Find a consultantyou can trust to help in your transition. There are many adjustments in your practice you will need to make; some small, some large. I have used Jameson Management, and they have been an invaluable resource.

3. Branding - You will need to separate yourself from other dentists in your area, and create your own niche. This could be in the form of name change, logo, etc. Everything associated with your practice needs to project the image you are striving for. Dental Image Works has been tremendously helpful in guiding me.

4.Upgrade your office décor. Take a close look at your office. Is the atmosphere consistent with your philosophy of high-level care? If not, find an interior decorator and create an upscale feel for your patients and team.

5.Dress for success. Along with your office décor, does your personal appearance reflect your desired image? Business attire with a lab coat is much more professional looking than a pair of scrubs. While you are at it, what do your teeth look like? Remember you have to walk the walk first.

6.Work with the best labs possible. Much of the credit for our results has to go to the lab technicians. The best cost more, but they are well worth it. In my case, Frontier Labs, Jurim Dental Studio, and Jason Kim Labs have been part of my team.

7.Charge what you are worth.With the advice of my Jameson consultants, I increased all of my fees. You can’t perform this type of dentistry well, schedule appropriately, and use the best labs if your fees don’t allow you to be profitable. It is surprising how many patients “get” this. Those who don’t are not concerned about quality, and perhaps should be referred elsewhere.

8.Become a photographer. It is not possible to do quality cosmetic dentistry without quality digital photographs. We have had all team members trained by Dental Image Works.

9.Join the AACD and learn from the best. This is obvious. Great teachers can transmit not only clinical knowledge, but also an attitude that is infectious. This has always translated into renewed enthusiasm for me when I return to the office.

10.Study occlusion, occlusion, occlusion. Your beautiful results will not hold up if the correct occlusion has not been worked out. Buy a quality articulator (I have an Artex), take facebows, and get it right. Dr. Peter Dawson is still the best there is for this. It is amazing how few dentists really understand the science of occlusion.

11.Teach, publish, and let your patients knowabout it. I have had the honor of being asked to be a clinical instructor at the Aesthetic Advantage, assist in teaching hands-on at the 2006 AACD meeting, and publish case histories. Nothing is more satisfying for you, and impressive for your patients.

12.Use press releases and other PR to let the community know about you. My patients love to hear and read about their “famous dentist.”

13.Let your specialists know what you know. Patients are always asking our specialists for referrals. They need to know who is well trained in esthetic care. Any patient referred to you by a fellow dentist he or she trusts is more likely to follow your treatment recommendations.

14.Use outside financing.It is unrealistic to think that most patients can pay for this type of treatment up front. We use CareCredit® on a regular basis, and wouldn’t be doing nearly the volume that we are doing without it.

15.Market and advertise appropriately. Remember - we are going after an upscale and educated market. Patient News Publishing puts out a very high quality newsletter that has been very effective for us. We also have used radio effectively, again with the help of Dental Image Works. I can’t believe how many ads in Val-Paks advertise $5 exams, and then claim to “do veneers.” Be careful of sending mixed messages like that.

16.Don’t be afraid to discount your first several cases for the right patients. If you have long-standing patients who could benefit from what you do, you might want to offer them a discount when you first start your esthetic care. Happy dental “missionaries” who spread the word about you in your community might just be worth the discounted fee. Use this strategy carefully and it can pay major dividends down the road.

17.Get and stay healthy.This should be a no-brainer, but we need to feel and look healthy if we are in the business of esthetics. As we all know, our profession is very stressful, and chronic stress can take a major toll on health. Eat right, exercise, and convey your healthy image every day.

18.Present ideal treatment plans.Give the patient the chance to say yes. We owe this opportunity to both the patient and ourselves. To do otherwise is tantamount to malpractice. Treatment can always be phased or amended later.

19.Consider reducing your hours. Hopefully, by increasing fees and doing more comprehensive treatment, this will become affordable. More complex dentistry requires more planning, and some of your extra time should go into this. Also, this type of dentistry requires tremendous concentration, and thus more time is needed for us to recharge our “batteries.”

20.Realize that some current team members may be resistant to change, and even sabotage your efforts. You must be very clear in your goal setting, and make sure your team sees the value to themselves in growth and change. I actually had to terminate my long-standing office manager and two associate dentists because they were unwilling to change their mindsets. This was very difficult for me, but it paid huge dividends almost immediately. As Cathy Jameson says, “Get the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus!”

21.Be willing to narrow the scope of your practice. One of the biggest challenges I faced in the beginning was fitting the large cosmetic cases into my schedule. I realized that if I was going to spend more time on esthetic cases, I would have to spend less time on other procedures. I eliminated “bands and brackets” ortho, which I had been doing for many years, and limited my orthodontic treatment to Invisalign. I also greatly reduced the pediatric and oral surgery components of my practice, and delegated most of this to my new associate. This has been a win-win situation, in that my associate has used these bread-and butter-procedures to help establish an excellent rapport with my patients.

There are many more aspects of practice involved in successfully transitioning into a more cosmetically and comprehensively oriented practice. Every dentist must choose his or her own path, and although these steps have been successful for me, they may not translate to every practice.

This has been, and continues to be, an exciting and rewarding journey. We are not only transforming a practice, we are changing the lives of our patients in ways I could have never envisioned just a few years ago.

Marc D. Schlenoff, DDS, a 1981 graduate of the University of Maryland, has practiced in McAfee, N.J., for the past 20 years. His practice encompasses all aspects of general dentistry, with an emphasis on esthetic and comprehensive restorative care. He is a clinical instructor for the Rosenthal Institute Aesthetic Advantage at New York University. Dr. Schlenoff can be reached at (973) 209-4944 or at [email protected].

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