Creating a true cosmetic practice

Feb. 1, 2004
Here's a question you can tape to your bathroom mirror. It may even save you some regret 10 years from now.

Fred Abeles, DDS

Here's a question you can tape to your bathroom mirror. It may even save you some regret 10 years from now. The question is, "What did you do when interest rates were at their lowest in 50 years, great employees were looking for good jobs, advanced dental education was more accessible than ever before, innovative new technologies and products for cosmetic dentistry were being created almost daily, marketing opportunities were plentiful, and there was an abundance of aging baby boomers who wanted to look younger and feel better?"

Many dentists will answer this question by saying, "I spent my time waiting, worrying, and wishing." But consider the following :

* While you were waiting for the "economy to rebound," The Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies more than doubled its physical size and course offerings in cosmetic dentistry.

* While you have been worrying about trying to keep profits slightly ahead of last year, Americans have become obsessed with whiter teeth and whitening has become a billion dollar business.

* While you have been wishing to do more cosmetic cases, somewhere right now another dentist is creating beautiful smiles for his or her lucky patients on a consistent basis.

You don't have to ask me twice!

What do you regret about the past 10 years that you wish you had started or tried? In hindsight, the last decade may have been the "good old days." Yet, some of us missed out. Why? Because it's always possible to find an excuse or reason to stay put, to skip an opportunity, or to decline an offer. Yet, in retrospect, it's hard to remember why we said "no."

Well, I'm here to tell you that right now is the best opportunity you will have in your entire life and career to increase your enjoyment and profits from cosmetic dentistry. So, let's take a look at seven items that are a "must have" to create a cosmetic practice so you can get started!

1) There's no substitute for desire and courage

Desire. Courage. It all starts right here! The desire for something more ... something better, and the courage to change what needs to be changed. Think of these two qualities as the glue that holds all the other pieces together.

No dental practice sets out to be average, but far too many end up that way. It happens gradually, day by day, bit by bit. We let go of what's important to us. We let go of what inspires us or excites us. What we're left with is mediocrity. We get stuck.

If you want to transform your current practice, desire and courage form the foundation for this building process. To create a true cosmetic practice, you will need to look different, think different, and act different.

2) Look different

"Image is everything," says Andre Agassi. That's probably an overstatement, but he's certainly on the right track. Why would a perfectly rational person spend three times as much for a shirt that has the Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger logo on it over an identical shirt without the name-brand logo? Image! This is a powerful potion indeed. Clothing and cosmetics companies have built entire retail empires on this one principle. Don't ignore it!

The whole is greater than the sum of all of its parts. All the little details together add up to create a mood ... a feeling that your clients are in the right place to improve their appearance and their life. It's one thing to say "yes" to fixing a broken molar with a crown that the insurance company pays for ... it's an entirely different experience to say "yes" to authorizing someone to perform an irreversible, life-altering cosmetic change to your body such as placing 10 or 12 porcelain veneers.

The physical plant, the furniture, the accessories, the art work, the choice of music, the aromas in the office, the photo albums, the magazines and reading materials, your logo, your stationary, your own smile and your team members' smiles — even down to the writing instrument your patient uses to fill out forms — all should come together to form a cohesive image of luxury, expertise, and aesthetics.

You don't have to spend a million dollars or build a palace. Be creative with all the little touches. Take your team out to the finest restaurant, spa, and resort/hotel in your area. You will all get a myriad of creative ideas about how to represent luxury, beauty, and service in your practice.

3) Think different

Stop thinking like a dentist. Start thinking like an artist. The great musicians, sculptors, painters, and poets of our time all had a burning desire to create something new, something of beauty and substance. We can look beyond disease and fractured cusps. We can look beyond the basics like the insurance company's UCRs, root canals, and fillings.

We have this amazing gift to give to our patients that can make them look better and feel better, look younger and sexier, feel more confident, and improve their self-esteem. Only dentists can give this incredible gift!

Over half of all the patients in your practice right now could benefit from cosmetic dentistry and you haven't offered it to them. I challenge you to begin that process today!

Think like an artist. Create works of art. Offer your unique gift to your patients. They will love you for improving their lives.

4) Act different

We're running out of the important things in life ... clean water, breathable air, free time, and patience to name a few. We're all in a big hurry ... we're all so busy ... and you know what's worse? We look upon "busy" as an admirable quality. "How's your practice, Bob?" "Oh, we're really busy!" "Great!"

Here's something to consider. Your practice has a personality all of its own. Is it a strength or a weakness? What if being "busy" has been preventing you from doing the cosmetic dentistry you desire? What if the secret ingredient for your cosmetic practice was the same as for a great chili recipe ... low and slow?

Ultimately, what's in short supply is time. Time is exactly what you need to get your cosmetic dentistry off the shelf consistently, not just once in a while. It takes time to build a relationship, time for your patients to feel listened to, and time for them to feel understood and valued. It takes time to build trust.

It's not your CASEY that's going to do it, and it's not your fancy imaging system. They're both great technologies and can help. In the end, it's your ability to connect with another human being on a meaningful level that will decide whether your patients say "yes" or "no" to your life-changing treatment plan.

Let me ask you a question. Would you spend $10,000, $20,000, or more on a product or service where the seller spent minimal time with you? Forget "busy"! There are lots of things that are better than busy or efficient. Effective is one. Do you want to generate an additional $100,000 in cosmetic dentistry this year and be more effective? Slow down!

5) Good looks will only get you so far

You don't win an Olympic gold medal with one weekend of intensive training. Every great company, every great brand, and every great career has been built the same way ... step by step, bit by bit. You'll need advanced training — and lots of it. While it often takes a few years to complete an advanced aesthetic curriculum, you'll start to see results in your practice far sooner than that.

You'll see the results in your patients' and team members' eyes. There's that extra glimmer of joy and pride as your clinical expertise and dentistry improve. You'll see it in your bottom line, too. As your skills and competence increase, your confidence will increase. As your confidence increases, you will do more cosmetic dentistry. It's inevitable.

Please don't be a "dabbler." Don't dabble in a "little of this" and a "little of that." When I consult with dentists, they invariably tell me they took one course at this institute, another course at a different institute, and yet another course from this dentist. The advanced aesthetic continuums are all designed to build upon previous experience and information. They will take you step-by-step from the basics and essentials to the most advanced and sophisticated of techniques. You just cannot gain the necessary experience and knowledge by flitting around taking one or two courses at each teaching institute.

I went to LVI, so I think it's the best. O.K. ... I'm biased. But wherever you go, pick one teaching institute, then stick with it!

6) Say 'cheese'

Get behind the camera lens. Take lots of before and after photos of your cosmetic cases. Eventually, you will build a library to share with prospective clients. Put these pictures in albums. Put them on your walls. Use them in your marketing materials.

Cosmetic dentistry and photography are like peanut butter and jelly. They go together! Your photography will make you a better dentist. You'll never be content to rest on your laurels. The pictures show your patients that you are proud of what you do and take it seriously.

Digital and 35 mm are the only two formats to consider. Digital is gaining ground every year. The digital photography guru is Dr. Thomas Hedge. Catch one of his courses if you can. If you really want to have a great place to show off your before and after photos, one great medium deserves another. Read on!

7) Coming to a computer near you ...

Web sites have come of age. If utilized properly, your Web site can be your primary marketing tool. Your prospective clients can learn all about you and your practice from the comfort of their armchair at home or while sipping a mocha latte at Starbuck's. Information about bleaching, bonding, and veneers is just a mouse-click away.

Your Web site has a longer shelf life than your printed materials. You can easily change and update your site to show the new procedures or services you now provide. Just unleash your imagination to keep it fresh and interesting.

I have two Web sites — and I cannot begin to tell you the amount of new business I have generated just because of my Web sites! You extend your reach and influence outside of your own community to the whole world. It becomes an ever-changing showcase for your practice and your cosmetic dentistry. It can put you in "prime time." Check out for some amazing dental Web sites!

Where does opportunity end and obligation begin?

We live in a world that is filled with opportunity. In fact, we have more than an opportunity — we have an obligation. An obligation to spend our time doing great things. To find ideas that matter and to share them. To push ourselves and the people around us to become something more than we are today. To take risks. To be amazing.

You get to make a choice. You can answer my question in 10 years, saying you spent the time waiting, worrying, and wishing. Or, you can choose optimism, take action, and create the cosmetic practice of your dreams. So, before you finish this paragraph, you have the power to change everything that's to come. And you can do it by asking yourself the one question every individual needs to to ask today. Why not be great?

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