HOW TO PROFIT FROM... Air abrasion

March 1, 1999
Because we have been so successful in making air abrasion an integral part of our practice, writing an article on the marketing of this technology seemed to be a simple assignment. Let`s face it: what could possibly be more appealing to our patients than needle-free, drill-free dentistry? It`s a no-brainer, a slam-dunk, and whatever other cliches one can think of! But as I sat at my trusty laptop computer and began to organize my thoughts, I realized that I was dealing with a more complex issue

Marketing air-abrasion technology

Stewart Rosenberg, DDS

Because we have been so successful in making air abrasion an integral part of our practice, writing an article on the marketing of this technology seemed to be a simple assignment. Let`s face it: what could possibly be more appealing to our patients than needle-free, drill-free dentistry? It`s a no-brainer, a slam-dunk, and whatever other cliches one can think of! But as I sat at my trusty laptop computer and began to organize my thoughts, I realized that I was dealing with a more complex issue than I had anticipated.

To be most effectively utilized and marketed, air abrasion can`t be broken out as a separate entity. It must be considered simply as a tool to be used in the promotion and delivery of microdentistry that, in my opinion, will be the new standard of care in restorative dentistry. Otherwise, it would be like establishing a campaign to market a high-speed handpiece or a matrix retainer. In our practice, we market microdentistry - as a concept, as an attitude, and with a deep belief in it as dentistry for the next millennium. So, let`s define the term.

By microdentistry, we mean to excise the least amount of tooth structure necessary to remove the pathology, and then to replace it as conservatively, esthetically, and comfortably as possible. To do that, we need to be able to do posterior composites rather than amalgams. When doing amalgams, we must overprepare teeth because of the requirements of the material for successful restorations.

We need to know how and when to do ceramic inlays, onlays, or crowns, instead of PFMs, and when not to do them. We need to know how to do veneers and mini-crowns anteriorly and when they are a better, more conservative choice than full-coverage crowns ... and when they are not. Most importantly, we need to know how to accurately diagnose decay in the earliest stages, so that we can perform minimally invasive dentistry, rather than be relegated to macrodentistry because we waited too long to treat the problem.

There is no material we can place in a tooth that can come close to what God put there to begin with, so why remove perfectly sound tooth structure to replace it with something that`s not as good! (There are a growing number of courses readily available throughout the country to teach you these philosophies and skills.)

There is no bur that can do the minimally invasive preparations that we can do using air-abrasion techniques. In our practice, we market the comfort this technology provides the patient without the use of anesthesia. We also emphasize the lack of trauma to the tooth and the ability to do procedures more precisely and conservatively than with the handpiece. We focus on the many obvious pluses of air abrasion - i.e., no needle, no drill, no noise, no droopy lip, invisible restorations, and no post-treatment restrictions.

Make certain, however, that you can deliver what you promise. For example, all air-abrasion units are not created equal. In my experience, many patients feel sensitivity in the dentin and require anesthesia when I cut at air pressure above 80 lbs. The ideal situation would be to lower the air pressure, but most units don`t operate effectively at these lower pressures. So, know what your particular air-abrasion unit can do before you promise no needles. Don`t give the impression that air abrasion has replaced the drill in your office, because it just isn`t so!

All sound marketing plans must be consistent and congruent in their approach. They are most effective when they start with a well-organized and -orchestrated, integral marketing plan, before you even consider more expensive, external-marketing efforts.

Let`s discuss some suggestions for internal marketing:

Y Staff training and commitment to your mission - Make sure your staff members are properly trained in and excited about this new technology. Nothing will grow your practice better than a great staff that`s on the same page as you are ... and nothing will kill an idea faster than a staff that isn`t! Many courses and tapes are available from manufacturers, institutions, etc.

As doctors, we make a huge mistake going to continuing-education seminars alone. When we come back to work Monday morning, all charged up with new ideas, the staff members probably are thinking: "Here he comes again with another stupid idea we don`t want to hear about!" By Wednesday, the staff has killed it completely. You want your team to talk enthusiastically about air abrasion at every appropriate opportunity. When they talk to patients, you want to hear them say: "Wait until you come back for those restorations, Mary. You won`t believe how incredible air abrasion is - no needle, no drill. It`s fabulous!"

Have your staff watch you perform procedures with your air-abrasion unit. You also want them to talk to patients who have been treated with air-abrasion techniques to help them "buy into" the wonders of this technology. Even better, perform the treatment on staff members themselves when it is indicated. There is nothing better than first-hand experience to pump up team members. It gives the entire office more credibility when staff members can discuss their own procedures with skeptical patients.

Y Telephone answering system - Individually tailored answering-machine or on-hold programs allow you to market your practice`s commitment to cutting-edge technology and maximizing patient comfort.

Y Brochures - Our office brochure is sent to all new patients. It is a very elegant folder, with pockets containing inserts that inform patients about the uniqueness of our practice. The packet features an insert on air-abrasion techniques and microdentistry. The advantage of this type of folder over a one-piece brochure is the ability to add and subtract information as you add new technologies, procedures, associates, or staff members to your practice, without the expense of printing a whole new brochure. In addition to your own information, most manufacturers of air-abrasion equipment have brochures available about their equipment at a relatively low cost. We have these brochures displayed in every room in the office where patients may be.

Y Patient-education systems - The CAESY Education System features a section on air abrasion. We have the Smile Channel running continuously in the reception room to sell the benefits of the services we offer. The main CAESY system is in our office. It has modules that go into greater detail regarding the various procedures.

Y Photographs - Mounted, captioned photographs that show early decay detection and air abrasion are available. They can be wall- or ceiling-mounted, or, in smaller versions, be placed in albums that make great patient-education tools.

Y Solicit patient referrals - No patient is going to be happier or more apt to tell his or her friends how wonderful you are than a dental phobic on whom you have just completed eight invisible restorations, in 40 minutes or less, without needles or drills ... and then guaranteed them for as long as you are in practice.

After the procedures are completed, simply say, "Mary, isn`t that the best dental appointment you`ve ever had? Can you believe we did all these restorations with no pain, no droopy lip, no noisy drill, and no restrictions?! Well, Mary, I need your help! You probably don`t realize it, but we are the only dental practice (or one of the few dentists) in town with this cutting-edge technology.

"If you had gone to a dentist without this technology, these restorations would have taken two or three appointments and several shots of anesthesia to complete. Is it fair to your friends to not have the same opportunity to be as comfortable as you were when we did these restorations?

"Well, please take some of these brochures and some of my business cards and tell your family and friends what a great experience you`ve had. You owe it to them!"

External marketing

You can use a number of external marketing tools, but by far the best - and the least expensive - is media exposure. By media exposure, I mean free publicity in the print and electronic media. This includes newspapers and magazines, as well as public-information spots on radio and TV. Drill-free, needle-free dentisty is what everyone wants, and that is very newsworthy. Press releases sent to your local newspapers, television, and radio stations often yield incredible results.

I appeared on the local affiliate of the Fox Network`s 10 o`clock news the week before Thanksgiving in 1996. The next day, we had over 200 phone calls! Even more incredible, we still are getting new patients from that piece two years later!

The Guarantee

We spend a considerable amount of time explaining to our patients how and why we now can detect occlusal decay in the very earliest stages, and offering them preventive resin restorations in lieu of sealants. We do this because many studies show sealants fail at the rate of at least 10 percent a year. If we diagnose and treat occlusal decay with air abrasion, we guarantee the restorations for as long as I am in practice. We make this guarantee provided the patient completes all necessary treatment and misses no recall visits. The same guarantee with the same provisions is given for preventive resin restorations.