Patient perceptions of dentists can be quite interesting. While I’ve positioned my practice as one with a focus on cosmetic and reconstructive dentistry, I am very much a general dentist. I do a bit of everything and plenty of “bread & butter” type dentistry. I am a regular dentist. But, it seems I’ve been more successful in creating the perception of a “cosmetic dentist.” And, admittedly that has been intentional. But, it also can have some pitfalls.
A majority of my cosmetic and “big case” patients come via my website. During our first meetings, I am often surprised to hear the patient mention his / her “regular dentist.” To be clear… “Regular dentist” is a patient term, not mine. It’s how they refer to their general dentist whom they believe does not provide cosmetic or rehab type dentistry.
When I ask the patient if he or she brought up the cosmetic concerns with the “regular dentist,” they have a couple of consistent answers:
“Oh no… I don’t think he does this kind of work.”
“I did, but he told me I shouldn’t (or couldn’t) have this kind of treatment.”
In some cases, I knew that the “regular dentist” DOES do this kind of work. But, somehow the patient never perceived that. In other cases, I’ve been puzzled as to why the “regular dentist” felt cosmetic treatment, or even comprehensive full mouth rehab treatment, was contraindicated.
So, why do these patients look beyond their “regular dentist’s” office for particular treatments like implants, veneers, other cosmetic treatment, and short term orthodontics? I suspect that many of those dentists do provide many of those services. But, somehow the message isn’t getting through.
What Happened Today
Today, I saw a new 32 y.o. patient for a consultation. He didn’t like his crooked teeth and the stained bonding that was done to cover decalcifications that resulted from having braces when he was a kid. He wants whiter and straighter teeth. His “regular dentist” told him that he couldn’t do whitening because of his bondings. The dentist didn’t want to “take any chances” removing the old bonding because he didn’t know how deep they were. So, his only suggestion was to do porcelain veneers. That led the patient to doing some research online. And, that led him to my office.
Overall, this patient’s teeth were in very good shape. He had some small facial composites, presumably where the previous decalcifications were. His upper teeth were mildly crowded, while the lower teeth were moderately crowded. Porcelain veneers in this case would require some rather aggressive preps. And, the patient also mentioned that there was no way he could afford porcelain veneers.
The alternative treatment plan I proposed was Six Month Smiles short term orthodontics, whitening, and replacing the stained composites. This is a conservative, minimally-invasive approach that will achieve the patient’s goals. And, it happens to be considerably less expensive than porcelain veneers.
The old saying goes, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Today’s patients are savvy and are very adept at getting information via the internet. And, they know what they want. If you don’t offer what they want, they will look elsewhere.
In Stephen Covey’s famous book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,”
one of the habits is “sharpen your saw.” Translated to the dental world, that means taking C.E. and implementing a variety of services or simply improving your game. And, a good Dental Warrior spends time honing his or her skills. Position yourself as the “go to” dentist for those niche services. Be a “super-generalist.”
I’ve often wondered what I would hear if I was a fly on the wall of the “regular dentist’s” office when one of these patients returns with a new smile. We’re all regular dentists in reality. But, how our patients perceive us can sometimes be quite different than we perceive ourselves. Let your patients know what you can do. Be that super-generalist and keep the patients in your own “regular practice” for those niche services.
How do you let them know (without being a pitch-man)? I have found that “before & after” photography is marketing gold, both internally and externally. That is… for internal marketing and external marketing. It’s on my walls in the office. I mean ALL the walls. And, my website is full of photos, of course. All my own patients. All my own work. Stay tuned for future blog posts about photography.
Another golden opportunity to show off your skills is by treating your team. If anyone on your team could benefit from cosmetic treatment, “just do it!” Don’t even charge them the lab fee. Just do it! It will pay dividends beyond belief. I have lost count of how many patients have said, “I want a smile like yours, Jo-Ann.” Jo-Ann is my front desk and financial coordinator. She proudly tells them, “Dr. Barr did my smile.” This is better (and much cheaper) than any advertising you can buy.
I’m not sure, ultimately, what my message is here. This is stream-of-consciousness writing tonight. I suspect each reader will infer his or her own message. Are you a “regular dentist?” Or, are you a super-generalist? Perhaps you have a niche practice. I think in the end, what is important is that your own patients are aware of what you can do for them. And, if you’d like to do more, hone those Dental Warrior skills. And, then don’t hide your talents. Make them known!