Whiten Up! Follow these 4 steps to increase your cosmetic dentistry caseload. by Dr. Rod Kurthy

An Inside Job
by Dr. Rod Kurthy

Dentists often tell me about patients who see "specialists" for their cosmetic dentistry, but return to their offices for continuing care. The frustrated dentists almost always end up asking how they can persuade their patients to stick with them for cosmetic dentistry.

Really, it comes down to the question of how we can make patients understand that we're good at cosmetic dentistry and we love doing it. When a patient sees a friend who just had cosmetic dentistry done, we want them to ask us about veneers or whitening, instead of going to the dentist who worked on their friend.

We all know that we should promote cosmetic dentistry in our offices—what hangs on the walls, which brochures are on hand on the tables, what's displayed on monitors in our reception areas, and so on. Often, though, that's simply not enough.

Over time, I've discovered a few simple steps that have helped me increase my cosmetic dentistry at least fivefold. To increase success at your practice, consider incorporating them into how you communicate with patients about cosmetic work.

Step 1: Ask your patients—the right way
I think that most dentists—myself included—are uneasy bringing up the topic of cosmetic dentistry with their patients. We don't want to offend them. For example, if I were to ask a patient, "John, have you ever thought about whitening your teeth?" the message John might be hearing me say is, "Hey John! Your teeth are really ugly, man! You need to whiten them! Ugh!" I've seen proof of this in my own patients' eyes and expressions.

Over years of trial and error, I've added four questions to my patient forms. [See "Put an End to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' " on the opposite page.] This way I still get to ask the questions, without looking like I'm singling out any particular patients. All new patients fill out the forms, and at recalls we have patients update these and other forms in case they've become interested in cosmetic dentistry.

The Smile Evaluation Form gives me a huge advantage regarding how I approach the patient. In fact, my team always reads the forms first and starts the conversation with the patient, creating excitement around the procedure before I ever get involved. My team then fills me in on the conversation, which helps me raise the topic easily because the groundwork has already been laid, without offending any patients.

Step 2: Give them a sneak peek
Another step to increasing cosmetic dentistry in your practice is to use cosmetic imaging, which can give you an advantage when discussing options with your patients. There are expensive, sophisticated imaging systems, sure, but there are also affordable, simple systems that your staff can easily and quickly use even before you come into the operatory. As far as I'm concerned, Snap Dental and PreVu Dental offer the simplest and fastest imaging systems out there.

Remember, it's generally a big step for patients to admit that they're unhappy with their smile, and especially that they're ready to talk about it. Most patients who ask to discuss cosmetic improvements likely have started thinking about it recently but aren't yet certain. With a simple, quick cosmetic imaging, you can show them what they'll look like with whitening or other cosmetic dentistry. It's a no-brainer because a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Step 3: Have your staff be role models
From a marketing perspective alone it makes sense for you and your staff to have effective whitening and other cosmetic procedures done on yourselves. Imagine the effect when you show patients your own before-and-after photos. At that moment, those photos become much more than just photos, they become proof of what you're recommending.

Your staff also then has the opportunity to tell patients about how easy the process of whitening, veneers or other cosmetic dentistry was when you performed it on them. They can "brag on you" by saying: "Dr. Johnson did this for me. He's incredible! He's an amazing artist. And it was so easy, and I didn't feel a thing! It's the best thing I've ever done!"

So let's recap:

  • Because of the Smile Evaluation Form, you know when patients are serious about doing cosmetic dentistry now or in the near future.
  • Your staff has eased any fears patients may have, and gets them excited by sharing their own stories and results.
  • And if you go a step further by having your team do cosmetic imaging, you've shown patients what they may look like after treatment, which makes them even more excited. The usual result? "Sold!"

Step 4: Look to the future
One danger that can significantly affect the amount of cosmetic dentistry you do is being stuck in "the present." If you're too focused just on what's in front of you— the next procedure—you could miss out on the opportunity to grow your business.

With regard to whitening, here's something that's been absolutely amazing for us and our patients: Before they schedule their next appointment where we'll be doing any anterior treatment such as a composite filling, crown or veneer, I tell them: "I know that you marked on your form that you're not interested in whitening your teeth, and that's absolutely fine. But as your dentist, I'm obligated to explain something to you."

Now you've piqued your patient's curiosity and attention.

"At your next visit, we'll be doing that [filling/crown/veneer] on your front [tooth/teeth], and matching the color to your other teeth. But if a month from now—or five years from now—your friend has whitening done and you think that looks great and decide to have whitening done as well, when you come to me asking for whitening, we can do that, but your [filling/crown/veneer] doesn't whiten like teeth do so we'd have to replace it. If you think you ever may want to whiten your teeth, the time to do it is now, before we do that [filling/crown/veneer]." I was astonished by how many patients decided to whiten their teeth then.

Before we started the KöR Whitening company, my wife was my office manager. She began tracking the results of the conversations, and found that almost one out of every three patients who'd marked their form "No, they weren't interested in whitening" then decided to whiten. One out of three: How many cases of whitening would that add in your practice each year?

I started applying this approach even when we'd be doing small composites on second molars, and was amazed that the results were the same. We found ourselves doing whitening almost every day – often more than once per day.

Sell More, Not Less

Dr. Rod Kurthy has written two books on dental marketing and been a Dentaltown marketing forum moderator for the past 17 years, so dentists frequently ask him how to successfully market cosmetic dentistry services.

His advice: Feel free to include cosmetic dentistry with anything you do to promote your practice—but spending money on external marketing efforts solely for cosmetic dentistry isn't the best use of your budget.

Only a certain percentage of potential patients will pull the trigger on any cosmetic dentistry during their life, Kurthy says ... and when they do, they're actively seeking information for only a short time. That's a tiny part of the population, at a narrow window of time.

Marketing, meanwhile, is all about numbers: If you're going to pay to market something, Kurthy says, you need to be confident that a significant segment of the people you reach are ready to act now.

Kurthy says the best way to perform a lot of cosmetic dentistry is to market and promote your practice so it brings in good patients who care about quality healthcare. Then make sure they know you're qualified and eager to perform cosmetic work, and you'll be the one they turn to when they're ready.

An Inside Job

Conclusion
If you employ the four simple steps discussed here, you'll find many more cosmetic dentistry and whitening procedures in your future. When your patients enter that precious window of time when they become genuinely interested in the cosmetics of their smiles, you'll be the one providing the treatment.


Sandy PardueLearn more about whitening for CE credits
Dr. Rod Kurthy's four-part series about the science behind whitening (and some of the problems it can cause) features two CE courses worth a total of 3 credits. Find both courses online at dentaltown.com/onlinece. To read all four parts, visit dentaltown.com/rodkurthy.

Gil Orenstein Dr. Rod Kurthy practices in Irvine, California. He graduated with highest honors from Fairleigh Dickinson University School of Dentistry in 1978, and completed a GP residency at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.

Kurthy's 40 years of research and development includes laser and surgical periodontal bone regeneration; endodontic surgery, including bone regeneration and repair of resorptive lesions; teeth whitening; teeth sensitivity; and development of several cosmetic techniques and impression techniques. He also has been the personal dentist for the U.S. Men's World Cup soccer team.

Kurthy is an international lecturer and the author of five books about clinical and dental marketing. His articles and interviews have appeared in dental journals and consumer magazines, and he has written for Oxygen and consulted for People. He has been interviewed and featured numerous times in national media. Most recently, he's widely known for developing the KöR Whitening System.
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