Communication and conversations with patients and staff are key
Before becoming a consultant, I worked as a dental office manager, so I’ve seen firsthand how patients often choose not to replace a tooth after extraction. But tooth loss can affect a patient’s self-confidence, quality of life and their ability to enjoy a nutritional diet. A recent survey by the Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons shows that more than 30 million people do not have teeth in one or both arches, and 26% of people over the age of 75 don’t have any teeth at all.
As the patient population continues to age, many will seek a more permanent solution to deal with tooth loss, such as a dental implant. The demand for implants is growing. A study by Grand View Research showed the global dental implant market in 2016 was valued at $3.77 billion; by 2024, it’s expected to grow significantly to $6.82 billion.
There are numerous reasons why more patients are seeking implants and why more doctors are looking to add implants as a treatment option. Let’s take a look at the factors driving this growth, along with what practices can do to enhance success.
Setting the stage for success
Being prepared for the growing implant market starts with getting the clinical training and having the necessary technology available in your practice—cone beam technology, for example, to help you determine if implants are an option, if a bone graft is needed, and where and how the implant should be placed. Once you’re ready to offer patients the benefits of implants, the next step is to gain buy-in from your team. All too often, the doctor decides to add a treatment or technology but doesn’t take the time to explain to his or her team why the addition will benefit patients and the practice. To be able to effectively and enthusiastically communicate with patients, the team has to believe in the treatment and fully understand the value that implants and fixed restorations offer, from enhanced function to greater confidence. This requires focused training and specific communication skills.
Educating patients on the benefits of implants
When it comes to marketing dental implants as a permanent solution for tooth loss, most practices try to attract new patients.
While marketing to new patients is important, don’t forget the patients who are already a part of your practice family. Social media, email and direct mail are obvious ways to share the benefits of implants with patients and can be quite effective. Another medium I’ve seen work effectively is an internal digital billboard. When patients are in the reception area before their examinations or hygiene appointments, instead of watching cable talk shows or news, use your television screen to pique curiosity by providing education, before-and-after photos and patient testimonials. This can prompt a discussion about implants with the doctor or hygienist, which is ultimately what generates the most success.
When discussing implants with patients, it’s important to remember that people are engaged by images and by story. Storytelling is something that’s not necessarily talked about in dental treatment presentation, but it can have a real impact on patients. For example, my husband had 12 missing teeth on his upper arch. At the age of about 48, some of his restorations failed and he needed to go through extensive dental care—bone grafts, tissue grafts and sinus lifts. It was a process that took a year and a half from start to finish, but he now has more confidence, he’s able to smile and he’s able to eat things he couldn’t before. Having the dentistry was truly life-changing.
We can engage patients using technology like cone beam images and X-rays to show them their current condition. Patients often have a difficult time envisioning something they’ve never seen before. So show them what the finished product looks like with some great before-and-after photos. You can also include testimonial videos from actual patients who made the decision to get implants and were excited about their results.
Gaining patient buy-in
When you’re looking to convert large treatment plans requiring a greater financial investment, it’s similar to a GPS system—you pull up the map and it shows you where you are. Next, you type in where you want to go and it shows a path that leads to your destination. We need to think about the financial conversations that we have with patients in the same manner. If a patient is hesitant to spend money on treatment or voices a financial objection, we need to remember achieving a healthy smile is the final destination.
Because a dental implant is a more expensive procedure, it’s important for your team to help patients understand and appreciate dentistry as an investment. People will buy if they are motivated. Often, patients don’t accept ideal treatment because they just don’t have a big enough “want” to spend the money on the investment being offered.
We have to be proactive in offering solutions when insurance covers only a portion of treatment, when there are significant out-of-pocket costs and when patients don’t have any insurance. Having a third-party financing option and being able to present it successfully can be an important part of the financial conversation.
Obviously we need to tell patients what the total treatment plan costs, but being able to offer longer-term financing options can go a long way in helping patients get dental implant treatment. When patients are looking at larger cases, it may take three or four years for them to pay it off. That’s why it’s important to offer financing options, such as the CareCredit credit card, up front and not wait until the patient is uncomfortable and says, “Oh, I’ll think about it,” because rarely do the “I’ll think about it” patients return to schedule.
If we present a treatment plan to 10 patients and three out of the 10 reject us, we often focus more on the rejections than we do on the successes. It’s just human nature. As a result, we can get gun-shy and timid about offering ideal treatment because we think patients won’t want it. We have to look at each patient individually and also have the team fully engaged. They need to understand and communicate the value of implants, the process and the financial discussion.
When your entire team is able to share in an enthusiastic and passionate way compelling treatment stories that show how other patients have benefited from implants, it can really help set your practice apart from others in your community and increase your practice’s success with implants.