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February 2016
Volume 37, Issue 2

Building a Business Today: What Dentists Need to Consider

It’s a new year and, by most accounts, a more favorable economy, but much has changed in dentistry in recent years. Dentists are using new technology, techniques, and materials to offer more services and greater convenience to their patients, and new marketing tools—including social media—to raise awareness of them. However, many dentists—especially recent dental school graduates—may be overwhelmed by the range of practice options, not knowing exactly where they fit into this brave new world of “smile design,” same-day dentistry, and immediate implants. For those seeking to establish or re-energize a general private practice, there is much to consider.

For starters, they need to determine what avenues they want to pursue and the training and resources needed to get there.

Branching Out

Many general practitioners today are successfully offering their patients services previously restricted to specialists, including implants and related procedures such as ridge and tissue grafts. Those who focus on cosmetic dentistry may emphasize “smile design” staples such as veneers and offer the much-desired tooth whitening services, on which Americans spend $1 billion annually, according to First Research® Industry Profile on Dentists. Then there are practitioners who offer “painless” dentistry alternatives such as sedation or needle-free laser restorations. In all cases, doctors need to invest in the equipment and education needed to render these services properly.

For example, to build an implant practice, cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) is now considered indispensible for predictably planning and performing the procedure. Procedures are transitioning from two-stage to one-stage, along with immediate load implants and guided flapless surgery. As for education and training, numerous courses are offered by manufacturers, consultants, and organizations, such as the Board of American Implantology, which also provides testing to determine practitioner competency.

Another trend, same-day dentistry, requires an investment in CAD/CAM systems for design and milling of the restorations. While dentists have been slow to adopt digital impressioning/intraoral scanning, labs prefer it, and, in fact, digitize traditional models, which improves communication between the lab and dentist. Doctors who have this capability in their offices can use it to enlarge and otherwise manipulate data to aid diagnosis and patient communication.

Understanding What Patients Want

Dentists most of all want to serve their patients’ best interests. This means understanding what they want and need and communicating that effectively to them. As findings from What Dental Patients Want, Futuredontics®, Inc., show, patients want a recommended practitioner with a high level of professional expertise, who they believe is honest and straightforward about recommended treatment; 93% of those surveyed said they would go back to the same dentist if they receive a clear explanation of required versus optional treatment. But they also made it known that they want convenience; for 74%, getting an immediate appointment is a top reason to choose a dentist, and 57% look for a dentist who offers extended hours during the week.

What patients are likely to want or need in the future, based on First Research® Industry Profile on Dentists, are implants—as the number of Americans 65 years and older is expected to rise 36% between 2015 and 2025—and periodontal disease treatment, now that gum disease is being linked to serious systemic diseases.

For a practice to thrive, patients must first be aware of the practice and also accept recommended treatments at a high rate. This calls for effective communication both in the office and beyond. Use of eblasts to the patient base and social media can be used to keep in touch with existing patients and attract new ones. Toward this end, Lou Shuman, DMD, CAGS, author of “Open for Business! 6 Essential Elements of a Flawless Practice Launch” (, offers suggestions for improving a website’s relevance and rankings on search engines. The site, he writes, should feature unique content, have one key topic per page, utilize tag optimization, have proper navigation, and include site maps and backlinks.

To make sure patients understand recommended treatment, the staff should provide a thorough explanation, including images demonstrating the issues. They should also offer a range of treatments geared toward the patient’s concerns, including esthetics and finances. To help patients afford their best options, the practice can offer financing and/or provide treatment in stages.

— Compendium editorial staff

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