Establishing and Growing the Dental Implant Component of a Practice
Roger P. Levin, DDS
Dental implants are now a standard part of most dental practices. Whether the practice is placing implants or restoring them, it is important to differentiate implant treatment from other services that the practice has traditionally provided. There are numerous areas of clinical and business complexity connected with dental implants that need to be considered to successfully integrate implant dentistry into a dental practice.
Need Versus Want
Traditional dental services are based on need. For many years dentistry was a field that was very slow to change, using familiar materials, techniques, and technologies to take excellent care of basic dental needs. Generally speaking, restorations, crowns, and dentures are need-based products and services; the patient certainly wants the best quality, but the key decision-making factor is usually affordability. Further, patients usually only become interested in these oral care services because of fracture of teeth, pain, swelling, or other obvious factors. Diagnosis and treatment are based on what the patient needs to maintain or restore oral health, and patients can easily understand the various options available to them.
This, however, is not necessarily so with dental implants. They are not as much a need as they are a want. When dental implants emerged in the mid 1980s there were numerous complicating factors. First, there was a great deal of clinical complexity and questions surrounding them, as dental implants were new. Research was being done as implants were being initiated in practices, and dental professionals (in both dental practices and laboratories) were still getting up to speed with these devices. Second, there was considerable confusion regarding the business side of implant dentistry. Implants were not, and often are still not, covered by dental insurance. Fees had to be established for both surgical and restorative aspects of cases, more than one doctor or practice usually was involved, and the entire approach to case presentation was atypical because dental implants were considered more of a want-based service.
Although implant dentistry has become a regular part of many practices and implants are an ideal treatment for patients who are missing teeth, they are still often viewed as a "luxury." This is because there are always other options, including crowns, bridges, dentures, or even doing nothing.
Thus, to grow this want-based service-which is different than growing a need-based service-practices must rethink how they approach dental implants to expand the number of implants they are providing each year and maintain this service as a growing area of the practice, whether it is in a single practice or a referral relationship.
Building Implants Into a Practice
The following recommendations will help dental practices increase their number of implant cases.
Educate every existing patient in the practice about dental implants. Begin to educate and sensitize patients regarding dental implants so they will gradually realize that the practice views them as a standard-of-care treatment that can be ideal in the right situation. In fact, all employees in the entire practice need to believe that dental implants are an optimal treatment for patients and will improve the quality of their lives. Front desk staff will receive questions about dental implants before or after case presentations and need to have the same messaging about implants as the clinical staff. Although most patients in the practice will not need implants, talking about them creates an information flow that can be shared with others. Many patients may have elderly parents that could benefit from dental implants. Developing a patient communications program where the practice corresponds with patients every 30 days can be an effective way to educate patients. While implants should not be the only topic communicated, it certainly can be a regular topic of discussion with information, updates, case studies, and successful results being shared.
Educate every new patient about dental implants. Practices should have a new patient orientation with the goal of keeping the patient for a lifetime. This orientation should include basic practice services with information about dental implants. Do not simply send a patient to your website to read about the practice. Every new patient should receive specific information that includes facts on the importance of dental implants. Again, the intention is to show patients that implants are a standard procedure that is in the best interest of most patients who are missing teeth. Depending on the services available in the practice, it could be explained that the dental practice works with a specialty surgical practice as part of the implant dentistry process.
Develop confidence in your communication abilities. Case presentation involves information, education, diagnosis, human psychology, and relationship building. It also requires confidence. Having confidence means telling a patient with conviction that dental implants are the best solution for their problem, will give them the most comfortable result, and will restore their dentition as if they had their own natural teeth. Doctors must become comfortable telling patients that implants are their best option for missing teeth and that regardless of the expense, they will be far happier and their oral healthcare will be more optimal. This does not mean that the practice refuses to offer other options; however, offering too many options can place the burden of decision-making on the patient. If the clinician believes in implants, be clear in communicating that they are simply the best option and the top recommendation.
Offer patient financing. Patient financing is a critical component at the end of a case presentation. Dental implants are expensive to the average patient. It does not mean they cannot afford them, but many patients will be more comfortable and confident accepting treatment if they can finance the treatment. People routinely purchase houses, cars, furniture, appliances, and many other expensive items utilizing credit. When a dental practice offers patient financing, which is essentially credit, it gives patients an opportunity to more readily afford the treatment and pay for it on a schedule that works for them. Offering interest-free financing is a great way to turn a potential dental implant patient into an actual implant patient, as patients generally view having an opportunity to utilize a payment plan with no interest charges favorably. Having this feature available may make the difference in closing an implant case versus the patient accepting other less expensive, less ideal options.
Dental practices must understand implants from a need versus want perspective. Although they are often the best solution for a patient, they are still more of a want than a need. Among the challenges of integrating implants into a practice are the fact that they still are not covered by dental insurance, require considerable education on the part of the clinician, must be presented confidently, and will likely involve patient financing in order for patients to accept treatment.
Once a practice masters the "want-based" approach to implant dentistry it will gradually build a very successful component of implant services that can continue to grow.
About the Author
Roger P. Levin, DDS
CEO and Founder, Levin Group, Inc. (levingroup.com), a practice management consulting firm that has worked with more than 30,000 dental practices