Implants and Opportunity
Adapting to an Important Growth Opportunity in General Dentistry
Roger P. Levin, DDS
Dental implants have now become a standard service in dentistry. They provide a tremendous benefit not only for patients but also for dental practices. As dentistry continues to go through a metamorphosis, dental implants remain an important growth opportunity in the profession today.
The Culture of Dental Implants
It may not seem possible that a dental service could have its own culture, but dental implants do. The osseointegrated implant originated in the 1980s in an ad hoc manner rather than evolving from academic institutions. Osseointegrated dental implants were based on inventions by various doctors, introduced by dental implant companies, and gradually accepted throughout the dental profession. Initially, there were a limited number of dental implant options, and there were questions as to whether dental implants actually worked, how long they worked, and what the protocols were for replacing them. Today, dental implants have become a sophisticated, successful, mature service that is improving the quality of life for many dental patients.
The problem with the current culture of dental implants is that not all dentists are comfortable with them. While they know and accept dental implants as standardized care, they hold back when it comes to motivating edentulous patients to accept dental implants.
The culture of dental implants is still new from an evolutionary standpoint. While they are accepted and recognized as an excellent service, they remain less widespread than I believe they will become in the future. This represents a significant opportunity for dental practices to increase the number of dental implant cases, directly influencing practice production and profitability.
Understanding Interdisciplinary Care
Interdisciplinary dentistry has been around for a long time, but it frequently is not executed effectively. Of course, general dentists refer many patients to all types of specialists for services ranging from root canals to orthodontics, but usually with very limited communication. This isn’t a criticism, because it seems to work well enough. Referring a child for orthodontic treatment doesn’t require an in-depth analysis of the child or even of the dental condition. The same applies for most root canals, single tooth extractions, pediatric dental cases, and many periodontal referrals as well.
Referrals for dental implants are another matter. Dentistry has not yet established a protocol for interdisciplinary communication about implant cases. I believe this has held back progress in the dental implant market. Some general dentists remain uncomfortable with implants altogether or with cases beyond a certain level of complexity. At the same time, general dentists have other services they can provide for many implant candidates, including bridges and dentures. This sometimes leads to the recommendation of a service they feel comfortable about rather than jumping into a case that may be complicated. Doctors can solve this problem—and increase implant production—by developing a system for excellent interdisciplinary communication and support.
A Commitment to Dental Implants
In order to take advantage of the opportunity that dental implants represent today, a practice needs to become committed to implant dentistry. Dentists can choose from numerous clinical implant courses, and most implant companies also offer training programs that can help any dentist become more comfortable with both the surgical and restorative aspects of implant dentistry. The starting point is to make a commitment. Every dentist should strategically examine the practice and analyze its current position regarding implants. Answers to the following questions will be beneficial:
• How many implant cases did the practice perform in the last 12, 24, and 36 months?
• Is the trend in the number of implant cases in the practice up or down over the last 3 years?
• Has the practice implemented any marketing communication to patients about dental implants?
• Has the practice strategized and scripted treatment presentations for dental implants, training hygienists, staff members, and doctors?
• Is there a protocol for offering implants to every patient who would benefit from implant dentistry?
• Are patients made aware of dental implants even if they aren’t candidates for implant dentistry, so that they can inform and refer others?
• Does the practice have an interdisciplinary communication methodology so that all referrals for dental implants are accompanied by the information needed for case acceptance?
These questions serve as an excellent starting point to determine whether the practice needs to make a stronger commitment to implant dentistry. As a general guideline, I suggest the following for most practices:
• If the practice has completed five or less implant cases in the last 12 months, it should set a goal of completing ten to fifteen in the next 12 months.
• If the practice has completed ten to twenty cases in the last 12 months, it should work to double the number in the next 12 months.
Implants and Case Presentation
Case presentation for dental implants differs from those for other services, primarily because dental implants are not the only option. Patients can consider and choose an alternative approach to solving their problem.
Successful implant case presentation depends on having an understanding of motivational psychology. The approach to an implant patient must combine a specific amount of implant education with a larger amount of implant motivation. The best way to positively influence the patient is to focus on the benefits of dental implants. The following suggestions will help:
• Educate patients on the basics of dental implants, but don’t overwhelm them, as most have limited interest in the technical details about dental implants.
• Focus on the top three benefits of dental implants and repeat them at least three times. Adult learning specialists indicate that adults often learn in threes. Giving an adult implant candidate ten different benefits would dilute the message.
• Talk to patients about the specific benefits of implants that are relevant to them. For example, if a patient simply wants to replace a missing tooth, focus on that. If a patient is concerned about denture retention, focus on that. If a patient has cosmetic interest, make sure your message refers to that. Most patients will give some indication about why they would consider dental implants, and that should be the main emphasis of the conversation.
• When appropriate, plan to have a second consult. Many patients aren’t prepared to make a decision about dental implants immediately because they involve both surgery and significant expense. Most people need time to think through whether they want dental implants, when they can fit treatment into their schedule, and how they will pay for them.
Using the above recommendations, the value for dental implants will go up, which will decrease the emphasis by the patient on the total fee.
Dental implants are an outstanding service that should be offered to every patient who is missing teeth. Some of the challenges of dental implants include the lack of an established protocol for interdisciplinary care, the low comfort level of restorative doctors for different types of implant cases, the relatively high fee for implant cases, and case presentations that don’t build sufficient value for patients. As evidenced by the many examples of successful implant practices, addressing these areas will enable any dentist to take advantage of this outstanding growth opportunity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Roger P. Levin, DDS, is a third-generation general dentist and the founder and chief executive officer of Levin Group, Inc. Learn the latest practice building strategies by attending one of his new seminars. See the complete seminar schedule by visiting www.levingroup.com/gpseminars.