Make Clear Aligners a Profit Center in Your Practice
Proper marketing and patient education maximize case acceptance for mild to moderate cases
Tracy butler, CRDH, MFT
Tracy Butler, CRDH, MFT, has been an educator and influencer in dentistry for more than 2 decades, and she now coaches dental practices as the chief visionary officer for Creative Ventures Development Group, Inc. One topic about which Butler is particularly passionate is clear aligner therapy. In order to better understand the advantages of clear aligners, Inside Dentistry spoke to her about why and how dentists are implementing this increasingly popular treatment modality.
Inside Dentistry (ID): What developments have made clear aligners such a promising business opportunity for dental practices in recent years?
Tracy Butler, RDH (TB): Consumer demand and innovative workflows offering patients convenience and affordability have really evolved to bring clear aligners to the forefront. Dental patients truly are consumers, and their desires—along with advances in digital dentistry—have been driving the development of clear aligner therapies for several years. As consumers, patients want options, convenience, and great experiences. Clear aligners have become a treatment option that is almost considered to be fun. Similar to whitening treatment, it is an opportunity for an easy win that will make patients love something about your practice.
ID: Why is it impactful to be able to provide patients with more minor orthodontic treatments instead of only resorting to orthodontics when absolutely necessary?
TB: Straighter teeth are healthier teeth—period. We no longer have to wait until a patient's condition is "bad enough" to refer. When I am navigating through a straighter arch, I encounter less inflammation, fewer food traps, and less accumulation of plaque and calculus. The early detection of alignment issues and intervention via the newer clear aligner options for mild and moderate tooth movements can give more patients straighter teeth. This makes routine hygiene visits easier on both the patient and the clinician. More comfortable visits have a direct impact on patients' perceptions of our practice and promote an easier pathway to build stronger relationships with them. Patients have told me, "I am so glad that you offered me this option because I did not think that I could ever have straight teeth without braces." Subsequently, this can also help to attract new patients. When you develop a reputation for providing excellent, affordable clear aligner therapy, then patients might come to you for that treatment instead of going to their current dentists.
ID: How easy or difficult is it for a practice to implement clear aligner therapy?
TB: Dentistry is a team sport. Like the implementation of other services, such as implant dentistry, nonsurgical periodontics, or digital dentistry, it is best to not attempt to do it alone. Your entire team needs to have a shared vision and be aligned around the clinical philosophy in order to create clarity and promote effective communication. From the administrative team and the dental assistants to the dental hygienists and the dentists—everyone needs to be working together to implement clear aligners. We build trust with patients when we are all speaking the same language. Look to partner with a clear aligner manufacturer that offers exceptional training and tools, such as talk tracks for discussing therapies with patients. Some companies even offer turnkey toolkits with customizable smile profiles, which are derived from short questionnaires that patients complete to help the dental team gather information about their needs and desires. Although the implementation process for clear aligners is fairly simple and straightforward as a whole, the alignment of the entire team is critical to success.
ID: Once implemented, how much can clear aligners help a business, and how profitable can they be?
TB: Clear aligner therapy is one of those therapies that hits all five engines of the dental practice: capacity, revenue, expenses, patients, and team. Capacity is increased because aligners enable you to provide more dentistry to your current patients and potentially add more patients. Revenue is generated via expanding your service mix, and it can be further enhanced by lower expenses because some of the aligner manufacturers do not charge laboratory fees. Even more expenses can be saved by using one of the hybrid telehealth models that incorporate patient monitoring with remote dentists after the initial scanning and treatment planning. The convenience, along with the predictability and precision of today's systems, can also lead to more patients accessing care. Finally, clear aligners can become a team builder within a practice. When everyone is involved in the patient journey, the value of the team members is elevated, and it brings meaning to their role on the team.
ID: You make a compelling case. Once a dentist decides to implement clear aligners, how can they be marketed to patients?
TB: People with teeth know other people with teeth, and they will talk about you. Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool that should not be overlooked. Social media platforms continue to prove effective for engaging with patients and showing how easily exceptional outcomes can be achieved. You will want to make sure that your website details all of the services that you offer as well, including clear aligner options. Patients cannot embrace a solution to a problem that they do not perceive themselves to have, so simple awareness is critical. Between the available marketing avenues and the multiple touch points that we have with patients both before and after their appointments, there are so many gentle ways to let them know that straight teeth are possible.
Once patients are in the chair, I suggest providing complimentary scans. A hygienist or assistant can do this quickly, and patients respond better when a clear scan of their mouth is used as opposed gory photographs. Patients love digital technology, and they especially appreciate being able to see their own possible treatment outcomes manifest before their eyes.
In addition, remember that you can be your own best customer when it comes to word of mouth. Make sure that your team members either are wearing clear aligners, have worn clear aligners, or are at least talking about them. When patients inquire or have questions, every team member needs to be able to respond with either a personal experience or a success story. Stories sell and facts simply tell. When a team member has yet to have a personal experience, we encourage him or her to borrow a success story from someone who has and share that with patients. Oftentimes, patients are overwhelmed with facts and figures, but patients connect when we share a story of our own or one that is simply borrowed.
To maximize our pre-appointment touch points with patients, we utilize a tool that we call a "journey map." We also compile smile profiles by asking questions not only about patients' oral health but also about their lifestyles, which can often lead patients to reveal elements of their smiles that may be holding them back. In order to do this effectively, again, everyone on the team needs to be on board with a shared vision and clinical philosophy. The more confidence that your team members have in the treatment solutions that you provide, the higher your case acceptance will be.
ID: When you have these conversations, what are patients' biggest concerns and how do you address them?
TB: The major concerns are typically the same as those that patients have with any treatment option: time, pain, and money. Understanding these concerns and being able to recognize when you have not yet adequately addressed a particular patient's objections, whether he or she has verbalized them or not, is critical. One of the most common specific concerns expressed by adults involves their negative memories of braces and not wanting to endure that experience again. In addition, they may believe that their speech will be impaired while wearing aligners, or they may not want their friends or coworkers to know that they are undergoing treatment. Informing patients about how little their speech and function will be impacted as well as the availability of nighttime-only options is important. Many patients are also pleasantly surprised by the hybrid telehealth models that include dentist-directed monitoring without office visits because they save precious time and money. Once patients are made aware of the comfort and convenience of the available aligner options, they are often willing to spend a few thousand dollars to treat mild to moderate tooth movement.
ID: What would you tell clinicians who are hesitant about implementing clear aligners to benefit their practices?
TB: Convenient, affordable options are what patients expect. There are companies in our market that were real disruptors regarding the creation of the hybrid telehealth model, and because of that, patients are demanding access to care. Do not wait. The question should not be a matter of if you are going to offer clear aligners for mild to moderate cases, but when. If you do not, then your patients will move on and seek treatment somewhere else.