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As the American Dental Association confirmed in a recent Health Policy Institute report, the dental economy has been flat since 2008. More important, the authors believe that we are probably experiencing the “new normal” in dental spending. As disconcerting as this may be for dentists still in denial, it should also serve as a clarion call for all practices seeking greater success.
Fortunately, doctors can implement proven growth strategies that will achieve excellent results even in a soft market. A good place to start is where most dental patients start: the hygiene department.
Though subordinate to the dentist in professional terms, the hygienist has the potential to play a more important role in patient relations than the doctor - or anyone else in the practice, for that matter. This is true for several reasons:
The hygienist has more one-to-one time with patients, which facilitates the formation of personal relationships.
The hygienist serves as the patients’ educator and trusted advisor regarding personal oral health care.
The hygienist often detects emerging problems before either patients or the doctor.
The hygienist provides a range of preventive care services that benefit patients in many ways.
The twice-a-year hygiene visit represents continuity in the patient-practice relationship.
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One of the hygienist’s roles - that of educator - gives her the perfect opportunity to communicate the value of regular hygiene appointments. Though both the scheduling coordinator and the doctor, in their own ways, can emphasize how important hygiene visits are, no one can make the case as strongly as the hygienist herself. Using carefully-crafted scripts and taking advantage of the personal bond that forms between herself and the patient, she should address these communications objectives:
Make it clear that the hygiene visit is much more than “just a cleaning”â¦ that it includes periodontal exams and maintenance, the removal of potentially harmful plaque and calculus, screening for oral cancer, and other vital services.
Explain that many potentially serious dental problems will not be obvious to the patient yet can be detected early - during routine hygiene appointments - and addressed before they cause significant harm.
Ensure that all patients are aware of the many types of treatment the practice offers, not only need-based but also elective options.
Monitor patients’ home care performance and provide timely recommendations for how to improve it.
By making these points, the hygienist will not only build the perceived value of hygiene visits but also provide a strong rationale for continuity.
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One of the side effects of the Great Recession has been a widespread disruption of the “hygiene habit.” Many patients, looking for ways to economize, have decided they can skip hygiene visits and go the dentist’s office only if there’s dental problem. They undervalue preventive care and overestimate their ability to detect an issue that needs professional attention. With education, the hygienist can overcome these misconceptions, build value for regular hygiene visits, and contribute greatly to the long-term success of the practice.
To learn how building value for hygiene and other strategies can help your practice increase production, attend one of Dr. Levin’s upcoming seminars. Pick a convenient date and location at www.levingroup.com/gpseminars.