Exclusive Survey: Make them smile

Dental Products Report, Dental Products Report-2010-10-01, Issue 10

You can't use the economy as an excuse. Just because the economy is down doesn't mean you shouldn't offer your patients the best possible care, or that you should assume they can't afford that care. It just means you and your team have to work a little harder to educate your patients about their options, and that includes veneers.

You can't use the economy as an excuse.

Just because the economy is down doesn't mean you shouldn't offer your patients the best possible care, or that you should assume they can't afford that care. It just means you and your team have to work a little harder to educate your patients about their options, and that includes veneers.

Sure, most clinicians aren’t doing as many veneer cases as they did maybe four or five years ago, but they’re still doing them. According to our September 2010 DPR Cosmetic Survey, 57% of clinicians said minimal prep veneers is one of the most profitable cosmetic services they offer in their practice. And the number of patients who want veneers hasn’t changed just because times are tough; those patients are still out there. You just need to take the time to identify them in your practice, educate them about what veneers can do for their smile and be willing to work with them on financing. If you can do that, both you and your patients will benefit.

“You need this now more than ever,” said DenMat Vice President Rob Brenneise, who mentioned that even in this sluggish economy, there are still practices doing 500 to 1,000 LUMINEERS units a year. “When it’s easy, it’s easy for everyone, and everyone is successful and does great. Now is the time when you need to have programs and tools in place that put you and the patient in the position to do 8 to 10 units, which is an $8,000 procedure. Whether you do that once a month or once a quarter, it will have a big impact on your office.”

It sets you apart

Patients want to go to doctors who can offer top-of-the-line procedures, and they want someone who can do those procedures well, Dr. Lisa Kalfas said. To not offer your patients veneers just because you’re not doing that many cases or you think they can’t afford it could cost you now and even more in the future. The economy won’t be bad forever, and once it starts to turn around, patients who are putting off expensive cosmetic procedures today will turn to you when they’re ready to move forward. Take the CE to keep your skills current; don’t let a down economy trick you into thinking it’s OK to coast. If you want to stand out, now’s the time to learn and enhance your skills, and Dr. Kalfas recommends the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies as a great place to start.

“It’s very competitive out there, and you want to be able to offer not only something that’s different, but you want to be the best at what you’re offering,” Dr. Kalfas said. “So I think it’s a mistake to say, ‘Well I’ll never sell a veneer case because the economy is bad.’ If you learn to do veneers and establish yourself as an expert in cosmetics, you’re just opening the door for yourself.”

Using the right tools

Yes, veneers can be a huge practice builder, bad economy or not, but simply offering them isn’t enough. You’re going to have to work for it, and that means having the right tools to educate your patients about what veneers can do for them and their smile. With 54% of survey respondents indicating cosmetic inquiries in their practice have been down over the last two years, you can’t wait for your patients to come to you asking about veneers.

One of the easiest ways to find out if a patient is even interested in veneers is to do a 10-question smile evaluation, Brenneise said. First, ask your patients if they are happy with their smile. If they  say no, that gives you and your team the opportunity to educate them on all their cosmetic options. This gets the dialogue started, and could spark interest in patients who never really thought about veneers until they came to your practice.

Another way to get patients thinking about smile enhancements is to show them what they have and where they could go. Dr. Kalfas recommends taking a picture of every patient and then putting it on a computer screen to let them look at their smile in a different way. To take that a step further, Brenneise said DenMat offers the LUMISmile, what he describes as a powerful way to get patients thinking about veneers. It enables you to take a patient’s before photo, and within 20 minutes you can show that patient an after photo of what he or she would look like with LUMINEERS.

Be willing to work with them

If you want to do more veneer cases, you’re going to have to help make it more affordable for your patients. For some clinicians, that may mean taking a look at your prices and deciding what is reasonable, said Dr. Chris Ramsey, a dentist who makes it a priority to work with high-quality labs and who rarely does prepless veneer cases. If you charged $1,500 a unit before, but someone can afford $1,200 now, is that enough? You have to think about serving the patient as well as making enough money to keep your practice thriving.

If dropping your prices isn’t an option, enhancing financing is another great way to help make veneers more affordable to patients, Dr. Kalfas said. If you offered three months interest-free before, think about extending that to 12 months. Give a discount for patients who pre-pay. And if you already offer that, think about making that discount larger.

You can’t skimp on marketing

Even during times when the economy is booming, you have to let current and potential patients know you offer veneers if you expect to do any cases. Start by sending e-newsletters and e-mail blasts to current patients, and by offering in-office presentations with products like CAESY, said Fred Joyal, founder of 1-800-DENTIST. If you don’t make the effort, you might see a patient walk into your office with brand-new veneers that another dentist placed. Other clinicians are doing it, and if your patients don’t know you are, too, they’ll go to someone who took the time to market the service.

But you can’t stop there. Veneers can be a huge patient draw, so you have to let people outside your patient list know what your practice can offer them. Print ads, a robust website with before-and-after pictures and testimonials, as well as buying keywords on Yahoo, Google and Bing, are all great ways to let potential patients know who you are and what you do. Ask patients who are happy with veneers you’ve placed to write a review on Yelp, and consider advertising on Yelp as well. If you’re a member of 1-800-DENTIST, make sure the fact that you offer veneers is in your profile.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s a mistake not to do anything. You have to be repetitive with your message to get your patients to remember and think of you when they’re ready to move forward with veneers. And you never know when enhancing their smile will be important to them, Joyal said, so don’t kill your marketing efforts just because the economy isn’t so great. People are still opting for cosmetic services, whether it’s because they’re looking for love or a new job.

“You don’t know when they’ll suddenly have the money to pay for veneers, or when a divorce occurs, or when they need a new job, or when there’s an important event that will be photographed, or when some kid pointed out their teeth looked yellow and old,” Joyal said. “Marketing is about staying in awareness so when things happen your patients remember your services.”

For your marketing efforts to be successful, you also have to be where the patients are, said Mark Olson, Vice President of Marketing for Smile Reminder. You have to find them where they’re looking. Putting a coupon in Val Pak or sending a direct mail piece isn’t good enough any more. These days, many of your patients communicate through e-mail and text messages, so that’s where you need to be. And if you’re not on board with social networking yet, it’s time to get there. From patients liking your fan page to posting reviews about your practice, Facebook and Twitter can be great marketing tools.

“Social networking is becoming such a big referral tool,” Olson said. “People within social networks are trusted advisors. We know the power of social media.”

Set an example

Spending the money to have veneers placed is a big decision, and patients will want to talk with someone they trust about what it’s like and if it’s worth it. Who better to share their experiences with your patients than you or one of your staff members?

Dr. Harvey Silverman, who has been coaching dentists on cosmetic dentistry since 1984, recommends that each staff member fill out a smile analysis form to determine how they feel about their own smile. You may be surprised to find you have team members who are interested in making subtle smile enhancements. Talk about your findings at your next team meeting, and schedule your team members for the appropriate complimentary cosmetic service.

“If team members are sincerely excited about the changes you made for them and the improved self confidence they now have, they can be much more effective in power educating patients,” Dr. Silverman said. “Let’s face it, dentists and team members don’t like to sell anything, and they don’t have to. Patients really do want cosmetic dentistry. You can expand your cosmetic practice in any economy if you have a sincere, enthusiastic team that truly believes in and has experienced what you are doing.”

LUMINEERS offices that follow this philosophy typically will do 81 more units per year than an office that doesn’t, Brenneise said. It sends such a positive message to patients if someone in the practice has experienced the procedure and is happy with the results. Patients can see what they really look like, and having an example right there in the office just makes it easier for the doctor and the team to talk about it.

You can’t go it alone

If you’re going to be successful, you can’t be the only one excited about offering veneers in your practice. The most successful practices are staff driven, Brenneise said, so staff members need to be educated and excited about what it means for your office to offer veneers.

You have to have people around you who are excited about what you’re doing and who are willing to have conversations with patients about cosmetic dentistry, Dr. Silverman said. Patients often turn to staff members for advice, and they’re often the ones who provide patient education. It’s critical that they’re on point and in step with you when it comes to what’s best for your practice and your patients.

“Staff is critical. The whole team has to get across that this type of dentistry can have a profound impact on people’s lives,” Joyal said. “It can change their lives by increasing their self-confidence and making them look better. These are powerful things to do for people, and one of the best investments they will ever make. Every smile, every kiss, every conversation for the next 40 years.”

Don’t sell your patients short

Regardless of price, your patients deserve to know all their treatment options. If veneers are going to get their smile to where they want to be, then you have to let them know that, Dr. Ramsey said. Don’t be afraid to suggest veneers just because they’re expensive. Give your patients all the education they need and let them make the decision. Explain their other options and what the compromises are if they decide to go a different route.

And, of course, you have to remember each patient is different and each case must be personalized, Dr. Ramsey said. “The patient needs to understand all dentists can do veneers, but very few dentists can design a smile that works within the guidelines of your face,” Dr. Ramsey said. “When patients feel like a smile is being designed  for them and you’re not using a cookie cutter approach to putting veneers on, they’re appreciative of the fact you’re putting a porcelain bonded restoration on their teeth that is designed to fit them, their hair, their face, their overall appearance.”

It’s also important to keep in mind that not everyone is struggling financially. There are people who want cosmetic dentistry and who are willing and able to pay for it.

“There are still people buying new cars and buying homes. The world hasn’t come to a standstill,” Dr. Ramsey said. “You have to plug ahead and still offer it [veneers].”

Don’t let the economy hold you back

Now isn’t the time to be skittish about offering veneers or even other cosmetic services; it’s the time to build your reputation and your place in the community. Put in the extra time and work. Have conversations with your team members and your patients. Do what you can to bring in a few big cases a month, and remember these patients have put their trust in you to deliver a beautiful smile. Show them they made the right choice, that you’ll do the same for them as you’d do for a family member. Do that, and you’ll be the person people in your community go to when they’re ready, regardless of what kind of cosmetic work they want done.

“The reality is cosmetic dentistry is extremely rewarding for myself and my patients,” Dr. Ramsey said. “Am I doing a little less than before? Absolutely. But it’s extremely rewarding. With the better materials we have to offer and the techniques that continue to improve and the technology, the future is extremely bright. We have to plow forward, we can’t be at stand still, with the ultimate end goal to do the best thing for our patients.”

About this survey

The September 2010 Cosmetics Survey was sent via e-mail to general practitioners in the United States. The link was promoted on the DPR Facebook page, where we currently have 5,570 fans. The survey was completed by 182 people.