How to Make OTC Recommendations That Benefit Your Bottom Line

December 1, 2020
Terri Lively

Dental Products Report, Dental Products Report 2021 Dental OTC Products Guide,

From selling direct to setting up an online store to taking advantage of manufacturer platforms, your practice could take your professional opinion about over-the-counter dental products and turn it into revenue for your bottom line.

Your professional opinion resonates with your patients. This resonance extends to your views about what patients use in their home care. Dental manufacturers understand and encourage this arrangement—sometimes in ways that benefit your bottom line.

From selling direct to setting up a commission relationship, your practice could take your professional opinion about over-the-counter (OTC) dental products and turn it into revenue for your practice. We spoke to two experts about how you can make OTC recommendations that benefit your bottom line and the level of patient care you deliver.

What Are the OTC Recommendations That Can Benefit Your Bottom Line?

Flávia Palone Aldarvis Bacarin, Colgate Professional Direct Manager for Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals, was a dentist in Brazil before joining the marketing team at Colgate. As a dentist, she understands that the OTC products patients use in their home care as an essential complementary piece for in-office care. Adequate home care not only prevents caries, gum disease, and bad breath, but it also can improve a patient's overall health. 

"Colgate has a complete line of home care products that elevate patients' health. Most of them are available through the Professional Direct platform," Bacarin explains.

Mark Hyman, DDS, MAGD, is an Adjunct Full Professor and Special Assistant to the Office of the Dean at UNC Adams School of Dentistry, international speaker and key opinion leader for Philips Sonicare. Before selling his private practice, which he had for 32 years, he found OTC products an excellent adjunct to what they were doing at the dental practice. Philips Sonicare toothbrushes are an OTC product that Dr Hyman recommended to nearly all of his patients, of all ages, from kids to seniors. Per Dr Hyman, the science demonstrates that a power toothbrush removes more plaque, stain and debris than a manual toothbrush. Dr Hyman often asks his audiences who they should offer a power toothbrush to, knowing that the answer is everybody.

"There is not a good reason why everybody should not be using a power toothbrush like Philips Sonicare," Dr Hyman says.

He has other OTC products he recommends as well, like the Philips Zoom! DayWhite® and NiteWhite® take-home products for maintenance after in-office Philips Zoom! whitening procedures. For fresher breath, Dr Hyman talks to them about tongue scrapers or mouth rinses like Philips Sonicare BreathRx. A tremendous opportunity exists with replacement heads for power toothbrushes as well, Dr Hyman says. However, these recommendations require establishing trust in the communication and should match the patients' goals, he explains.

"You ask them for their goals and then present the adjunct OTC goals that go with that goal," Dr Hyman says.

With the dental practices that are using the platform, Bacarin sees that they talk about toothbrushes. Bacarin says that the hum by Colgate® electric rechargeable smart toothbrush is the most recommended and most purchased product through the program. The brush works with an app or the Apple® Health App to provides personalized care that guides patients to brush better, including smart sensors that target spots to which patients need to pay more attention. Referring dental professionals also discuss toothpaste and products like Colgate Phos-Flur Ortho Defense and Anti-Cavity Fluoride Rinse to prevent white spots on orthodontic patients' teeth. The practices also recommend Hydris Dry Mouth oral rinse for patients presenting with dry mouth or Colgate Magik Fun toothbrush with augmented reality for kids to inspire brushing. Other popular items are whitening products, including the Colgate Optic White® Professional Take-Home Whitening Kit.

"Our main goal is to provide these kinds of specialized products because we realized through our research that some of these products are hard to find in retail," Bacarin says.

Making OTC Work Direct

Dr Hyman found one of the best ways to use OTC products to benefit his bottom line was how we presented care to his patients. By first establishing the patients' goals for their oral health, he could then supply an OTC product that would help them get there and what they were doing in the operatory through traditional dental care.

"To me, it was a benefit statement," Dr Hyman explains. "Instead of saying, 'you need a Philips Sonicare,' it was 'would you like your gums bleeding reduced?' But we never use the word 'need.' We ask what benefit they are seeking and how we can help achieve those goals by providing a simple, predictable daily solution to them."

To achieve the best results with a power toothbrush, patients need to replace the heads regularly. However, dental practices don't have a way to track it. Therefore, Dr Hyman says it is crucial to note in the patient record who has a Philips Sonicare toothbrush so the team can follow-up at the next appointment to ensure that patients have changed the brush head or if they need to order a new one.

For both the toothbrushes and brush heads, Dr Hyman recommends having them in the office because it is the best way to ensure patient compliance. For example, the dental hygienist, who spends the most time with the patient, can tell the patient their gums are bleeding and that they want the patient to use a Philips Sonicare. If the hygienist doesn't have a Philips Sonicare power toothbrush there to put in the patients' hands as they leave the operatory, it means patients will need to go to a retailer or order the brush online. Dr Hyman would instead take the patient compliance aspect out of it and hand it to them right then.

"The hygienist says, 'your gums are bleeding; I want you to start using this tonight,' not 'go to Costco in the next week and get one of those,' or 'have Amazon deliver one,'" Dr Hyman explains.

However, the practice must take care of the business side of these transactions properly. For example, when you sell a product directly, you have sales tax to file with the state, which is usually a new area for many practices just starting in these efforts. Dr Hyman says he learned the hard way that minding these details is imperative.

"I was told, 'don't worry about it. What's the worst thing that can happen?' And then I found out. We had an audit," he says.

To avoid making this same mistake, Dr Hyman says the dentist and team need to communicate clearly with their accounting team to ensure they are compliant with state and federal regulations. He says that one way to keep track is to capture this information about sales in the practice management software, which also can serve as a reminding prompt for the team to follow up on maintenance and upkeep.

Dr Hyman sold the OTC products as a relationship-building tool that gets the best possible solutions in his patients' hands as quickly as possible and improves their overall dental health. However, if the manufacturer sells the products cheaper to big-box retailers than Dr Hyman can buy them for, it doesn't present a win for patients. This situation has become a challenge with OTC products, per Dr Hyman, which is why Philips Sonicare continues to work with dental professionals to offer them the best possible value.

"I appreciate when manufacturers partner with the private practitioners so that we can have it on our websites, have a convenience menu for patients," Dr Hyman says.

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic presents a challenge with the OTC efforts some practices have initiated. With patients waiting in their cars and walking directly to the operatory for their appointments, Dr Hyman says patients can miss the retail displays that offices have created for OTC home care adjuncts. He thinks practices should respond with a different tack that capitalizes on when patients are motivated to address their oral healthcare needs, either chairside or on the website.

"Show them on an iPad or the LCD monitor chairside the patient convenience menu," Dr Hyman says. "Then ask them which one they need today. 'Do you need replacement heads? Do you need a refill of BreathRx? Do you need any tongue scrapers or DayWhite or NiteWhite?' or whatever it is. Or recommend that they go on your website in the next week and order what they need."

For unsold products, he likes to use it as a patient experience enhancement. For example, if he had a patient mention they got engaged, he will do two-for-one whitening treatments for the bride and the bride's mother. Dr Hyman also gives them away, sometimes to patients that need a Philips Sonicare but can't afford one or to silent auctions or local community resource centers. After a full-mouth restoration, Dr Hyman would give the patient a Philips Sonicare to take care of their new smile.

"They almost become loss leaders because we use them as an adjunct," Dr Hyman says, adding that he sold most of the products at cost. "I wasn't looking to make money. I was looking for the sizzle of it."

Dr Hyman recognizes that the current environment has led to many patients having to make tough choices on how they will spend their money. However, it also presents an opportunity to increase the emotional engagement they have with their practices.

"This is an example of how during turbulent times, we can add a sweetener, a sizzle, a pizazz to their dental experience," Dr Hyman says.

Making OTC Work for You

Bacarin says that they developed their new service for dental professionals, the Colgate Professional Direct product, to help close the recommendation loop with patients. The product allows dental professionals to make their recommendations for oral care products via email or text with a link so patients can buy it at a discount with only a few clicks. She says they wanted a way to make it super convenient for patients to follow the recommendations made in their dental appointments.

"We are offering 10 percent of the sales to the dental professionals," Bacarin says. "The dental professionals can choose to have a direct deposit to their bank account, or, if they prefer not to receive the money, we can direct the funds to the Colgate Global Oral Health Educational program."

Colgate's Bright Smiles, Bright Futures program is Colgate’s global oral health educational program helping children and communities in need for over 28 years.

“We have already reached over one billion children across those years and are aiming to use the funds from this program to help us progress towards our goal of reaching two billion children by 2025,” Bacarin says.

In addition to the potential bottom-line enhancements, the Colgate Professional Direct program also has other benefits to the practice, per Bacarin. First, it eliminates the need to have a retail display and all the hassles associated with that effort, e.g., tax compliance, space concerns, managing returns, inventory, and expiration dates management. Second, it helps with patient compliance. Dental professionals want the patient to use the products they recommend, so Bacarin says that this program makes it easy for the patient to do so. Next is the convenience factor. Bacarin says that everyone, even Colgate, is looking for tools that improve lives and using today's technology, the Professional Direct platform delivers that convenience. Finally, there is potential for additional revenue, which isn't a small issue for most dental practices in 2020.

"With the pandemic, everyone is looking for additional revenue. Many practices have [or had] been closed for months. The platform is a way to show that Colgate cares," Bacarin says. "It's not much, only 10 percent of the sales, but with some of the early adopters and power users, we see we are helping them."

Bacarin says it is important to note that the platform is not the dental professional selling to the patient, but Colgate selling to the patient. The financial side is handled by Colgate from end-to-end.

"It's one less headache for the professional," Bacarin says. "We just pay the 10 percent commission, and there is nothing to report for sales tax or anything."

Colgate's team wanted the program to be simple for dental professionals to sign up on the Professional Direct website. Bacarin says that the practice can sign up as a practice, or the dental professional can sign up for the program using their license number, whichever they prefer. Also, dental professionals can access it from any device they want, from desktop, tablet, or mobile device.

Furthermore, Colgate wants to have feedback and suggestions for products, tools, and platform enhancements. Bacarin explains that Colgate didn't design the platform for themselves, but instead for dental professionals. Between research and informal conversations, Bacarin says they learned that dental professionals wanted Colgate to transform the website into a map to provide a better user experience, so Colgate is working on that.

"Everything we do will be based on the user experience," Bacarin says.

Bacarin says the most successful practices using the platform were the ones that tried using it. She says that sometimes Colgate found that dental professionals would sign up for the program to see what it was and how it worked but were reluctant to make any recommendations. However, she encourages practices that take the time to sign up and try sending a recommendation before writing off the idea.

"They will see. It's super easy and takes less than 30 seconds to send a recommendation," Bacarin explains. "It's a benefit that only they can give their patients, and it's a discount of 20 percent, which is a pretty significant discount."

For example, the Magik Toothbrush for kids retails at $18, but through the platform, it's only $10.99, Bacarin explains.

"And with the pandemic, patients don't want to go to the store, so the convenience to receive at home is even better, and this is a benefit that only the dental professional can provide their patients," Bacarin says.

The platform also comes with a way to see which patients bought the products so that dental professionals can follow up with them, Bacarin explains. It's useful information for practices to have for patient compliance. Colgate is also working on a way for the data to import into practice management systems automatically.

"Colgate developed this platform to benefit dental professionals and their patients. Everything we do is based on them, from their feedback to their experiences to their suggestions," Bacarin says. "We are super open to working on that and being agile. This is how we are working to enhance and improve and be the number one partner with dental professionals. This is our goal here."