Make it pay: Dental implants

March 21, 2012

Like any specialty area of practice, providing implants services comes with some upfront costs. But the training, equipment and supplies needed to place and restore implants can be worthwhile investments, especially when you work well with internal and external partners and make the procedure an attractive option when it’s appropriate for a patient.

Like any specialty area of practice, providing implants services comes with some upfront costs. But the training, equipment and supplies needed to place and restore implants can be worthwhile investments, especially when you work well with internal and external partners and make the procedure an attractive option when it’s appropriate for a patient.

Pittsburgh-based GP and DPR Clinical 360 Implant Team Member Joyce Warwick, DMD, got started with implants after seeing the success her brother, also a dentist, was having with the service. After consulting with him and other colleagues and finding a system and a representative from BioHorizons she was comfortable working with, she brought the service to her practice and has found it to be welcome by both patients and staff.

Attracting patients

While her implant business has been solid, Dr. Warwick has built it on just internal marketing and is quick to admit that she could probably be placing even more implants if she did outside promotions as well. Still, her implant caseload has grown simply from being able to present herself as the clinician to place and restore implants for her patients who need them.

“Most patients have been really receptive to me doing it,” she said. “They’re comfortable in the office and they’re comfortable with me.”

While a single implant might still involve a higher cost to the patient than the alternative of a three-unit bridge, Straumann USA CEO Marty Dymek said it is important to consider the long-term success of implants and what that means for reducing future costs that may be associated with maintaining that bridge.

The way implants directly treat a patient’s problem without engaging adjacent teeth to support a bridge is another selling point, and patients like the idea of receiving care they feel is cutting edge. That’s the type of treatment they tell friends about.

“When you treat a patient with dental implants, even today with implants more understood, I think the patient leaves kind of excited about the treatment,” Dymek said. “They tend to talk to their friends and relatives. They feel they’ve been engaged in a high tech restorative treatment. There’s just a lot more of a feel good story built around that treatment.”

Expert assistant

Dr. Warwick admits the first few implant procedures she performed took longer as she and her staff were careful to double check everything while prepping the room, but now it’s a routine process. A big part of getting to this point for her has been making one assistant the implant assistant and letting her become the expert in all the set-up and material needs related to implants.

“I think it’s really key that you have one assistant who is responsible for this. It might be too much to have your whole staff worrying about it,” she said. “You want to find a person who is going to be very meticulous and thoughtful about that.”

The extra role in the practice empowers the assistant with unique responsibilities and thus added value to the practice. As implants have become a bigger part of her practice, Dr. Warwick has cross-trained other staff members to help with implants, but her first implant assistant still retains the main tasks of ordering all the necessary parts and supplies for the implant caseload.

 

Keeping supplied

The upfront equipment investment for implants is lessened for practices that perform a large number of extractions and already have certain surgical tools on hand. And because implants are rarely emergency cases, many of the supplies can be ordered on an as-needed basis. However, it is key to make sure you anticipate everything you might need at the start of a case.

Dr. Warwick said it also helps when you know the system you use and can anticipate the implants you will place most often, because then you can take advantage of deals. At her practice she stocks just immediate load implants for common situations such as broken lateral incisors or premolars, and orders implants for all other cases individually.

Using cone beam imaging to plan a case also helps keep supply costs down. By knowing exactly what will be needed to complete the case before beginning surgery you are able to order fewer implants and other supplies.

“You don’t need to have three implants on hand for the bone situation because you’re going to know the bone situation ahead of time,” Dr. Warwick said. “You’re going to know what you’re going to need from (viewing) the scan.”

Knowing your reps

When it comes time to order supplies for an implant case, Dr. Warwick feels she has a partner in the sales rep she works with. She’s found implant manufacturers work hard to partner with their customers and can be great resources for clinicians with questions about the systems and the procedures.

That sentiment is exactly what Dymek wants clinicians who work with Straumann to come away with. He said Straumann USA has reps working specifically with surgeons, others with labs and others who focus on the regenerative product lines and help support the surgical reps. The idea is to make sure there is always someone available with answers to questions from clinicians and lab technicians.

“The availability and access to rep support is one of the cornerstones of what we do. Our customers utilize that support on a frequent and constant level,” he said. “We’re always interested in partnering with laboratories, surgeons and general practitioners to help them promote their services to a new audience.”

Lab partnership

The other partner in the implant equation is the lab technician who optimally gets involved early on during the case planning. Dr. Warwick sends most of her implant cases to the same lab, but does work with several and she trusts all of them to be experts on their parts of the process such as choosing the best abutment.

That trust and early involvement with the case is exactly what Stephen Killian, CDT of Irvine, Calif.-based Killian Dental Ceramics Inc., wants from his dentist clients. With more than 20 years of experience in implants he has the process well mapped out and wants to be thought of as a resource his dentists can rely on.

He also believes strongly in building relationships with his dentists and showing them the ways he works to find them money saving solutions. When it comes to implants, he wants to be both as helpful and as flexible as possible. This means he’s ready to not only cut his prices when dealing with solid abutment crown cases and drop implant charges from cases where the clinician handles all abutment details on his or her own, but he’s also ready with materials to help dentists learn everything they need to know to handle those types of cases.

“The clients depend on us to be an excellent technical resource,” he said.

Conclusion

Implants are truly an area of dentistry where it helps to have reliable partners. It’s also an area of dentistry where there are plenty of partners ready to help. Both implant manufacturers and dental labs are well equipped as sources of knowledge, and having a trusted staff member to take ownership of the inventory details can help strengthen a practice and take some load off a dentist’s shoulders. Of course the real value in implants is the excitement they can bring to patients who experience the benefits of successful implant treatments.

“These patients are the ones that bring new referrals in, spread the good word and help the dentist build his or her practice,” Dymek said.