Want to Be the Go-To Dentist? Start By Understanding Who You Are

How many dental practices are within a 5- or 10-mile radius of your own? Probably too many, if you’re being honest. So how do you differentiate yourself from the competition? Before you start setting grandiose goals, take a closer look at who you are and your practice culture. Aligning those two are key if you’re to become the go-to dentist in your area.

"What keeps them coming back...is the practice culture"

How oversaturated is the dental practice marketplace? Maureen Uy, managing partner of Uy Communications says that in some more densely populated regions, “you can’t toss a nickel without hitting a dentist.”

The question then for patients is, why go to one dentist over another? And that’s why it’s so important for dentists to distinguish themselves from their peers, and their competition.


Uy, whose company specializes in developing marketing plans for medical, dental and legal practices, says that dentists often look to distinguish themselves by adding new services, such as sleep apnea screenings. But the best approach, she says, is going back to the basics of marketing.

“We ask them, if there’s only one procedure you could do, and it’s highly profitable, and you could do it with your hands tied behind your back and eyes shut, which is it? “she explains. “And from there, we prioritize down.”

Why ask the question? Uy says that 9 out of 10 times there’s a dichotomy between what service is most profitable for the practice, versus what the dentists want to be known for, versus what they want to add to their repertoire. That’s why she recommends dentists first focus on what they’re good at.

“We don’t want them tainted by looking at their competition and saying, ‘Oh, we want to do that too,’” Uy explains, “because sometimes it just doesn’t match their practice culture.”

It’s all part of the strategy, Uy says, of having dentists look inward at themselves, but also compare that desire of what they want to be with the reality of what their practice is bringing in. Does that socio-demographic support the goals of where they want to go with the practice?

“And then in terms of where they want to go, can their socio-demographic client base support it?” Uy asks, rhetorically. “It comes down to the psychological versus the factual. That’s the discovery and analysis that has to happen before you can say, let’s add on veneers and flippers and sleep apnea and everything else to our practice.”


What about the amenities a practice might add to differentiate itself? What about the practice décor, or the way patients are greeted, or headsets that pump in relaxing music during treatment? Uy says those elements, what she calls the practice culture, but they’re not why patients schedule an initial visit.

For example, if a patient has a young family and has received a couple of recommendations on dental practices that specialize in pediatrics or family dentistry, the patient will look first at the practice’s capabilities. Does the practice do teeth whitening?

What keeps them coming back, however, is the practice culture. Does the patient feel valued? Does the dentist and staff truly care about their oral health. Is the practice willing to work with the patient even if they’re having financial trouble affording basic dental care?

“That’s where the employer brand comes in,” Uy says. “Is this a doctor who will champion my oral health? Does the whole practice team work together like a well-oiled machine? What’s the patient’s experience within the practice culture? You can’t fake that.”

That’s the alignment that needs to occur for a dentist to stand out. Do the technical capabilities align with the practice culture. If those two elements are not in alignment, Uy says, then “anything we do from digital marketing to traditional advertising and public relations to bring in more patients is only going to throw gasoline on the fire.”


If you really want to set your practice apart, remember that patients often get their referrals from word-of-mouth recommendations given by friends and family. So, for every patient—new or current—who visits the practice, make certain to gather empirical evidence that reviews your practice’s performance. And not just the dentist, but the practice as a whole.

“We work with the practice to make sure they have a review measurement system that is HIPAA compliant, that ties in with their practice management system, texts or emails, and in some cases a phone call, that brings it all together,” Uy says.

And the time to gather patient feedback, Uy adds, is not when they’re sitting in the exam chair, but rather after they’ve gone home and time to reflect on their experience.

“It’s a nice way to let them have time to think, but still close enough to the visit without putting them on the spot,” Uy says.

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