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Part 63 of the $100,000 Puzzle: Good "P.R." for Dentistry

by Dr. William W. Oakes & Chris Shunn

Special Note to New Readers

In 1991, we introduced the first twelve pieces to the $100,000 Puzzle. This began the ambitious task of helping you to add $100,000 to your annual gross income.

This series of articles became so popular with our readers, we continued to add puzzle piece articles throughout these past five years and are now presenting Part 63 of the $100,000 Puzzle!

If you would like to review the Puzzle Piece series in its entirety, just call 1-800-536-2996 and order Back Issues Volumes IV_VIII (1991-1995).

Keep a look out for the latest Far Side cartoon on dentistry. It will show nearly two hundred thousand dentists standing around doing nothing while managed care takes over.

Dentistry has always suffered from an image problem. We are the Rodney Dangerfield of the healthcare industry... "We don't get no respect!" Like the lady that told her dentist that she couldn't afford to pay her dental bill this month because she had to pay a doctor's bill. (Aren't dentists doctors, too?) Let's face it, there are a billion things that people would rather spend their money on than root canal therapy or deep root planing.

Dentistry should form an anti-defamation league. It seems that hardly a week goes by without the Sunday funnies lampooning dentistry. And just to show that we have a sense of humor, these assaults on our profession are prominently displayed in our offices. These cartoons often depict dentists as idiots and perpetuate stereotypical notions about dentistry being something painful that should be avoided.

Pregnant? Don't Visit Your Dentist!

Dentistry even suffers from misinformation. Dental myths that impede our ability to best serve our patients' needs still persist even in this day of the information highway. For example, many women will tell their pregnant friends to avoid seeing a dentist during pregnancy. This is probably due to the fear of exposing the fetus to harmful radiation. You and I both know that a woman should pay special attention to her dental health during pregnancy. But where are all of the articles in women's magazines educating them about the values and benefits of modern dentistry?

Even as this is written, I am told that some TV news tabloid show is preparing an investigative piece on infection through contaminated water in the dental office.

When was the last time that you saw a segment on TV that had something good to say about dentistry? It's as if the news editors are just waiting for some dentist to screw up so that they can do an expos, to indict us all.

Dentists often suffer as a group for the actions of a few. If some unscrupulous dentist molests a patient, by association, we are all guilty of screwing the public. When the Kimberly Bergalis incident happened, it was as if every dentist everywhere were running disease-ridden operations or purposely infecting their patients with the AIDS virus.

It is estimated that as many as 25% of all patients suffer from some form of dental anxiety sufficiently severe enough to have caused them to cancel an appointment. While some of them might exhibit the same anxiety while going for a health physical, many patients have a special aversion just for dentistry.

Some of this may stem from a negative experience, either personal or vicarious, from a visit to the dentist of the past. But the modern dental office uses needles that are about the thickness of a person's hair. And modern dentistry has made so many enormous strides towards minimizing the discomfort of dental treatments. Many patients remark, "Gee, that wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," or "That didn't hurt a bit." But no matter what we do, patients continue to talk about the dread of going to see the dentist and getting drilled. Where is dentistry's campaign to counter the negative perceptions that are being perpetuated by the mass media?

And dentistry has suffered in other ways, too. As if things weren't already bad enough, managed dental care advertisements portray dental costs as being too high and that managed dental care is the solution. I know that I am not telling you anything new here when I say that patients continue to complain about the "high cost" of dentistry. They think that dentists are getting rich. But where is any responsible voice countering these notions?

Dentistry suffers from a lack of awareness of many of the advances that have been made in dentistry. This lack of patient education prevents dentists from being as profitable as they could be. For example, most American mothers still don't know what sealants are. And yet what mother would not want to give her child protection against dental disease?

Some have begun calling for increased marketing efforts by the professional dental organizations to fund increased consumer awareness campaigns. They are calling for dentists to increase their membership dues to pay for it. But don't wait for the professional organizations to do it. By the time they act, private practice dentistry will have drowned in a sea of rhetoric, strangled by red tape that is tied to thinking of the past.

Here's What You Can Do

What can the average dentist do? A dentist can often help to effect a positive change in a patient's perception on a one-to-one basis. However, I feel that much more needs to be done and can be done. We need to enlist the support of the mass media in an effort to help change some of the negative perceptions that exist about dentistry.

Other industries, companies, crooked politicians, presidents, and former superstar athletes/accused double murderers have all experienced negative image or publicity. Many of these have successfully overcome a negative public perception with an effective "P.R." campaign.

Dentistry, as a community, should begin to utilize the power of the free press. It is possible to get favorable press and media coverage to spotlight the positive things that are occurring in our industry. The mass media can do a lot to help change the negative preconceived misconceptions that have existed in dentistry for decades.

Here are several suggestions on how individual dentists can help to change negative public perceptions about dentistry.

  1. Write letters to the editors of different publications and encourage them to do more articles on the importance of dentistry.
  2. Use every opportunity to talk up dentistry. Become a spokesperson and offer to address audiences on the new innovations that dentistry has to offer.
  3. Offer to write a column for your local paper or other publications.
  4. Disseminate dental literature. Get those brochures out of your closet and out where they will do some good. Ask other professionals to place some dental brochures in their brochure holders.
  5. Educate your patients whenever possible about various positive aspects of dentistry. Encourage them to talk up the importance of dentistry with their friends.
  6. Run advertisements that promote dentistry. Use your advertising dollars to promote dentistry by educating readers of your ad about the advantages of quality dentistry. Taking this "high road" approach will distinguish your dental practice while benefiting the entire dental community.
  7. Prepare press releases on various dental topics and send them to the different medias. If your article is printed or aired, you will be gaining name recognition and respect as an "expert." But even more importantly, the information will indirectly benefit every dentist in your area. By promoting dentistry in this fashion, you can help offset some of the negative misconceptions that exist.

You may have noticed that doing these things makes good business sense and will have a positive effect on building your practice and on your bottom line.

During the next couple of issues of The Profitable Dentist, I will share more ideas about how you can prepare your own press releases.

Of course, not every dentist has the time to do research and write articles. I recently learned of a professional dental marketing consulting group that helps dentists to utilize the mass media through a press release program. Cammeron Marketing Group (the same people that gave us our message-on-hold promotion), has a cost-effective program to help individual dentists to promote dentistry in their communities.

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