Beyond the Bridge: Building your dental practice with new and alternative services

I’ve worked as a dentist for 4 decades. The business has change considerably during that time.

The path to success used to be very straightforward. You would go to school, study hard, gain clinical expertise and then open a practice.

It would be an oversimplification to say that it was easy. Running a business never is. But it was a business model that most of us could figure out.

Fast forward to today and everything has changed. Dentists are getting squeezed from every direction. Patients now see themselves as customers and expect to be treated as such, insurance companies are getting stingier with their schedules and we are being forced into competition with well funded and aggressive Dental Service Organizations (DSO) and Managed Service Organizations (MSO).

Any one of these is enough to keep you up at night. And when you take them together it can seem completely overwhelming.

Dentist have two choices. The first is to continue business a usual and hope nobody notices.

The second is to adapt to the new environment and begin offering new and complimentary services and procedures that are a natural fit for our skills and expertise.

Welcome to the new era of “Spa Dentistry”

It’s certainly not a term you hear a lot. And it requires a lot more than offering warm towels, relaxing music and simple massages. In my definition it means expanding your services to include more cosmetic and beauty solutions to clients. When you think about it, adding services like Botox and Dermal fillers into your practice is a natural extension of what you do and fits well with the cosmetic dentistry model.

Adding to your existing clinical skills through additional training opens the door to an expanded practice as well as a completely new revenue stream. Your patients already trust you and believe in your skills. Offering them new services in a familiar environment makes it easy for them to “give it a try.” And the best part is that these are full fee treatments, so you don’t have to worry about dealing with insurance companies.

In addition to Botox and Derma fillers, some other treatment options to consider include:

  • Radiofrequency treatments (RF) to tighten the skin around the face and neck. Each treatment takes only 5-10 minutes and maintenance is every 4-12 months.
  • Laser treatments to remove red and brown spots on and/or around the face, spider veins, unwanted hair and tattoos as well as scar tissue or wrinkles. Each treatment takes between 25-60 minutes and usually can be completed in 2-4 visit with each visit scheduled 4-6 weeks apart.
  • You can also use both RF and Laser to remove unwanted adipose tissue under the chin, sub mental area inner and outer thighs and abdomen.  These treatments usually can be completed in 2-6 treatments scheduled 6-8 weeks apart and each session lasting between 25-60 minutes.
  • Hydra facials, which replenish the youthfulness of the skin in 30-40 minutes taking years off your patients skin and is maintained by a follow up visit every other month.
  • Kybella injections in the sub mental area to remove unwanted fat or adipose tissue causing the dreaded double chin.
  • PDO sutures or what is commonly referred to as a lunchtime facelift almost instantly taking years off your face.

The majority of our patients want to improve their looks. With our focus on teeth we are leaving a lot of business on the table for others to gram. Remember If they aren’t getting it from you they will find an alternate service provider take care of their cosmetic needs.

Our business is changing quickly. You don’t have the luxury to wait around and “see what happens.” Your competition is coming for you and you need to be ready to adapt to the changing marketplace now or you may soon find yourself out of it all together.

Dentists need a customer service strategy

Dentistry is a great career. But it is also a business. And when you boil it down to its essence we’re all in the customer service business.

As a general dentist what separates you from the competitor up the street is customer service. Do it right and your patients become your own personal marketing team – referring you new business whenever someone asks for a recommendation.

Do it wrong and you’ll quickly learn how easy it is for individuals and their families to move their business elsewhere.

Your dental customer strategy starts with understanding the differences between managing and leading. When you manage you are looking for immediate results and efficiencies in the now. Unfortunately those short term gains may be followed by long term decline as customers themselves start to feel that your profit margin is taking priority over their experience.

Leaders look to create sustainable businesses that grow steadily over the long term. Yes, this means investing in your technology. But it also means investing in your people.

So every dentist/owner has to be ready to become a leader in his or her own practice. And the best way to do that is by fostering a patient-focused culture that recognizes one weak link in the customer service chain will have a negative impact on long term profitability.

So how do you avoid managing yourself out of business? Start by putting in place processes and procedures for each customer touch point. From the very first email inquiry or phone call through to your billing and collections you need to make sure everyone in you practice is trained to make your patients feel special.

Every customer is different, However, you can broadly divide them into three buckets – positive, negative, and neutral groups. Your strategy needs to include all of these groups in order to grow over the long term.
As the leader in your practice it’s vitally important that you learn to coach your staff effectively so they are all on the same page and committed to your patient-focused vision. Once you learn to do this you will protect, expand and grow your roster of patients by delivering winning customer service.

If you are interested in learning how to take your dental practice to the next level, please contact Ascent Dental Solutions today at (800) 983-4126 to learn how Dr. Coughlin can help.

Marketing Your Dental Practice: What You Must Know

Naturally, you have certain things that differentiate your dental practice from everyone else’s. Perhaps you hold unique certifications, you have the latest gadgets, or your technical skills are unrivaled. Yet none of those things matter if your prospects are unaware of them or, even worse, are unaware you exist at all. Regardless of your level of service, you must follow the same basic marketing practices as any other service provider. Here is what you must know.

Why Market Your Practice?

Today’s world is busy and ever evolving. People move in and out of town. They get buried under a constant onslaught of information. Even your most satisfied patients tend to move on to other priorities. Marketing helps you stay top of mind to both current and prospective patients, and lets newcomers in your community know you exist. It also gives everyone a boost, including your staff and loyal patients, by making your practice feel like an important part of the community.

Developing a Marketing Plan

A good marketing plan is a natural outgrowth of a strong business plan. You need to fully understand where your practice is now and where you want it to go in the future. You also need to define both your short-term and long-term goals in practical, actionable terms. Finally, you need to become aware of your target market and the best ways to reach those people who are the best fit for your practice. For example, a big city cosmetic dentist who specializes in high end procedures has a very different target market than a rural family dentist who focuses on making dentistry as affordable as possible.

With your goals and target market clearly defined, you can begin to focus on the specifics of marketing your business. There are endless ways to market, from branding small items such as pens and stationery to sponsoring a local baseball team to hosting a charity event. Think through the ways you feel most comfortable interacting with and giving back to your local community, and marketing ideas will begin to flourish. Match your marketing to your natural interests and comfort zone, as well as your practice’s brand identity.

Implementing Your Marketing Plan

A key decision is determining who will actually be responsible for implementing the marketing plan. Remember that in addition to doing the actual marketing tasks, you will need to track the results, so you can get the highest return on your marketing investment. Present your marketing plan to your team, and pay attention to who becomes the most enthusiastic about which parts of the plan. You may want to run the show, or you might prefer to delegate authority, but either way, you will need support and assistance from your team. Let team members take on the tasks that naturally suit them, and they will be motivated to ensure the plan is a success.

Getting Started

The hardest part of any big new project is finding the motivation to actually start. When it comes to marketing, there is no perfect “right way” to start. Just sit down at your computer or pick up a pen and start making lists. Then choose something to try. Trial and error can get you unstuck and give you the feedback you need to create and implement a formalized marketing plan.

If you are interested in learning how to take your dental practice to the next level, please contact Ascent Dental Solutions today at (800) 983-4126 to learn how Dr. Coughlin can help.

Managing Review Sites: What All Dentists Need to Know

Whether you love it or hate it, the reality is that patient reviews are a significant factor in potential new patients’ decision on which dentist to choose. Consequently, it is vital for you to monitor and manage your online reviews, and to encourage satisfied patients to write reviews. Here is what you need to know.

Major Review Sites

To manage your patient reviews, you first need to know where they are. Your practice is likely listed on some of these sites already, while others require you to take active steps to create a listing. Search each site to see if your dental practice is there, and then update any inaccurate information such as your business name, address, or phone number. For sites where you are not yet listed, create a listing as soon as possible. Major review sites include:

Yelp: Yelp covers all types of businesses and service professionals, and it is currently considered a market leader in review sites. Make sure you have an accurate, up to date listing, as many of your patients and prospects will naturally gravitate there.

Angie’s List: Angie’s List charges a small monthly fee to see your reviews. This charge is generally worth it, though, as the site has positioned itself as an excellent place to find trustworthy professionals in many different service categories.

Google: Google’s My Business pages are an interesting hybrid. Reviews from other sites are regularly aggregated there, and users can also write reviews directly on your page. It is absolutely vital to claim your page and ensure that your business information is accurate. Since so many people start with a Google search, reviews on your Google My Business page can make or break your quest to attract new patients.

Of course, there are numerous other review sites as well. Run a quick Google search to find those that seem relevant to your practice and your geographic location. Besides correcting inaccurate information, consider uploading photos to each listing to provide more insight into your practice.

Getting Reviews

The best way to get reviews is simply to ask for them. Consider offering your existing patients a small incentive, such as a free toothbrush or a few dollars off the next cleaning, in exchange for a review. Be sure to provide specific instructions on which review site(s) you prefer and how to go about leaving a review.

Managing Bad Reviews

No matter how hard you try, you cannot satisfy everyone. Sooner or later, you will receive a negative review. The best way to manage it is to face it head on with diplomacy, concern, and tact. Publicly respond to the review. Ask for clarification if needed, but be careful not to come across as confrontational. Apologize for the situation and offer a resolution.

You do not need to engage with someone hostile or offer rewards that far outweigh the severity of the patient’s experience, but a genuine apology and attempt to resolve will go a long way toward influencing the opinions of others who read the review, if not the person who left it. No matter how tempting it may be, never attempt to remove a negative review except in the most extreme cases.

Ready to Get Started?

If you are interested in learning how to take your dental practice to the next level, please contact Ascent Dental Solutions today at (800) 983-4126 to learn how Dr. Coughlin can help.

Using online testimonials to promote your dental practice

Many dentists do not realize the tremendous power of online testimonials in bringing in new patients. Yet according to poll data, a whopping 92% of prospective patients claim to read them, and 67% admit to being influenced by them. Here is what you should know about using online testimonials to promote your dental practice.

Benefits of Online Testimonials

Google Visibility: The Google algorithm is built to showcase the most authoritative and relevant websites in Google search. Online testimonials, particularly on multiple sites, assure Google that yours is a legitimate practice with high social proof.

Promotion: Research shows that patients tend to stay longer on websites they trust, especially if there are videos to watch. They are also more likely to actually visit the practice whose website caught their attention. Ask your satisfied patients to record a video testimonial, and you have the seeds of a tremendous promotional campaign.

Trust: Patient testimonials are a powerful way to build trust with both your current patients and your prospects. In fact, your current patients may be more likely to recommend you to their friends and family members when they see that their positive impressions of you are shared by others.

Reputation and Brand Awareness: Every time someone sees your practice reflected in a positive light, it makes an impression. The more testimonials you have, the more power you have to build your reputation and, ultimately your brand. This translates into more patients, more repeat visits, and more positive word of mouth throughout your community.

Insight: You can glean a great deal of information from what your patients say, and don’t say, in their testimonials. Use this opportunity to learn, and you will improve your overall patient experience.

Types of Online Testimonials

Savvy dentists will incorporate all three basic types of testimonials into their online marketing.

Written with a Single Photo: This is still the most common type of testimonial. An eye-catching photo of the patient is used, along with a few sentences about his or her experience.

Before and After Photos: Many patients are reluctant to share their “before” photos with the world, but if you have a few who are willing, these testimonials can be extremely powerful. A written account of the patient’s process accompanies two or more photos documenting the journey.

Videos: A video testimonial should be no longer than one minute, and it must be tightly edited. People enjoy watching their peers talk about their experiences, so don’t be shy in asking for volunteers. Choose patients who are articulate, present well on camera, and are not prone to rambling.

Building a Great Testimonial

Although a testimonial must be presented in the patient’s own words, many patients do not know how to go about describing their experiences. Asking open-ended questions helps the patient frame his journey and build an authentic, but well-presented, narrative. Here are a few possible questions:

  • What, if anything, nearly prevented you from choosing this practice?
  • What made you decide to choose us?
  • What was your favorite part of your experience at our office?
  • What are the top three benefits that our office provides?
  • Briefly describe your journey with our practice from your first appointment through your most recent visit.
  • Would you recommend us to your friends and family and, if so, why?
  • Is there anything you wish someone had told you about our practice before you started treatment here?

These questions will not only help your patients articulate their experiences, but they also provide insights into what your patients value most. In turn, you can focus your marketing efforts on the things that are most important to the highest number of patients, drawing in prospects who value those same features.

Ascent Dental Solutions is a full-service agency dedicated to helping dentists build their practices and map out their careers. It is the brainchild of Dr. Kevin Coughlin, who earned his doctorate at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and currently serves as a faculty member there. While Dr. Coughlin continues to practice dentistry as the principal owner of the 14-location Baystate Dental PC, he has a strong passion for helping fellow dentists maximize their success. If you are interested in learning how to take your dental practice to the next level, please contact Ascent Dental Solutions today at (800) 983-4126 to learn how Dr. Coughlin can help.

Grow your practice with a targeted referral strategy

We all want more clients. If you want your practice to grow one of the best metrics you can use to track success and predict future growth is how many new patients come through your door each month vs those you lose.

There are many strategies you can use to keep your funnel full, including advertising and sponsorships that will help increase your brand recognition. However one of the most significant things we can do in the healthcare industry to improve our businesses is increase referrals from existing clients.

I recently spoke to Stacey Brown Randall from Growth by Referrals about how a properly implemented referral strategy can help dentists get more of the patients “they want” to choose their practice.

“First you need to be willing to touch business development everyday,” says Randall.

“When I started paying attention to how we are taught to do referrals – which is to ask – it really sounded like a cold call to me.”

For Randall “the ask” was a significant barrier. So she developed a system whereby you identify who the clients you already have that you would like to have more of and turn those existing patients into advocates for your business by going beyond once or twice a year contacts and actually offering the type of client experience that keeps you top of mind.

“We typically refer people who are like us,” says Randall. “However only 20% to 30% of clients refer on a consistent basis. So you need to have the right client experience and referral strategy in place so that when opportunities for referral occur people are saying ‘you have got to go see my dentist’.”

This is a great point as it does not simply mean that you are increasing the number of referrals – but also the quality of those who are referred.

If dentists do their tracking properly there is always a referral source. Whether it’s a personal referral, or a referral from an insurance company or even another healthcare professional.

“A lot of referrals should be coming from other practitioners,” says Randall. “So dentists and other healthcare professionals should be cultivating those relationships.”

If you would like to learn more about Stacey you can visit her site www.GrowthByReferrals.com.


Ascent Dental Solutions is a full-service agency dedicated to helping dentists build their practices and map out their careers. It is the brainchild of Dr. Kevin Coughlin, who earned his doctorate at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and currently serves as a faculty member there. While Dr. Coughlin continues to practice dentistry as the principal owner of the 14-location Baystate Dental PC, he has a strong passion for helping fellow dentists maximize their success. If you are interested in learning how to take your dental practice to the next level, please contact Ascent Dental Solutions today at (800) 983-4126 to learn how Dr. Coughlin can help.

The right way to handle chronically late dental patients

In addition to my dental consulting business, I’m also a practicing full time dentist. So I deal with the same issues that my consulting clients deal with day in and day out. I can tell you that one of the biggest pet peeves of dentists (and lawyers and anyone else who takes appointments) is the chronically late client.

My expertise is helping dentists implement the proper processes and procedures to help them through all the different phases of their career.

Although I consider myself an expert, I’m also human and I still make mistakes. The trick is to identify the mistakes and take steps to ensure they don’t become career killing habits.

How you treat chronically late patients can have a serious impact on your dental practice. Before I go further, let me explain what I mean about chronically late. This is an individual who is 15 or 20 minutes late, between 50 and 75 percent of the time.
We all have them.

Here’s how we mishandled a recent situation and what it cost us. Firstly, this is an individual who is known (and expected to) be late for most appointments. As usual they began with an apology, followed by an excuse. They knew they were late, but it was traffic.

Our front desk coordinator was in no mood to hear it. She said “you’re almost 20 minutes late and something like this cannot continue to happen.”

With that the individual turned around and walked right out of the office. Less than 45 minutes later, I received an email saying how dissatisfied this patient was with our organization. He went on to say how unhappy he was about the way he was treated and how he had tried his best to be on time for his appointment.

The result of that particular process and procedure around dealing with late patients was that we lost that individual as a patient – who’d been with our practice for over ten years – as well as his wife and their three children.

Office processes and procedures have a dramatic effect on your day-to-day bottom line as well as your reputation and referrability. At this point, I haven’t seen a social media post or Google review from our former patient, but I’m sure it’s coming.

So how could we have handled this situation better? The correct way would be to get the patient seated and comfortable. The next step would be to explain that their appointment was at such and such a time and because they were late, we would do our very best to coordinate and complete their care.

In this particular case, it was a simple hygiene appointment. Most dental practices these days will have dental assistants, dental hygienists, doctors and associates to handle a hygiene appointments, regardless of how late that patient is.

The point I would try to make in this example is that scolding a patient for being late as they walk in the door should never happen. Save the “education” portion of the visit until after the appointment is completed.

If this was handled correctly, I think the average person would accept that because they were late it might take a little extra time to get their procedure under way. The result of not handling it properly was a financial hit to our company and to our reputation. And I’m sure if it’s happening to me, it’s happening to others.

So when, not if, you have to have a conversation with a chronically late patient, wait until after the set procedure and then have your treatment plan coordinator simply say to Mr. or Mrs. Smith, “is there a time that is better for you so that you won’t be late? Is there a way that we can coordinate the appointment so it is easier for you and there’s less stress on you?”

Proper and clear communication is the best way to reinforce expectations and remind patients that arriving on time is their job.

Your patients need your skills. But they want your care

Being a successful dentist comes down to one thing.

Communication.

After 35 years of practicing dentistry and growing my business to include 14 dental offices with 160 employees, the single most important skill I’ve developed is the ability to communicate with team members and patients.

Think I’m kidding? Overstating things a bit?

Let’s assume that all dentists have the basic skills to perform the procedures described on their websites. So what is the factor that differentiates one dentist from another? I’ll tell you right now that it’s a dentist’s ability to communicate with his or her patients that will propel the business forward through retention and referrals or hold it back as patients move on to a dentist they like and trust more.  

People are not sheep. The person sitting in your chair now is not the same as the person who was occupying that same spot an hour ago. Every patient is different and you need to be able to adapt your communication skills to reach each and every one of them so they feel valued. How well you to communicate is a crucial part of doing your job and will help you keep your dental patients coming back year after year.

A communications expert I worked with once, Mr. David Wolf told me that he observed that many dentists come from a more ‘scientific’ background, which is factually true. He also discovered that we tend to be introverts for the most part.

He was right. As a group, we tend to focus on technology and rely on our clinical skills to deliver the best care possible to our patients.

But that isn’t what keeps patients coming back. How we talk to and deal with them is key to patient retention.

You probably already have well trained front office team that determines the customer experience right up until they sit in your chair. But from their it’s all you. How you communicate from that point on will determine if that patient will become a regular contributor to your bottom line results.

Patients want to know you care. They already assume that you know how to do the A, B and C procedures competently or they wouldn’t let you near their mouths in the first place. What they really want is for you to connect with them emotionally about the work they’ve requested or you’re recommending.

You already have a sales team: your staff!

Look around your practice. What is the biggest investment you’ve made? You’ve got modern technology: that ensures that customers return, knowing that they’re getting the best care. That is a good investment.

But consider your most important investment: your team. You upgrade your technology, certainly. But are you doing the same with your team?

Here’s something I can offer from my years of experience with multiple practices and teams. If you don’t have a successful team, you don’t have a successful business or practice.

Intuitively, all dentists understand that they’re the leaders of their organization. But unfortunately, most of us are not trained in leadership, management, and many times, we just don’t know how to coach our team members.

Individual team members share a goal and are there to support your patient base, your business, and improve the quality of care and service for patients.

Here’s quick overview of how to make your team stronger…

They need to be trained in basic dental procedures, whether that’s periodontics, endodontics, oral maxillofacial surgery, implant dentistry, temporomandibular joint or temporomandibular disorders, cosmetic procedures, sedation options, pediatrics, dental radiology, public health: the list is really extraordinary.

It’s about education, yes, but also about value to the customer. If your team knows the value of these procedures, they can educate patients about them when they ask about them. They become part of your marketing and sales department. That’s value to your practice.

I think there isn’t a dentist or a dental personnel out there that doesn’t realize that some individuals are just innately better at sales. In general, the medical and dental profession generally frown upon the word sales. Sales sounds unprofessional. We’re above the fray: we shouldn’t be selling anything. We provide care and treatment.

In the world that I live in, sales are a positive thing. When you can educate, inform and motivate patients in a certain direction for a specific treatment, providing that treatment is the correct treatment and best for your patient, then sales are critically important because they motivate your patient to do what you think is best for them.

In short, your team can boost your practice’s success rate and how patients accept  the treatment plans.

So how’s your (sales) team? Have you given them the training and motivation you need?

You upgrade your technology so upgrade your team now and often. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make in your practice.

Dental implants growth tied to technology advancements

Although pioneering techniques have always been a part of dentistry, I must admit it’s been fascinating to watch how one in particular has evolved throughout my career.

I’m talking about dental implants. When I did my first implant back in 1983, it took three hours to get a single tooth in place. Back then the process included drilling into the bone to test for bone quality and quantity. The theory was that good bone density meant a good prognosis for a successful implant.

Since then I’ve done thousands of implants and the process has developed quite a bit.

Today, using cone beam technology we can plan the surgery in great detail. The cone beam allows us to check for quality and quantity of bone, height and width of bone without any invasive drilling.

Putting the technological advances in the procedure aside, it’s hard to overestimate how important an advance like implants are to the quality of life of patients. Even a patient with no teeth can have them all replaced.

It used to be a very time consuming and expensive process for a fully edentulous patient. Prior to cone beam technology, patients would wait weeks for treatment prep and planning to be completed. The prep has been since dramatically compressed over the years, resulting in a quicker and much less expensive procedure.

There are some companies such as Implant Concierge that are rather handy for dentists in that they handle all the post cone-beam scan work and create a plan for the dentist to work from. These are online processes that eliminate office work in terms of merging, segmenting and thresholding for the procedure.

What I like about such companies is how they allow dentists to integrate implant work easily into their practice without  stand-alone software, and the learning curve that it involved for everyone in the practice.

Outsourcing this type of work is a good strategy to increase your service offerings without impacting your current business. And because it expands the scope of your practice, it is good for client retention, referrals and your bottom line.  

So if you feel your practice is not growing as fast as it should, consider all the options.