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We have a guest article this week from Dr. Alan Wickenhauser. Among his many professional accomplishments and endeavors, Dr. Wickenhauser lectures for Kerr Corporation, has been published in Dental Products Reports, and holds a patent for co-developing a novel new topical anesthetic. (MG)

My dad told me once when I was a child that “hard work pays off”.   We have all heard that saying, I’m sure, and in most applications in life it seems to hold true. As a dental professional of over 18 years, I have adopted that principle for building my private practice and growing my professional career in speaking, writing, and as an inventor. However, the last few years, this “hard work pays off” doesn’t seem to be in the field of fair play. As we have seen more and more family pharmacies erode to the corporate take-over of Walgreens and Walmart, we too, as independent dentists, are seeing the flock of corporate dental offices pop-up all around us. The resources of these large corporates out-match our ability to market like they do or to leverage their deal making to control their overhead. They understand business very well. Many of us likely just went to dental school, but were we ever introduced to a business school? Now, you may say experience has helped me understand business tools for my office. True, but they execute it better. They have more resources than you. They have formal training in business systems. They simply have that advantage. And in the course of marketing and implementing their corporate profile, they gobble up patients and gobble some more. Now, I still believe hard work is a principle to any successful individual but perhaps we can look at my dad’s advice and revise it? We are all dentists but under that hat of science, we are entrepreneurs. We dream. We are creative. We understand our craft. In its principle, efficient work is not necessarily hard work. We need to be smarter and look to the benefits, as independent dentists, we have over these corporate dental shops.

First, let’s talk about the difference between a dental shop and a dental practice. In their size, the corporate gorilla of the Aspen’s and Heartland’s simply inhibit them from having a “neighborhood feel”. The quotas they place on healthcare, the turnover of staff and doctors, and the disconnect of educating your patient to care vs. selling it. It simply can’t generate the feel of a dental practice. In your practice, the patient feels the trust of the constant doctor and friendly staff, the time spent is not a lever for money but in quality of service, and the experience is one that your patient truly appreciates. Here lies the hustle. Why it is that patient’s even consider these dental shops? To some, it’s just responding to the familiar: A face seen all the time on commercials. For others, maybe a coupon with a bait and switch they got caught up in. I’m sure there are other reasons, but the fact remains: Stellar customer service is the key to successful dental practices! Let the shops run the sales, the coupons, and the revolving door of personnel. If you “entrepreneur yourself” and allow that to flow through your office, you may find a big following of patients just by word of mouth. To relate to a patient, you need to know their needs, not yours. You need to educate them in their dental health, not pitch it. They take the time to listen to you, so give the time to listen to your patient. Encourage your staff to relate to them as well. You will find some patients are just more comfortable with staff than dealing with the doctor title, so bring a team effort to this. Take on a bedside manner that is warm and professional. No one is excited about going to the dentist. Above all, establish trust with your patient. It is the critical foundation wrapped around excellent customer service that keeps them for a lifetime. Concentrate on these principles and really challenge yourself in all the ways you can better the customer experience. Don’t be just good. Be great. You have this advantage over the shops. Use it!

Second, go arm your practice with opportunity. An in-house insurance program can be very beneficial in helping those thousands who are un-insured follow and complete your recommended treatment plans. It also can generate new patient referrals and infuse some cash flow as the insurance companies tighten their wallets in untimely reimbursements and reduced fee schedules. I’m out of the St. Louis area, and here a group of dentists formed a company called SMILE ADVANTAGE. It is a new company but growing very fast here and exciting in scope for a program you may want to adopt. You can Google the company and see what you think. There are other plans out there too and some dentists have created their own internally tailored to their own practice. Nevertheless, I highly recommend an in-house program. Another opportunity is to lower your overhead by joining BEST FOR DENTISTRY, as it provides a free membership to discounted supplies and tools to level the playing field of the big dental shops. I highly recommend you sign up. I have saved thousands already. Considering both of these options can raise patient pool acceptance in cases, fuel new patient appointments, lower your overhead costs and help you streamline your business efficiency.

I have more ideas to share and please feel free to share your own ideas as we are all in this together. Making shifts like these (emphasizing great customer service, providing an in-house insurance option, trimming your overhead) is not all in hard work, but efficient work through new ideas to re-vamp your office and “entrepreneur” your talents. The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately.

Alan Wickenhauser, DMD