The menu, please

Nov. 1, 2004
Imagine this scenario. You are at a restaurant with a friend. The two of you consider your options on the menu and place your order.

by Janet Hagerman

Imagine this scenario. You are at a restaurant with a friend. The two of you consider your options on the menu and place your order. You order spaghetti and your friend orders pork chops. The waiter delivers the order to the kitchen.

The chef asks waiter, "Did you tell them about our lobster special tonight?" The waiter responds, "No, they really didn't look like they could afford the lobster. Besides, they didn't look like the kind of people who would appreciate or enjoy a lobster, let alone know how to eat one!"

We would be outraged to think that a waiter or waitress would make presumptions about us, our preferences, and our pocketbook without giving us the full menu of options. Yet, how often do you make presumptions about your patients, withhold your full menu of services, and deny them the opportunity to decide for themselves?

Hygienists often assume that they know what their patients want based upon what they think a patient can afford. In my years of consulting, I've heard all the stories, and so have you. No doubt, you have probably been guilty of a few wrong assumptions, as have I.

• "I've treated Mr. Jones for years. He lost his wife recently and I feel so sorry for him. He's on a fixed income, too. He doesn't need whiter teeth."

• "Nancy has been my patient for years. She's recently divorced, a single mother of two, and could never afford a smile design."

• "Joey is a college student. Where would he get the money to straighten his teeth and close that diastema? Besides, it's kind of cute."

The time has come to stop making excuses for why you do not provide patients with all of their options, regardless of what you may think about their financial situation. Why? Because if you don't, someone else will. Who will that be? The possibilities are endless.

Several years ago, while temping for one of my favorite dentists, I treated a lovely middle-aged woman who had recently gotten an equally lovely smile design. I complimented her on her beautiful veneers, but I was also confused because I couldn't find any reference to them in her chart. Upon questioning, she enthusiastically informed me that she had the work done while visiting her sister in Florida. "My sister's teeth looked so great that I had mine done by her dentist, too. He does that sort of cosmetic dental work."

When I asked why her dental office didn't do her veneers, she replied that she didn't think we did that type of work. No one in the office had ever shared with her the "full menu" of dental services. She was never informed that her own general dentist could have provided her with those beautiful veneers. What a shame. She wasn't given the full menu.

I enjoy reading about what mainstream media has to say about dentistry. Magazines, radio, and TV now tell your patients about wants-based dentistry and what they should expect from their dental office. In a way this is great because it's free advertising. However, once the patient is in your chair it is up to you to give them your full menu of services. Don't skimp or ever assume that they won't be interested.

Use the information that your patients get from mainstream media. Consider the following.

USA Today: "People used to talk about eyes as jewels. Now, teeth are jewelry."

New York Times: "Whiter and whiter teeth have become an accepted possibility for everyone."

Arrive magazine: "Cosmetic dentistry is happy dentistry ... save up for the smile of your life!"

Can you believe it? The media is telling your patients to save their money and spend it on your dentistry! You better be prepared to give them the full menu!

There was a time when the "menu" of dental services was basically clean, fill, or pull. Now, our list of services includes procedures that are preventive, therapeutic, restorative, and cosmetic. Additionally, we have a wide variety of products that help our patients keep their mouths healthy. If you do not offer these products, services, and procedures, someone else will. The drug store or grocery market will be happy to sell the products, but what do they know about the products or your patients' needs? You are their professional dental expert and the one entrusted with their care. Be worthy of that expertise, and recommend your full array of products and services based on your patients' customized needs.

A current menu of services might include the following:

Inlays and onlays
Porcelain crowns
Composite restorations
Products, including
• Power brushes
• Breath products
• Home fluoride
• Cold sore medication
• Floss and interdental aids

Consider this discussion at your next staff meeting. Learn exactly what procedures your doctor excels at and likes to perform. Make a complete list of all the products and services that comprise your office's full menu. Discuss scripts for patient enrollment and roll play these scripts until they feel comfortable. Finally, offer your patients your full menu.

My mother will be 80 years old this year. Still fun and spunky, her appetite for life is matched only by her appetite for a great meal. However, years of caretaking for my invalid father, and the understandable resultant dental neglect, took its toll on her dentition. After my Dad passed, Mom began to take care of herself again, and teeth were on her agenda. She finally accepted a treatment plan that would restore her mouth completely to the tune of almost $20,000. I supported her in this decision to invest in a healthy and functional smile.

One day she asked me if I thought she could get her teeth whiter. I told her she'd make a great candidate for whitening and to ask her dentist. She replied that she had asked him, and he replied, "You should have asked me before I made that bridge in the front!" I was furious. Here my Mom was willing to invest thousands of dollars in her mouth and no one asked her if she wanted her teeth to be whiter as well.

They addressed her "needs" dentistry but ignored her "wants" dentistry. They treatment planned thousands of dollars for all her restorative work but never asked her if she wanted to spend a few hundred more so that all that her dentistry looks as pretty as it works. They never gave her the full menu.

The point is that consumers, your patients, are more educated than ever before. Give them enough information to make well informed decisions. Offer them "wants" based dentistry as well as "needs" based dentistry. Give them the full menu.

Janet Hagerman,RDH, BS, is a speaker, wirter, and the director of dental hygiene for Coast Dental. She can be reached at [email protected]