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The Sale

Sept. 1, 2010
As dental hygienists today we are educated and trained to focus patient needs on preventive dentistry, treating all stages of periodontal disease ...

Here are some tips for promoting needed restorative treatment

by Karen Donaldson, CDA, RDH, BS

As dental hygienists today we are educated and trained to focus patient needs on preventive dentistry, treating all stages of periodontal disease, and discussing whole body health as it relates to oral health. But in today's saturated market for our profession, we must find ways to strengthen our role in the dental practice and make ourselves more valuable as team members. One way to achieve this is to learn how to sell the restorative dental treatment your patients need.

Many of us have no sales experience, and although most of the practice management companies that dental offices hire focus on increasing production, they usually do not train the staff on how to sell the product – the restorative needs.

Many practices have decreased the time hygienists have to treat patients due to their efforts to try to see more patients with less staff. This may prohibit your opportunity to discuss restorative treatment needs during an appointment. However, if you look at your appointment time differently you can successfully work treatment discussions into those short times without shortchanging the provided care.

One of the best ways to sell needed restorative dentistry is to educate patients. The more they understand about the procedures the dentist has recommended, the more likely they will be to accept treatment and follow through with the necessary appointments.

Make your patients part of the treatment acceptance process using these tried and true tips:

  • Talk about the treatment while performing preventive care. As you provide quality preventive care, discuss areas of concern with patients, and advise them of the procedures the dentist may need to perform. If patients hear a possible need from you, when the dentist suggests the treatment during the exam, patients have confirmation from two professionals that they trust. Reassure them that following through with the treatment will mean less expense than waiting.
  • Use the intraoral camera. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Once patients see the fractures in a tooth, the leaking restoration margin, or the area of active caries, it is easier for them to accept the needed treatment. Insurance companies also pay quicker on treatment with proof of need.
  • Listen to patients. How you interact with patients can ensure their better compliance with treatment recommendations. By listening to their concerns, fears, and questions, you can educate them further. This helps guide the patient toward making the right positive decision.
  • Show patients you care about their current situation or problem. Make sure you show empathy and demonstrate a desire to help them understand the need for treatment.
  • Take notes to remember each patient's points of concern. This visually demonstrates your concern for their care. When you first seat patients and ask about their present concerns, take notes for the doctor to have during the exam. This establishes a genuine level of concern for their individual needs.
  • Always make eye contact when speaking to patients. Leaning forward and keeping eye contact as you listen to patients can establish a more positive communication connection. Pause before you answer; this raises each patient's own self-esteem.
  • Provide feedback. When you paraphrase what patients say in your own words, it helps reassure them that you are listening. This increases confidence in the practice and acceptance of the treatment.
  • Learn to answer common questions and concerns. When you target common questions and answer them, patients will gain confidence in the practice's level of care.
  • Selling is not about the presenter; it is about the patient. Those who excel as sales professionals never lose focus about who is serving whom. Were the patients allowed to talk? Did you demonstrate how much you care about their current situation and problems? Consider sending a personal follow-up note to new patients.
  • Consider going high tech in your presentation. Since most offices today have computerized files and access to digital presentation, learn how to make a digital presentation to expedite giving patients more information in a limited amount of time. Printed copies can even be presented to patients to discuss with family members.

All these points can help you become comfortable discussing needed treatment with patients, and help them gain confidence in your support of the dentist's recommended treatment. Increased restorative treatment on the schedule will mean increased production for the practice. Your help in selling dentistry will give you a better chance at a salary increase and job security in a time when dental production is down nationwide and the job market is tight.

If patients are on a shortened preventive care schedule, dental hygienists often see patients more frequently than the dentist. Remember to make the most of each visit by talking about a patient's teeth and oral health during the prophylaxis. Review previous treatment recommendations that a patient has not yet scheduled. Point out high-risk areas such as older amalgam or composite fillings, teeth with fracture lines that could become areas of cracked-tooth syndrome, areas of recession or abfraction that expose root surfaces, or dentin that could become sensitive or decay faster.

Remember in our diverse society we see patients from many cultural backgrounds. In a multicultural society we need to be culturally sensitive and practice in an appropriate manner based on a patient's beliefs and cultural background. The way we present needed restorative and preventive care may need to be adapted to these specific sociocultural backgrounds in order for some patients to understand and accept treatment.

Your focus on each patient's needs will increase his or her confidence in the dentist's diagnosis. This will in turn make each patient's acceptance of the treatment more successful. The dentist will notice that your room is producing more scheduling of needed care, and this serves to secure your position in the hygiene department.

Expanding your knowledge beyond hygiene-related oral health makes a repetitive job more interesting and strengthens the professional bond you have with your patients. Become comfortable discussing care as you work instead of making casual conversation. Educating patients on oral health can and should include the needed restorative treatment that has been diagnosed. After all, the restorative health of the teeth proportionately affects the periodontal health. That makes restorative dentistry part of our focus.

Make sure you are on the same page of presentation as the dentist to assure your patients are not presented with conflicting ideas. A strong team approach will benefit both you and patients toward selling needed restorative dentistry in your office.

Karen Donaldson, CDA, RDH, BS, has worked as a dental hygienist since 1989, when she graduated from the University of Southern Indiana as a non-traditional student. She graduated magna cum laude in 1990 with a bachelor's in health sciences, with an emphasis on geriatrics and social services. She holds certification from DANB as a certified dental assistant, and has expanded functions training. Karen practices clinical dental hygiene in a private practice in southeast Missouri.


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Fitch P. "Dental Hygiene Process: Diagnosis and Care Planning," Journal of Dental Hygiene, 78.1 winter 2004, pp. 11-21.

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