Deliver what they want: Dental patients disengage when we don’t acknowledge what they want

Marketing folks are constantly looking for clever ways to package and position new ideas, devices, and services.

BY ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, RDH, MPH

Marketing folks are constantly looking for clever ways to package and position new ideas, devices, and services. We've all seen products flop because someone didn't pay attention to the package color or shape, or to the subliminal message posed in the ad campaign. There are even companies that fail to read the public's pulse or ignore an outcry when a product is clearly a lemon, or worse, has the potential for harm.

Then there are engineering and design geniuses like Apple's Steve Jobs, who created products such as the iPad, a platform and information delivery system that was nonexistent before its April 3, 2010, launch. Time magazine called it one of the "Ten Best Inventions of 2010." Since its launch just five years ago, there have been six versions of the iPad and three versions of the iPad Mini. To date, 250 million iPad devices have been sold worldwide. Tablets are everywhere today, from the car rental check-in to the advertising kiosk in a high-end store. Kids have tablets, grandmas have tablets, students use them in classrooms, and people use them to show off an endless stream of photos. Clearly, Apple had a vision of the future, and they listened to the wants and needs of the marketplace.

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Don't you just cringe when someone starts complaining about the high cost of dentistry? But when you remove the emotion and really listen, what patients are actually saying is that their "wants" are not being met. Dental professionals are educated to provide high quality care that focuses on four basic philosophies - thorough diagnoses, disease prevention, early intervention (now called minimally invasive dentistry), and therapeutic or restorative care when disease is present. Even though we know what care to provide, there can be a complete disconnect with patients if we don't consider what they want along with what they need.

There are two key wants at the top of patient lists. They want to look good and have a beautiful smile, and they want to be comfortable and free of pain. On the other hand, we want optimal health for patients. People disengage, or even worse, leave the practice when we ignore their wants. I'm not suggesting that you let patients dictate treatment protocols, but it's important to be mindful that they are the consumers, so taking time to acknowledge and address their wants goes a long way to creating long-lasting, successful partnerships. People have very busy lives, so factor speed and convenience into the equation and your success will grow exponentially.

Last year Colgate introduced the Optic White line of products, which included the novel pen delivery system. Other companies brought brush-on whitening systems to market through the years. These were small containers of whitening gel, similar to a tube of mascara or lip gloss, with the applicator attached to the cap. While these products were portable, I don't recall any that lasted for long. Most likely the companies did not have a substantial marketing budget to make it past the initial launch, or the product did not have a solid distribution channel. Colgate obviously does not have any of these challenges.

The genius of the Optic White pen is that it's an easy-to-apply whitening gel housed in a tube that's stored in a toothbrush handle. Patients brush their teeth, and then do not have to search for a whitening tray or tube of gel. This two-in-one delivery system encourages brushing, and the pen/brush system can be slipped into a backpack or purse for an on-the-go touch-up wherever and whenever. Small, measured doses of gel are dispensed with each click of the dispenser, and the pleasant-tasting gel is easy to apply.

For years, Colgate's ProArgin chemistry was only available in the professionally applied desensitizing product called Colgate Sensitive Pro Relief. ProArgin contains arginine, bicarbonate, and calcium carbonate, which have been proven to occlude open dentinal tubules. Occluding dentinal tubules is an effective way to treat dentinal hypersensitivity, and the results are immediate and profound.

Patients who have experienced successful in-office treatment have been begging for a ProArgin home-care product to manage hypersensitivity between appointments. While there is an over-the-counter Colgate toothpaste with ProArgin technology, it is not yet available in the United States. The FDA has classified fluoride toothpaste with ProArgin technology as a new medical device, now subject to the same intense scrutiny as a truly new product. This ruling requires rigorous research studies and untold amounts of dollars and time to support the testing efforts.

This spring Colgate launched the Sensitivity Relief Pen, which has the same delivery system as the Optic White Pen. Just as the iPad morphed, Colgate's pen delivery system is being used to deliver a new product that is flying off drugstore shelves. The sensitivity pen is filled with a glycerin-based gel that contains the ProArgin technology. Patients will now be able to self-apply this chemistry to specific teeth.

Kudos to Colgate for recognizing people's wants as well as their needs. Before you scoff and say that they only want to make money, we all want to make money, including in our dental practices. Listen to your patients. What do they want? Figure out how you can package or deliver their wants along with their needs. It may stretch your comfort zone to not put their needs first, but your patients will be much happier and everyone will win. RDH


ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, RDH, MPH, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, power driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 ADHA Irene Newman Award, Anne has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971.

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