To Catch a Ballplayer

Aug. 1, 2002
An all-female staff wants to lure a new patient to the practice - a major league baseball player. The strategy was a home run.

by Karen Kaiser, RDH

An all-female staff wants to lure a new patient to the practice - a major league baseball player. The strategy was a home run.

New patients who perform immaculate home-care are a pleasure to engage in conversation, particularly if they share a passion for the dental field. This ideal scenario may not transpire as frequently as we wish with new patients, but it could occur if you promote your practice and think outside of the box, attracting the caliber of patients that you seek. Accomplishing this goal may be as simple as just inviting them (in an unconventional way) into your office.

In our practice, the search for ideal patients began when our all-female office decided to attend a major league baseball game promoted as "the businessman's special." Team outings away from the work environment where the emphasis isn't always "dental" can be fun and uplift the level of camaraderie. We really got into the far-fetched idea that we wanted a certain slugger to become our new patient.

As we sat around the lunch table one day, our creative thoughts filled the room on how to attract his attention while we attended the baseball game. We decided the best way to get a ballplayer's attention was to craft a striking banner that we could display from our stadium seats. The next day we pooled all of the Cardinals gear we could muster, including wooden bats, gloves, magazines with "him" on the cover, and many action photos and posters of our beloved hitter. Our dental team donned the gear and had a photo shoot. We thought we might be more effective attracting a major leaguer as a patient if we showed our enthusiasm.

With a dental operatory as our backdrop, we took smiling snapshot after smiling snapshot, all in an effort to capture the right attention-grabbing pose. The synergy was catching as we told all of our patients about what we had cooked up for our outing. As game day approached, we all were exhilarated by the possibility that we might attract some attention with the intriguing banner.

On game day, we made our way to our field box seats where we spied our intended target. We enthusiastically waved our artwork that read, "We want to be the girls who clean your pearls."

After reading our banner, the fans seated around us began to ask us dental-related questions. Here we were eating ballpark franks and cheesy nachos discussing cosmetic dentistry! We handed out business cards freely to prospective new patients who couldn't help being exposed to our hyped-up team spirit. Though our ultimate goal was to gain the first baseman as a new patient, we also networked during the game with many interesting fans who desired distinctive and unconventional dentistry. All of the fascination with our banner must have caught the ballplayer's eye too as he glanced our way, along with a few of his teammates. Smiling and giving us a thumbs-up, he finished the inning and jogged to the dugout. We were having so much fun; we broke out in hysterical laughter, because he certainly must have noticed our banner.

As the game entered the final innings, it was time for us to finagle our way close to the dugout and deliver the banner, which had done all of the advertising. We were optimistic that, if one of the players was in need of any dentistry, he possibly would choose us for his dental needs. We extended our invitation by penciling in our office telephone number and information near the edge of the artwork in the hopes that we might receive a phone call from a major leaguer.

We managed to get close to the dugout area and passed the banner to an attendant hoping that it would fall into the correct hands. With our "patient prospecting" complete, all we could do was wait and see if we had accomplished our crazy mission.

The next day at work, we received a phone call from a new patient in need of a prophy. To our delight, after all of the fun and hard work at the game, we did indeed attract an interested new patient. Our banner made its way into the correct hands - home-run hitter Mark McGwire.

It seems even baseball's giant needs regular dental care.

At first, we were skeptical that it was really him on the other end of the phone line. We thought it could have been one of our current patients teasing us. We each took a turn on the phone to see if we could expose an imposter. We bombarded him with questions regarding his stats from the ballgame we attended and asked for details about our banner. After thoroughly interrogating this new patient, we became convinced it was truly the home run hitter. We could hardly believe that our efforts paid off. We even managed to arrange a tentative appointment date that would fit the schedule of a traveling major leaguer. After our "interrogation," he still was kind enough to supply us with premium seats to some upcoming Cardinals games, which further fueled our enthusiasm for baseball.

We continually followed his success as he attempted to break a record for the most home runs in a season. Through e-mail, we kept in touch and cheered him on. During this pressure-packed home-run chase, he managed to visit our office for his prophy. We were as secretive about his appointment as possible and even performed the routine maintenance on a day when the office was closed. We took all of these protective measures in an effort to protect his privacy and avoid causing a commotion at the office.

The night prior to his visit, I found it difficult to get any sleep. Tossing and turning, then anxiously dreaming about what to expect from a professional sports figure, I wondered what it must be like to work on high-profile patients on a daily basis. The next day, I was still in disbelief that he would truly make his scheduled visit, so I tried not to get my hopes up.

To my surprise, not only did he arrive at his appointment, he was prompt as well. As an additional measure, we asked him to park his car behind the office just in case an emergency patient needed to be seen. McGwire appeared to take the visit with us in stride and did not seem the least bit concerned about being spotted. He appreciated our efforts to treat him normally. His popularity in our community was growing at a near-frantic pace. He stated that it was becoming increasingly difficult to regain any private life. We did our best to provide a safe dental haven and give him a few hours away from the public eye.

I had vowed to myself that if I was given the opportunity to perform his prophy, I would do my best to treat McGwire as any other patient in the practice. It just so happened that this prestigious patient had the largest biceps I had ever seen and his 6-foot-5 stature probably would jut right over the end of my dental chair throne. After escorting him on our new-patient tour through the office, we chatted and I discovered McGwire shares a common love of dentistry. His father is a dentist. He also has a sense of humor, which is sometimes lacking when fearful new patients enter a dental practice. As my heart rate began to rise at an alarming rate, we made our way to my operatory. I draped him with a special bib that I had made just for him that had his uniform number 25 artfully rendered on it. He found it humorous and started to grin. As his smile widened, it revealed a full set of removable "mangled teeth," complete with decay, fractures, and rampant perio disease. After the initial shock, I could not stop laughing. I then realized he took the pressure off me entirely by lightening the situation.

In fact, his natural complement of teeth had never known dental decay, and the funny false teeth couldn't have been further from the truth. His home-care was impeccable, and his use of interproximal cleaners became highly evident as I discovered pieces of toothpicks in his embrasures. Not only was he an inspiration to the national pastime, but he could easily be a role model for the benefits of proper home care as well. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all new patients came into your practice with knowledge and appreciation for dental services already firmly ingrained?

McGwire is also firm in his distaste for spit tobacco and chooses as his habit sugarless gum instead. Too often, while watching sports, impressionable children see players in the limelight chewing tobacco. In an effort to curb the use of spit tobacco, we gleefully hand our little patients McGwire trading cards that show our beloved athlete assuming his famous home run stance on one side and the rules of oral health on the flip side.

To say the least, the cards are a hit. The incidence of oral cancer is forever increasing. Oral cancer is a tragedy, and chewing spit tobacco has devastating repercussions. In my practice, I do not fail my patients by omitting oral cancer exams.

Our office team went to lunch with McGwire after his dental visit. He shared his human side with us and earned our respect as dedicated fans. Little did we know that the lunch would prove to be a public affair. We had reserved a private room at a local establishment where we could eat and have him all to ourselves - or so we thought. The regulars were dining on the daily special when McGwire decided to use the facilities, which happened to be among the luncheon crowd. As he walked past the patrons, heads turned. From that point on, the mealtime melee ensued.

A McGwire sighting is always worthy of print. Local newspapers picked up the tip and soon did a story on our practice, which further fueled the new-patient flow to our office.

Patients were delighted to sit in the same dental chair as "Big Mac." Our dental team even appeared on the local news and sang an encouraging rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" to support McGwire's quest for the home run record.

McGwire's home run achievements mirrored the success our dental practice received from attracting him to our office. The summer of 1998 was truly spectacular as McGwire brought the St. Louis area a home run king.

When I learned of Mark McGwire's decision to retire for the 2002 baseball season and the Cardinals organization, I was saddened. Our baseball idol battled back from many an injury, and his dedicated fans always looked forward to his next at-bat. He had an incredible impact on the St. Louis area, as well as on my hygiene career.

Having Mark McGwire as a patient will always remain a highlight of my career as a dental hygienist. I have several McGwire mementos and am the proud owner of a Mark McGwire "bobble head" figure that I prominently display. As long as baseball sluggers hit home runs, he will be remembered. Happy retirement, Big Mac!

When I seat new patients, I fondly remember the thrill of treating the home run hitter and focus that level of excitement toward delivering a personal and distinctive dental encounter.

Each patient has his or her own unique qualities and dental needs. Those needs are what hygienists strive to uncover and address during the new-patient experience. Take the opportunity to make your new patients feel special. Build a uniquely loyal relationship when you go to bat with your patients, and you, too, may be a home run hitter.

Karen Kaiser, RDH, has been in the dental field since 1987. She received her hygiene degree from Forest Park College in St. Louis, Mo., in 1994. She enjoys promoting dental hygiene in her community by attending health and science fairs, educating groups of children on oral care, and speaking at career days to promote dental hygiene. She is a 2002 Award of Distinction recipient from the John O. Butler Company and RDH magazine. She currently does consulting for 3M ESPE and is on their Dental Hygiene Advisory Panel. She may be contacted by e-mail at [email protected].

The patient's father

(reprinted from the November 1998 issue of Dental Economics)

Anyone familiar with baseball trivia knows where Dr. John McGwire was when the "61st homer" was hit. He was up in the stands at Busch Stadium celebrating his 61st birthday in a very pleasant way. Where was he when son Mark hit the very first home run of his life? Out in the middle of the ocean on a boat. We can sort of blame the California Dental Association for that absence. If you're really into baseball trivia, then you know Mark McGwire popped one over the fence in his first ever at-bat as a Little Leaguer. But Dr. McGwire, the team's coach, was off sailing on a cruise as a result of dropping his business card into a fishbowl during the state dental association's meeting that year.

"We won a seven-day cruise," Dr. McGwire recalls with good humor. "He (Mark) was so ecstatic, and he couldn't even call us. We drove up in the driveway, and he came running out, yelling, 'Hey, Mom and Dad! I hit a home run!' "

The Coach, who watched four of his five sons play on that Pomona, Calif., Little League team, hasn't missed many of Mark's home runs during the ensuing 25 baseball seasons. The world's most famous 61-year-old father that one night in 1998 is quietly winding up what he describes as a wonderful and fulfilling career in dentistry. He practices two days a week in Pomona, still treating some patients he met when he first started in 1962. "I've always been involved in high-quality, fee-for-service dentistry," he says.

Mark, his second son, was born soon after the family relocated to Pomona. For the next 28 years, Dr. McGwire came to know the citizens of the Los Angeles suburb very well, even doing a stint as a Little League baseball coach. In addition, he is past president of the Pomona Chamber of Commerce, past president of Rotary Club of Pomona, and currently on the board of trustees of Western University of the Pacific. "I have been very involved in many volunteer activities in the community throughout my career in dentistry," he said. "When I interact with members of the business community, I'm able to educate them on what modern dentistry has to provide."

Last July (1998), he began the process of retirement, selling the practice to Dr. Tony Daher, a prosthodontist who teaches graduate students at nearby Loma Linda University.

His office and home are decorated, in part, with memorabilia from the sporting activities of all his sons. Some of the milestones from Mark's career - cards, baseballs, photographs, etc. - are even on public display at the Richard Nixon Library, thanks to Dr. McGwire's donations.

But one of the most precious mementos, however, is in plain view of Dr. McGwire - the jersey Mark wore when he smacked number 61. Mark presented it to him during the party afterwards at the Ritz Carlton. The jersey had a note written on it: "To Pop, Happy Birthday! Home Run #61 9/7/98. Love, your son, Mark McGwire, St. Louis, #25."

"That was quite a birthday gift. I wish everyone could experience what I have as a father. I've been very blessed to have the five sons that I have."