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Whiten up!

May 1, 2012
Is the in-office, professionally dispensed whitening boom a thing of the past? Does your hygiene department stand a chance ...

Reclaiming the teeth whitening market in your practice

by Rachel Wall, RDH, BS

Is the in-office, professionally dispensed whitening boom a thing of the past? Does your hygiene department stand a chance today against over-the-counter (OTC) whitening products that promise white teeth without a trip to the dentist? The answer is … Yes! It takes leadership and creative thinking, but who better to lead the charge than you?

As hygienists, we play a key role in our patients’ decisions regarding whitening. In fact, we probably play the biggest role since, on average, we spend more time with patients than any other team member. Consequently, our patients are more apt to turn to us for guidance on oral health care, including teeth whitening.

Why now?

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that some dental teams have pulled back from recommending adjunct products and services. Often I see hygienists scared to recommend a power brush, therapeutic perio care, local antibiotics, or whitening to patients for fear they can’t afford it. What they don’t realize is that patients are still spending on items they value. So it’s up to hygienists to create the value of the product or services they feel are in patients’ best interests. The immediate, but often overlooked, result of not recommending needed services is a hygiene department that is not delivering the highest level of care, is not growing, and is not a productive part of the practice. A healthy hygiene service mix is critical to avoid the “prophy trap” many hygiene teams fall into.

Think about it. A dentist wouldn’t be very productive doing only one-surface fillings all day. And hygienists aren’t productive when they do only prophies all day. They’re also not able to use their skills for patient education, enrollment, and delivery of services.

Who’s a candidate?

Your patients are still spending on cosmetic procedures. While there may not be as many patients doing large veneer cases, they are still spending on hair, makeup, plastic surgery, dermatology, and OTC whitening. So why not recapture some of the dollars spent on OTC whitening treatments, while at the same time offering your patients similar whitening options with the benefit of professional support?

Virtually every patient is a candidate for some type of whitening technique. Pay attention to what patients tell you in your initial conversations with them. Are they job hunting? A survey by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry reveals that 74% of Americans believe that an unattractive smile can hurt a person’s chances for career success. Are they planning a wedding? Fifty percent of all brides in the U.S. now whiten their teeth before their big day, and not only brides, but also mothers-of-the-bride, grooms, and entire bridal parties. Does the patient have any upcoming events, such as a high school reunion or vacation?

Asking open-ended questions lets us know what’s going on with our patients, and provides an opportunity to discuss whitening options as well as other treatment needs and desires. Perhaps they’re interested in cosmetic dentistry to improve their smiles, but not ready to invest in veneers. This could open the door to a discussion of whitening and/or bonding. In fact, one treatment may lead to another. For example, patients often want to show off their new, whiter smile more and think about ways to make it even brighter by asking themselves, “My teeth are so white now, maybe it’s time to fill that gap, fix that small chip, or get rid of these old metal fillings.”

Hygienists who use their time to educate their patients are seen as caring professionals who help create knowledgeable and trusting patients. We need to explain the teeth whitening process. Inform patients of the potential dangers of using OTC products incorrectly without supervision, which can lead to excessive sensitivity, irritated gum tissue, and uneven results. Discuss the fact that whitening systems administered and monitored by dental professionals offer a more complete and successful whitening experience. Patients that purchase products from a practice have the advantage of personal instruction and follow-through from their dental team.

Having in-office, custom tray, and prefilled tray options allows you to provide a range of whitening options for every budget, which keeps whitening dollars in your practice and enables your team to offer patients the support they need to ensure they have whitening success.

What do patients want to know?

It’s important to have solutions to patients’ problems and the answers they want at your fingertips. This includes a strong answer when they ask you which homecare products you recommend, or if there’s a difference between the whitening products they buy at the drugstore or those delivered by a dentist.

Common questions include:

  • Which whitening system is best for me?
  • What is the cost?
  • How much time will it take?
  • How hassle-free is the process?

Consider how busy people are these days. Giving them anything else to complicate their lives is a surefire way to ensure they’ll say “No.” Make it easy for them to see that your solutions are the fastest, easiest, most effective, and best value. is a valuable resource for consumers who are looking to make purchases. The site collects and analyzes reviews and then recommends “best buys.” Their reviewers agree that OTC systems may be less expensive, but the results do not last nearly as long as professional teeth whitening.

There are many teeth whitening products, each with their own pros and cons; it can be overwhelming. As you’re working to recapture the dollars spent on OTC whitening products, make it easy for your patients to choose the professional system. Let’s look at the perceived benefits of the OTC systems, and how you can turn this around to explain the advantages of a professional prefilled tray whitening system over the OTC brands (see Table 1).

Creating awareness

Patients learn about whitening from TV and other media, and are steadily influenced by celebrity and pop culture. Take advantage of this and let the media do some of the work for you. A product that has been getting a lot of press in leading fashion and fitness magazines, including Men’s Fitness, is Venus White® by Heraeus. Print and post an article in your operatory and reception area. By allowing mass media to do part of the marketing for you, you’ll probably find that a familiar brand name is much easier to present to your patients than an unknown product.

When choosing products to recommend, look for companies that support your practice with education, marketing support, and a great product that will thrill your patients. With the right system, whitening can be one of your secret weapons in building a healthy hygiene service mix, generating referrals, and recapturing dollars spent on OTC products.

The possibilities are endless. Remember, what you say is not as important as how you say it. The best marketing tool is you! If you believe in and are excited about your products, your patients will be more likely to invest in them.

Everybody’s smiling white. Right?

Rachel Wall, RDH, BS, is the owner of Inspired Hygiene, a consulting firm that coaches dentists on maximizing the benefits of a dental hygiene department.

Share your enthusiasm

In a highly competitive market, a good product doesn’t necessarily sell itself; it needs marketing. Here are some ideas for marketing whitening in your practice.

• Headline an advertisement for your practice in a local newspaper with a catchphrase such as “Whiten Your Smile. Brighten Your Style.”

• Offer a discount coupon for a new patient exam, or a complimentary consult for teeth whitening options.

• Consider a monthly drawing for a FREE whitening kit.

• Support fund-raising events where your whitening manufacturer donates proceeds (e.g., Venus White® to breast cancer research).

• Send postcards inviting patients to one of the above fund-raising or community events while reminding them of their upcoming appointment. The event card may also serve as an invitation to an open house or patient appreciation event.

• Run seasonal specials — Blooming Smiles in Spring, Sunny Smiles in Summer, Fall into a Smile Winter, I’m Dreaming of a White Smile.

• Run a Tell-a-Friend contest encouraging existing patients to make referrals. Reward the winner with a complimentary whitening kit.

• Take advantage of professional marketing materials offered by manufacturers. For example, Venus White offers exquisitely designed, high-impact direct mail pieces and ad campaigns that can be easily customized with your practice information. Visit and get 20% off your first order.

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