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A journey to the store — your place

Jan. 1, 2003
Isn't providing the products you recommend and trust a part of patient-centered hygiene? Here's a travel guide to dispensing your top choices out of the office.

by Karen Kaiser, RDH

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Making travel arrangements can be overwhelming. Disenchantment may arise while taking the countless steps required to plan an itinerary. After arranging transportation, reserving lodging, and scheduling activities, one might begin to wonder, "Why am I going through all this?" Selecting another option — an all-inclusive travel plan — may prove less anguishing and more convenient. Likewise, by dispensing office products as part of a comprehensive program, you can make therapeutic hygiene services an "all-inclusive" package.

Choosing a destination

A carefree journey is expected once the perfect travel destination is selected and the itinerary finalized. In dental hygiene, providing patients with the tools needed to achieve maximal bacterial reduction and to move the patient toward overall health will become the destination. The important connection between oral health and systemic health links are continually documented. Supplying products with the hygienist's educated recommendations clearly will enhance the level of service made consistent with in-office product dispensing.

The choice of preferred goods to dispense becomes the next point to reach on the hygiene agenda. There are avenues the hygienist could travel on to discover the multitude of products available for in-office dispensing. Sources such as clinical trials of the product, trade show presentations, magazine advertising, dental sales representatives, and clinical findings by other hygienists may narrow the task of product selection. Choose products you would not hesitate to use on yourself and ones that are safe and with maximum efficacy.

Perhaps your choice will include the ADA Seal of Acceptance. Know what the ADA stamp represents when affixed to the recommended goods — the product tested has met specific safety and effectiveness guidelines particular to that group of products for treatment and prevention of oral disease. Obtaining this acceptance seal remains voluntary on the part of the manufacturer, which expends resources to test, evaluate, and market its dental wares to include this validation.

Dental consumers recognize the seal because it has been around for more than 70 years. Some 1,300 dental products bear this ADA seal, and 40 percent of those goods are sold directly to the retail dental shopper. This market category includes toothbrushes, rinses, floss, and similar consumer items (the remaining products are doctor-prescribed).

Choose the best products available on the market, not fly-by-night goods with hyped marketing gimmicks or skeptical claims. Having once been faced with a previously implemented in-office product I could not fully endorse, I found myself defending a product I didn't believe in to save face for the office. As a result, when the no-name product continually failed for my patients, our office was placed in an uneasy situation of having to replace units at no charge.

The author's "center" for home-care products
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When a product continues to fall short of expectations, your patients' trust may waver over your future recommendations. To avoid this compromising predicament choose products that produce clinical results. Investigate every in-office product dispensed (I strongly suggest evaluating them for yourself). Unfortunately, when faced with the situation of dispensing products that you do not prefer, product recommending will become difficult. The situation may exist where the goods are dispensed because someone else in the office initially liked the brand (and ordered cases upon cases). Clearing inventory instead of endorsing a product may prompt the "just-sell-it" scenario.

Location, location, location

When the product selection is complete, the creation of a display area becomes the next point on which to embark. This space — modest to elaborate — depends upon office philosophy or area allotment. A patient care center or oral wellness area can showcase specific in-office products or exhibit a variety of preferred products. Consider the patients you will serve and cater to their needs. Choose a display area centrally located in the office so it is easy for all team members to retrieve products.

A designated member may serve as an inventory control agent to assure the product is readily available at all times, to rotate stock, and to check expiration dates. When considering displaying goods solely in your hygiene area, bear in mind recommendation of this product may fall entirely on your shoulders. Dispensing of products by the entire dental team may prove most beneficial when multiple locations are selected. Many companies offer merchandizing support by providing easy-to-assemble display areas, promotional materials, and on-site advice during the set-up process. For guidelines on product usage, consider if the vender offers a technical support line for fielding questions the dental consumer or hygienist may have about the product.

Packing list

Products recommended daily are included in the wellness display. Here are a few suggestions:
• Floss handles
• Interdental aids
• Fluoride gels
• Breath remedies
• Remineralizing gum
• Denture cups and brushes
• Brushes for small children
• Whitening products
• Dentaplex® vitamins
• Anti-bacterial rinses
• Tongue de-plaquers
• Dry mouth items
• Plaque disclosing tablets
• Power/rechargeable brush units
• Replacement brush packs

Taking flight

Showcasing specific products on your display may help to launch your patient care center. Referring to new products on billing statements, newsletters, and mailers — or initiating an introductory special as part of an internal marketing idea — is effective. When patients become familiar with your professionally dispensed items and experience results, they will depend on your office to become their supplier for refills. And why not? This keeps dental dollars circulating in your practice, offers a convenient way to comply with your professional suggestions, and repurchasing takes minimal chairside time.

The issue of sales tax may play a role in your wellness center. Bear in mind that when your office first purchased the product the sales tax may have been paid (it is not customary to double tax).

Check your inventory sales slip or phone your state regulatory board if uncertainty remains. In view of this information some clinicians build in the fee of the supplied products or have separate charges altogether. Depending on office policy, a toothbrush and floss can become part of the visit fee, or these items can be available for purchase in your patient care area.

Dental tchotckes

Souvenirs are a part of the vacation experience for most travelers. However, purchasing a tchotcke on impulse from the quaint seaside boutique may develop into buyer's remorse when returning home. Will that iridescent dolphin really suit your traditional décor? When patients purchase these "dental souvenirs" for home use, let them experience the product in-office (via sampling) to ensure this product suits their needs.

A hands-on introduction to new products (perhaps a sample taste and swish of the mouthrinse) is most beneficial to the patient. Using the product as a prop, give individual instructions as to amounts or specific techniques needed to best manage the tool. For the same reason, when the patient can demonstrate using the floss handle after having assembling it themselves, there is more active learning taking place and a far greater chance the item will become incorporated into their home care.

Product-guided oral hygiene instruction will help assure that products such as tongue cleaners, interdental aids, or floss will achieve the maximal plaque removal results when specific requirements are followed. If not, chairside correction helps the patient to utilize the product effectively. The aim for the hygienist is patient compliance and product acceptance.

Packing tip

Utilizing everything crammed into a suitcase becomes doubtful when traveling. Beware of "overstuffing " the patient with dispensed in-office products. Sending home a multitude of products may prompt shelving of some goods instead of focusing and feeling comfortable using the new tool, technique, or medicament.

Now arriving at Gate Hygiene

Patients look confidently to your office for dental solutions, so do the product shopping for them. When the benefits of using the product are considered, then finding products worth believing in can create warranted excitement. I wanted to find a product that controlled foul breath. After doing my research and personally taste-testing several items at a dental conference, I selected a product that would best suit the practice philosophy and address my patients' malodor needs. Returning to the office, we introduced the new arrival with flyers that generated interest about the product. At recare visits, patients covertly whisper, "Do I have bad breath?" They feel, quite possibly, issuing an honest answer is your duty. And they are correct.

In an effort to smooth the uncomfortable situation for the clinician when discussing breath problems, Interscan developed a chairside sulfide-monitoring Halimeter®. The volatile sulfides compounds (principle malodorants) are sampled in the mouth air. This breath-monitoring tool may help ease into the fetidness topic (although it alone will not confirm bad breath). When a product is offered that addresses a patient's distinct need, a want-based hygiene service is being delivered.

A successful route to breach the breath topic involves utilizing my in-operatory computer. Applying the scrolling marquee screen saver (on the computer's desktop properties) I simply state, "Do you have bad breath? Ask me how I can help." I just love the many comments this direct statement generates and it helps to broach the topic of breath control. As an added bonus, have your full name and RDH credentials scroll with your compelling statement.

Over-the-counter concierge

Dental consumers like to spend their dollars for goods. National research company AC Nielson determined that consumer spending on basics such as toothpaste and mouthrinse totals $2.7 billion annually. The same source also noted an increase of 133 percent in 2002 on dental accessory purchases over 2001.

Becoming savvy on the available over-the-counter products will enable you to position your products to best serve your patients needs. Making a recommended product available in the office is a convenience tailored for the patient (complete with education).

I'll admit it — I'm a dental aisle diva. To stay familiar with over-the-counter goods I frequent this aisle out of necessity. If your patient remarked, "I buy what's on sale," you need to see what "it" refers to. (A hard-bristle toothbrush market still exists.) Hovering around this aisle long enough allows one to observe some interesting dental consumer buying habits.

While investigating the active ingredients of mouthrinses, I glanced at a woman who had a handwritten list of dental product needs. She was talking with a companion and was groaning about not being able to find the specific sensitivity paste recommended to her by her dentist. She quickly gave up the product search out of frustration and purchased her old standby of tried-and-true toothpaste. This situation made me think, "How many people actually purchase the exact brand suggested?"

Furthermore, if you have built the rapport and trust between yourself and your patients they are motivated to take the professional recommendation and purchase products directly from the office. When patients are paying cash for these products that may further encourage them to use them. After all, professionally dispensed products warrant a professional price.

Going the extra mile

Once your office becomes product-friendly, patients will look to you to become their oral care consultant. Keeping patients informed of ingredient advancements or upgrades over other products is a constant investigative journey for the hygienist. Patients will ask what "new and improved" means to them. Read the ingredient lists and call the professional support lines to determine what the active ingredients such as triclosan, sodium hexametaphosphate, or xytex do for the recommended products.

The emergence of many natural ingredients, sugar-free, and alcohol-free products may factor in your choice of recommended products. Monitor clinically achieved results with professionally dispensed products and ask satisfied patients for testimonials. Put these in a binder at chairside so other dental consumers can review successes. With a complete customized approach to home care needs, your dental clients will appreciate the knowledge expended to reduce their product confusion.

Motivation to dispense in-office products ultimately benefits the patient's health. Set your practice apart by offering quality products along with professional advice. The patients are privy to a comprehensive, all-inclusive hygiene package with the dispensed value-added extras.

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].