Good for your patients, good for your practice

Ethical selling is about offering high quality services, which are right for the patient’s needs and, as such, is an ideal opportunity to not only strengthen the bond of trust with your patients, but also a way of increasing your practice profitability.

The business of selling doesn’t always come naturally to dentists and other dental care professionals however. The business of selling somehow feels to be in conflict with a caring profession, however much you believe what you’re selling is good for your patient. However, when it comes to oral health and hygiene products, it’s your knowledge that will ultimately be your guide as to whether you feel able to endorse with confidence.

Perhaps one of the reasons sales can be a little off-putting is its reputation for targets and incentives. This doesn’t sit comfortably with the dental profession, nor should it. The GDC’s (General Dental Council) guidance to dentists on professional and personal conduct states that ‘there is no objection to a token or other gift being given by a dentist directly to a patient who attends for treatment,’ however ‘a dentist’s professional relationship with patients may be compromised if any member of the dental team were to accept financial incentives from third party interests in return for promoting to patients […] specific dental products.’

Evidence-based research

Nevertheless, products that can genuinely assist in improving or maintaining good oral health are constantly evolving and it is vital to ensure that, as a dentist, hygienist or practice manager, you stay abreast of benefits to be in the best position to advise patients. Most reputable suppliers won’t try to incentivise you as such but will be very happy to visit the practice to demonstrate its products and provide as much information and evidence based research as you wish.

Brush-baby, for example, has achieved significant consumer awareness and success with its range of infant dental care products, now stocked on the shelves of the UK’s leading retailers. However, it is still aware of the value of the dentist or hygienist’s recommendation.

Brush-baby’s founder and managing director, Dominique Tillen, explains: ‘As a company we undertake many forms of education to the dental market. White papers and articles in the dental industry press, speaking engagements at seminars and conferences and exhibiting at dentistry exhibitions are all part of our education and sampling programme to dentists, firstly to show them the solutions and products available and secondly so that they feel more confident in the efficacy of the products and are happy recommending or selling them in their practice.’

Oral-B also takes dentist confidence very seriously. ‘As well as publishing detailed information to accompany Oral-B products, we also developed the website to provide dental care professionals with a source for research and clinical trial reports on Oral-B products, says Irafan Omerji. ‘Knowing you’ve read the evidence for yourself means you can have confidence in the product; after that, it’s up to you if or how you convey the benefits to your patients.’

That’s where personal judgment comes into play. Patients can respond quite differently to the same suggestion so you may need to adapt the way you explain benefits to get the same result. For example, some may like to know the technical details of how an oscillating-rotating electric toothbrush removes more plaque than they have managed previously with a manual brush; others are sold instantly on the words ‘whiter teeth’ or ‘fresher breath’. Just because they don’t want to know about other advantages doesn’t make them any less likely to benefit from them.

Your patients don’t have to buy the recommended products directly from your practice, but equally there’s no reason why they wouldn’t. ‘Any recommendation in a dental practice must, by its very nature, be clinically sound,’ says Irafan. ‘If the patient accepts your recommendation they clearly intend to buy it somewhere, so why not from you?’

Selling techniques

If you find you’re encountering resistance from patients, even though you have their best interests at heart, explore the reasons for their hesitation to see if there’s a way around it. The main reason you’re recommending a particular product is that you want them to improve their oral health. Is it price that’s putting them off? Are they suspicious of your motives and do they feel they should shop around first? Do they feel cornered?

While dental floss and toothpaste may not break the bank, products such as electric toothbrushes are certainly not everyday purchases for most people, yet research shows that they are of great benefit in dealing with sensitive teeth, bleeding gums and caries.

Some considerations when selling are:

  • It’s worth having the products on display in the surgery, not just the reception area, allowing you to demonstrate them at any time. You can also let patients see and even hold them as you’re describing the benefits
  • If you stock a range of products but don’t tell a patient which ones are right for them, they may assume they’re only for people with ‘better’ or ‘worse’ teeth
  • Accept offers of demonstration models from your rep
  • Pass on any offers or trial size versions to your patients so they can enjoy benefits or discounts
  • Make sure the rest of your practice team are well briefed on the products too
  • Let your staff trial the products themselves so they can assist you in promoting them to patients
  • Don’t be afraid to refer to TV advertising or celebrity endorsements providing you think the products are suitable
  • Display products together to complement each other, for example tooth whitening offers next to a power brush, patients will be eager to preserve their new white smile by brushing properly.

It often works best to nominate a nurse or receptionist to deal with the payments and the commercial side of the business so that the clinician can concentrate on making appropriate recommendations and demonstrating the products.

Manufacturers usually have a recommended retail price for its products, however the key is to do your own market research in your local area and pitch your prices accordingly.

Selling oral health products can be lucrative for your practice but you have to have confidence that it’s an integral part of your professional role to indicate which is suitable for each patient. Providing there’s no hard sell, enabling them to purchase on the spot is simply part of the service.

Catherine Rutland is senior dental adviser at Denplan, where she has been further strengthening the professional advice and support to Denplan members for a number of years. Catherine has finished studying for her masters in medical ethics and law at King’s College and is also principal dentist at Broadway Lifesmiles in Berkshire.

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