By Drew Crawford
They say that the best salesmen can sell ice to a penguin, but I don’t think that they should. Why would a penguin need ice if it had no use for it? Where is the lasting value in selling a product that your client doesn’t need or care about?
The most effective salesperson should build trust with their clients, be a trusted adviser, and recommend solutions that are tailored to everyone. Of course, as a dentist, you aren’t a salesperson, but you are in a prime position to use your experience to help others enhance their oral health and well-being.
Why Offering Teeth Whitening Should be an Essential Service for Your Practice
Clinicians are often so focused on making sure that teeth are healthy that it’s easy to forget that patients are primarily interested in a smile that looks and feels great. The most cost-effective way to create a better-looking smile for most patients is by whitening their teeth. As of 2022, teeth whitening is a $7 billion global market. Over 37 million Americans whitened their teeth in 2020. These numbers indicate a widespread interest in whitening. Teeth whitening isn’t a fad, it’s a cosmetic enhancement that your patients are eager to incorporate into their treatment plan.
In order to build a robust whitening regimen for your office it needs to do the following:
- Generates a consistent stream of revenue
- Positions you as an authority figure on whitening
- Results in patient retention
We will cover how to do this in depth below.
You Don’t Need to Generate an Interest in Whitening that Already Exists, You Need to Do a Better Job Positioning Whitening to Meet Your Client’s Needs
Don’t be a salesperson, be a trusted advisor
Dentists aren’t salespeople, and patients aren’t penguins; selling teeth whitening isn’t like selling ice to penguins that don’t need it. A high demand for teeth whitening already exists, but we need to do a better job of asking questions and understanding how patients feel about whitening by learning about their previous experiences.
For example, let’s say that your patient has previously tried to whiten their teeth. Your patient used an over-the-counter brand that didn’t provide good results. They feel like they wasted their money because their teeth don’t look whiter, and now they are skeptical of whitening in general. This patient knows that there are plenty of whitening brands available, and maybe even knows that your office offers teeth whitening, but if a trusted brand like Crest can’t even meet their expectations, why would your whitening be any different?
This a valid point. If you aren’t asking your patients questions about their experiences with whitening you won’t know what concerns they are grappling with. We need to ask patients questions so that they can understand the value of a professional-grade whitening system.
Ideas of Questions that You Can Ask Your Patients
Here are questions that you can ask your patients to have a productive conversation about whitening and understand their needs.
Questions You Can Ask Your Patient About Previous Whitening Results
- Have you tried whitening your teeth in the past?
What results did you have when you whitened your teeth?
- What shade do you want your smile to be?
If you have a shade chart you can show your patients what shade their teeth currently are, and what shade you can make their smile.
- What is the greatest factor that has stopped you from whitening your teeth in the past?
If your patient answers that they didn’t get the results that they were expecting or that the whitening product was too sensitive against their gums, ask a follow-up question like, “How long did you wear the product for?” or “What about the results was different than what you had expected?
Asking follow-up questions is a great way to increase patient engagement and not come off as pushy. Remember, you are an advisor. By taking a genuine interest in what your patient wants you will show that you truly care.
Questions You Can Ask Your Patients Related to Teeth Sensitivity when Whitening
- Have your teeth hurt when you’ve tried to whiten them?
Which teeth whitening product increased your tooth sensitivity?
Note: By searching TikTok you’ll find that tooth sensitivity resulting from whitening is a major concern of many patients, especially ones that use gel whitening trays filled with too much whitening.
- How long did you wear the whitening product for?
The patient might not know how to properly use a whitening product. You can use this as an educational opportunity to establish rapport.
Questions Related to Whitening Cost
Patients want an affordable product that doesn’t break the bank or compromise results. On one end of the whitening spectrum, you have fad products that are cheap and produce little results, and on the other there is professional grade whitening that costs patients as their monthly rent.
Questions related to cost are a great way to measure a patient’s ability to pay for a solution, but they can be a sensitive topic to address. You want to tactfully ask questions that gauges the amount a patient is willing to pay.
- What whitening brands have you used in the past?
If you know what whitener a patient has used, you will have a pretty good idea of what a patient has paid.
- How much do you expect to pay for whitening if we can make your teeth look exactly how you want?
A question like this will give you a better idea of your patient’s budget and how much they are willing to spend, but you want to be careful. A patient might not have an accurate idea of how much professional grade whitening costs. This can lead them to respond with a low number to try to get a deal.
You should always try to improve the questions that you ask each patient about whitening.
- Avoid asking questions that lead to a yes/no answer as much as possible.
- The goal of asking your patient questions is to provide better patient care and sell more whitening in the process.
- You will know that you are asking the right questions if your patient opens about their needs and concerns.
Help your patient understand the difference between Whitening results obtained with Professional Supervision and Over-the-Counter Products
Patients want whiter teeth, but many have previously tried various whitening products without having the proper information on whether it will provide effective results. Patients can also be easily influenced by trends that they see online. Fads like activated charcoal and teeth whitening serum on TikTok promise incredible results, but patients would be remiss to trust these claims.
You can address this claim by letting your patient know that your office is the best setting for you to work together to create a whitening plan that meets their needs. Let your patient know that when they choose to whiten their teeth at your practice, they receive whitening treatment that is professionally supervised.
Before whitening your patient’s teeth, you can provide insight about whether they are a good candidate for whitening. For example, your patient might be experiencing early stages of gingivitis or have periodontitis that they are unaware of. Patients that meet the criteria for these diagnoses require the competence and judgement of a clinician to determine whether they should proceed with whitening.
You can also provide guidance for patients that have crowns or veneers. Patients might not be aware that teeth whitening doesn’t whiten restorations, (this might not be an issue if the patient’s restoration is already the desired shade). As your patients open up to you about how their teeth look, you can transition to talking about the whitening system that you use. It’s even easier to have a conversation about your whitening system when you have a marketing plan in place.
We will talk about what this looks like below.
What is Your Marketing Strategy for Teeth Whitening?
When a patient walks into your office, what do they see? When they walk into the dental office, most patients are greeted by a friendly receptionist and sit in the waiting room while they wait for their appointment. They might pass the time by reading an old magazine or scroll through social media on their phone.
The time that patients spend waiting for their appointment can be optimized by providing patient education about the services you offer from the moment that they walk in the door. As a dentist, you are incredibly busy, and you can only be one place at a time. You can overcome this limitation by using effective marketing materials that build trust and expand a patient’s awareness.
Use the following suggestions to build a marketing strategy for teeth whitening
- Generate awareness so that your patients know that you offer teeth whitening.
Too often dentists keep their whitening in cupboards or behind the front desks, and patients aren’t aware that you offer whitening. You can change this by giving your whitening a visible presence. Put boxes of Sheer White! in a display case, or have your assistant hang pictures of smile transformations on the wall. Social proof is a powerful tool; patients like to see examples of others just like whose teeth you have whitened.
- Create a smile questionnaire that new patients fill out in the waiting room.
You can create a survey that asks questions about how patients feel about their smile. Example questions can include the following:
- On a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being completely satisfied) how satisfied do you feel with the way your smile looks.
If you answered lower than 7, describe why (space for answer.)
- On a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being the highest) how confident does your smile make you feel?
If you answered lower than 7, describe why (space for answer)
- Are there any specific changes that you would like to see with your smile (describe below).
The purpose of a smile questionnaire is to get new patients to reflect on the changes they want to experience with their smile. You or your hygienist(s) can use the responses to to talk with your patient about how they can achieve their desired results with the services that you offer.
Show your patients a shade guide
You can use a shade guide in conjunction with the answers that a patient provides in your questionnaire to educate them on how their teeth can look.
Shade guides only cost a few dollars online.
Have them pick a shade from the guide.
Work with your patient to create a treatment plan that includes teeth whitening.
You set the price for Whitening
You can set the price of your in-office whitening to make it more attractive. For example, if you sell Sheer White, you can offer the in-office whitening strip at a lower price if a patient decides to purchase the take-home kit.
Provide Education While Whitening
One of the best ways to market teeth whitening is to show your patient how it works. It’s incredibly easy to do this with a whitening strip system like Sheer White! because the strip can be placed in as little as one minute at the end of an appointment.
Instruct the patients how you place the strip before putting it on. Instruct the patient to wear the strip for a half-hour and let them know that they can drink any cold beverages while they wear it.
At this point, you might see the value in these ideas but feel that they are time consuming. It will take time to put together a display case, take before and after photos of your patients, and send out marketing emails, but once you have a plan built, you can rely on the strategy that you have and reuse many of the same marketing materials. These materials are new for your patients. Even though they are familiar to you, it will be the first time that your patients see them.
Providing Better Whitening Technology for Patients
We touched upon fad products earlier in this post, but there are other drawbacks a patient faces when they consider teeth whitening. These include:
- Will they have to make tradeoffs in their lifestyle to whiten their teeth?
- Do they have to spend a long time in the office?
- How effective is the whitening agent?
- Is the product cost-prohibitive?
Will the patient have to make tradeoffs in their lifestyle to whiten their teeth?
It’s much more attractive to patients when they hear about a service that fits into their existing lifestyle. Many patients place a premium on convenience and discreteness. If a product fits into their daily routine, they are much more likely to use it.
Does the patient have to spend a long time in the Office?
Daily life is filled with constant demands and obligations. Between work, caring for children, and appointments, patients struggle to find time to squeeze in other things they want to get done.
Many patients want to whiten their teeth, but they don’t have 1-2 hours to sit in a chair at your office. Additionally, you have other procedures you need to perform and, you can’t afford to give up your chair time either.
Is the product cost-prohibitive?
Many whitening products can be cost prohibitive for patients and dentists. We’ve already addressed costs related to time, so let’s put this into a dollar amount.
Imagine this scenario. Your patient wants to get their teeth whitened. You offer a teeth whitening system that takes 1.5 hours of chair time. Their out-of-pocket cost to get their teeth whitened is $600. They have to take 2.5 hours of work off for the appointment and they doesn’t have any paid time off left so they miss out on 2.5 hours of pay ($62).
When they visit your office to have her teeth whitened, this takes chair time; instead of placing a crown for $500 you are whitening her teeth.
In this scenario, the opportunity cost of whitening their teeth is at least $562 dollars ($500 dollars that you miss out on related to chair time, and $62 dollars for them missing work).
And we haven’t even considered material costs. If you need to create whitening trays for a patient and take impressions, the cost to offer teeth whitening can be considerably more expensive (you can always pass the cost on to your patients, but somebody will have to pay more).
When you factor in these considerations, it’s quickly apparent that time is money. Teeth whitening systems that aren’t time-efficient can have a detrimental impact on revenue generation and be prohibitively expensive for patients. This is probably one of the reasons why not enough dentists promote teeth whitening despite the huge demand.
A strip whitening system like Sheer White! takes only one minute to apply at the end of an appointment, so you don’t have to give up the opportunity cost of treating other patients.
A teeth whitening system that doesn’t saddle you with time constraints succeeds at improving patient care because it doesn’t suck away your time and revenue. The demand for teeth whitening high enough that if you use a whitening system that doesn’t have these restrictions you can significantly increase your profit margins.
How to Get Started Implementing these Recommendations
It can be difficult to implement these strategies for promoting teeth whitening into your practice. Instead of following all these recommendations at once, pick one or two that you feel good about and start using them. It only takes a couple minutes of your time, and as you use them you will build confidence. Once you get used to these, you can start adopting the other recommendations. You’ll be well on your way to having a full whitening program!
Conclusion: Better Retention, Better Whitening, Better Revenue: When You Use Better Whitening Technology You Make More Money, Treat More Patients, and Patient Retention Increases
Many of your patients want whiter teeth. If you aren’t implementing the strategies discussed above, you are needlessly sacrificing revenue. Offering a good teeth whitening is one of the best ways that you can do to improve patient care—it’s so easy to make teeth whitening a part of your practice, and it’s one of the easiest ways to generate additional revenue.
Here's a summary of the main points we covered:
- Patients need to know that you offer teeth whitening.
Have conversations about teeth whitening and recommend it to patients that can benefit. Talk to patients about their concerns. You never know what they are until you ask!
- You should have an effective marketing strategy in place to promote whitening in your practice.
Display your whitening product(s), before and after patient photos, and provide patient education about the benefits of whitening.
- Provide better whitening technology for your patients to improve their experience.
Offer a whitening product that respects you and your patients time and that is cost-effective for both of you.
When you do these things, you create better retention, a better whitening experience, and increase revenue for your practice.
It can be difficult to get started, especially if you haven’t made teeth whitening a regular part of your practice in the past. To make it easier, we put together a whitening kit with materials to help you market teeth whitening to your patients. You that you can download it for free here. Reach out to us if you have any questions!