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3 Sales Tricks You Should Never Play on Your Patients

Many dentists cringe at the idea of “selling dentistry” because it sounds cheap and unethical.  I agree!  As a dentist, I present comprehensive treatment plans to patients; I don’t sell expensive widgets to customers.

But there are many dentists that have benefited by offering promotions to their patients.  Not to mention the countless dentists that have learned from practice management gurus about how to increase case acceptance.  Sometimes it can be hard to draw a line between (A) positive techniques that can educate patients about the benefits of your services and (B) cheap tricks to manipulate patients into spending more money than they would otherwise.

"If you don't get veneers, your teeth will fall out."

Here are three tricks used by salespeople that you should definitely avoid!

(1) The Bait and Switch

I recently went to a major electronics retail store to purchase a new laptop computer.  They were advertising an excellent price and I was interested.  But when I got to the store, the salesperson told me that there were only three left in stock and they all had received their “special service set up.”  That consisted of adding backup software, performance evaluations, and other useless items all for an additional $100.  They had baited me with a seemingly low price, then switched the product for one that had additional features that drove the price back up to the original.  I left the store in disgust.

Some dentists will advertise free and/or low cost services to get people in the door.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The “loss leader” concept is a tried and true way of bringing in new patients in the hopes that you can make your money back through additional services.

But advertising one product or service and then delivering another with hidden costs is a bad business practice.  Aside from being unethical, it’s a sure way to leave a bad impression on your patient at the check out desk.

If you’re going to offer a free cleaning, then offer a free cleaning.  Don’t charge for gingival irrigation, periodontal evaluation, etc. because your advertisement mislead the patient into thinking they were receiving free services.

(2) Negative Unsolicited Advice

When I am about to perform a recall exam, I always ask the patient: “Do you have any concerns functionally or cosmetically?”

That’s an open question that may prompt a person to discuss any dental issues they may have, ranging from toothaches to bleaching.

I really enjoy cosmetic dentistry, but it’s different than general dentistry.  When a patient has an infection or disease, you are legally and morally obligated to tell them about it.  But if someone has some imperfection with their smile, I think it is totally immoral to tell them about it without them asking your opinion first.

If a patient asks me for a cosmetic evaluation or states that they’re unhappy with their smile bu they can’t express why, I will be happy to start a list of imperfections and the solutions I can offer.

If a patient needs restorative work done in the esthetic zone, I will inquire about future desires to whiten, straighten, or otherwise change the appearance of their other teeth so I can account for that in my plan.

But I will never tell a patient that they “need” to get cosmetic work done when they were perfectly happy with their smile.  It’s mean-spirited.

(3) The Hard Sell

When a patient has decay, disease, or infection I will do everything I can to help the patient understand the urgent need to restore them to health.

But certain other procedures are not as essential.  These certain services may be offered, but to beat the patient over the head and create a high pressure environment just creates mistrust and cheapens our profession.

Certainly the cosmetic procedures mentioned above fall into this category.  For example, a patient expresses interest in veneers.  we present our treatment plan and fees and the patient states they want to wait.  I have no problem asking the patient at their next recall visit if they are ready to begin treatment.  But I refuse to nag the patient with frequent phone calls from my front desk.  I refuse to berate the patient for not starting treatment yet.

Here’s a non-cosmetic example:  A patient has a lower complete denture and they’re fairly happy with it.  They get an occasional reline and use adhesives daily, but no major complaints.  I will mention that we can achieve better stability with two implants and help them explore their options.  I feel it is my duty to make the patient aware of the improvement to their quality of life that implants can offer.  But if the patient decides to keep their lower denture the way it is, I won’t begin harassing them.


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