Is It Unprofessional to Sell Dentistry?

Not at all, despite what you may have heard from your professors in school or various society board members, or even your peers. In fact, I think it’s more unprofessional NOT to sell dentistry.

Why?  Isn’t selling some vile, despicable process where people get talked into something they don’t need and can’t afford?sleazy salesman  Not exactly.  Selling is just communication with a purpose.  It is neither negative nor positive.  In reality, we sell all the time, but just don’t call it that.

I think a lot of dentists have a negative attitude toward the concept of selling exactly because they have been told, erroneously, that it is unprofessional to do so.  But when someone doesn’t understand the value of something,  the advantage of something, and the benefit to themselves, they require information and often persuasion to make what will be a good decision for them.

I had an insight recently about human nature and people’s behavior with regard to dental treatment, which was this:  People don’t have buyer’s remorse when it comes to dentistry.  

Think about it.  When’s the last time a patient came back and said, “I wish I hadn’t gotten these implants and was still eating baby food,” or, “I wish I hadn’t done that root canal. I’d rather still have the money and the pain.”  It doesn’t happen.  People have buyer’s remorse with all sorts of things they spend money on: electronics, clothes, cars, even houses.

But they don’t have it with dentistry. This to me is the strongest indicator of the real value of what you do.

I sincerely believe that if you encounter a patient who is in need of restorative dentistry for both the quality of their life and the maintenance of their health, then you are being unprofessional by not making your best effort to persuade them to undergo treatment.  Why?  Because the primary beneficiaries of the treatments are THEM, not YOU.

And that’s critical to remember.  Of course you will be paid to do the treatment.  But it’s not about you getting rich, it’s about them getting healthier.  Most patients are woefully ignorant about the importance of oral health.

And that’s the basic formula: if something is valuable, critical to the health and well-being of a person, and is also misunderstood or, even more common, the person is in serious denial about, what you have is something that needs to be sold.

Sure, it would be great if people wanted the maximum dentistry they could get, as fast as possible.  But they don’t.  They think putting it off has no consequences.  Which is part of why it’s your responsibility to facilitate that treatment acceptance with effective presentation and persuasion skills.

Most people need to be talked into getting life insurance.  Is it a bad thing to have? Quite the opposite.  But like dentistry, not a lot of fun is associated with the expenditure.  And saving for retirement is by definition a delaying of gratification, which is why I have to twist my employees arms to put some money into their 401k.  Am I a cheap hustler for doing it?  Or am I helping them to take a longer view of things than the next two weeks.

That’s the challenge of dentistry, too–the fact that it’s about a long-term investment, which most people don’t find appealing, especially when instant gratification is everywhere else.  All the more reason to refine your presentation skills, not just your clinical ones.

I sell all the time, and I’m proud of it, because I know that what I’m offering helps dentists to succeed.  And I also know that most of the time they would much rather spend their money on something more fun, like a new laser or a Maserati, but my persuasive skills help them to take the long view about building their business.  I would consider myself unprofessional if I didn’t convince a dentist who had no website that it was high time he got one, or if I let an office manager continue to believe that her patients don’t want text messages or emails, when I know that half of them do.

Will I make money in the process?  Yes.  There’s no crime, no shame, in win/win. My simple goal is that their benefit is greater than mine.

In relationships, I have a guiding principle that I use.  I ask myself, what is the most loving thing to do for this person at this moment?  And it applies to business too, and especially dentistry, which requires more tough love than a lot of other life situations. Is it loving to let a patient think that putting off treatment will not have negative repercussions?   Is it loving to leave them ignorant of the need and benefits of treatment?  No.  It’s just easier.  Less stressful.

If you’re reluctant to develop your sales skills, then I adamantly maintain that you are doing your patients a disservice.  And if you don’t have team members who not only believe in the value of dentistry but are comfortable convincing patients to accept treatment, then you are doing your patients a disservice.

They came to you as the professional. Fulfill that role.


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3 thoughts on “Is It Unprofessional to Sell Dentistry?

  1. Fred, just substitute the word ” Sell” with the word “Present.” We present recommendations, risks, benefits, and alternatives. The patient has the final say. “Sell” is just a transaction that is handled at the front desk. pc

  2. Hello Fred,

    Thanks for your insights, this was a fantastic read. While I do agree with you that dental services surely need to be sold to the general public, I think that the word sell might come across as a being a bit harsh in certain circumstances. I think a dentists role is more to inform the patient of their options, present your opinion, and let the patient choose the best option for them self. The process I just outlined does seem awfully similar to the process of “selling”, but the use of the word sell itself makes the whole process seem so much less desirable. Thanks for sharing, I look forward to reading more of your posts!

    Edward Starr
    Tulane University

  3. Hey Fred,

    I agree with you that the word “sell” might not coincide with being a dentist. However, patients really value your insight and need to hear what you have to say. Good to remember that you are helping people, whether it’s “selling” or not. Thanks for the great article.

I welcome all your comments!

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