New dentists must ‘stand out’ to build patient base

Dentists just out of dental school spend much of their time marketing themselves to prospective employers. Things quickly change once they enter the workforce and they are responsible for both building and maintaining a reliable patient base.

On top of providing patients with high-quality care and presenting a welcoming environment, dentists also can implement several marketing and advertising strategies that will help them hit the ground running on building up a patient base.

According to CDA’s Guide for the New Dentist, dentists should develop a marketing plan; select specific marketing methods (direct mail, print advertising, media coverage, a website, etc.); come up with internal marketing tactics (patient satisfaction techniques, gift certificates, etc.); create a branding strategy; and track return on investment, among others.

Jonathan Ford, DDS, went to dental school at the University of Pennsylvania and graduated in 2007. Following graduation, he came back to his hometown of Huntington Beach to practice. Ford said it’s all about what makes a dentist unique that helps attract new patients.

“I drive by 10 different dental offices on my 10-minute drive to work every day. You have to find a way to stand out,” Ford said.

Jon Pascarella, DDS, began practicing in Redding after graduating from dental school. Upon taking his first job, he didn’t have a built-in patient base to work from. He said his marketing efforts played a big role and one of the main things he focuses on is internal marketing.

“My first time sitting down with a new patient is always done in our consult room. This gives us an opportunity to talk a bit outside of the operatory setting that some people have apprehension about,” said Pascarella, who is a past chair of the CDA New Dentist Committee. “I like to get to know the patient a little bit and explain my dental philosophy to them. I let them know that they are always in control of what is going to be done to their mouth.”

Other internal marketing strategies include: writing thank-you notes to new patients, patients who refer friends and family and those who have had large procedures; calling patients who have recently undergone elective or cosmetic procedures to see if they are happy with the results; evaluating practice décor; and making sure team members are neat, clean and professional.

Ford said community involvement is another key tool new dentists can use to build and maintain a patient base.

“Go out and start meeting people and networking either through the chamber of commerce, rotary clubs or other business groups,” Ford said. “That is eventually how you slowly start building up your patient base.”

Ford participates in his local Kiwanis Club and has used the opportunity to network with real estate agents, chiropractors, politicians and more — all of whom refer patients to him.

“Making your community better is the No. 1 goal. A byproduct is meeting key players in the community. If you earn their trust, they become patients, and then they refer you out to their family and friends,” Ford said.

Pascarella joined a country club to help him boost his relations within the community. 

“I would say that for the most part, country club members are interested in maintaining a healthy body, and tend to be good patients,” Pascarella said. “Take an active role in your community, support local businesses, attend fairs and festivals.  Just be there. This one is easy, and you end up enjoying yourself in the meantime as well.”

Other tips for getting involved in the community from the Guide for the New Dentist include: hosting your own patient scholarship or smile makeover competition; hosting a “Sports Safety Day” in which patients can come take impressions for custom mouthguards; planning and hosting an open house; and sponsoring local events, sports teams, competitions, fundraisers, clubs, etc.

Pascarella said volunteering at events or sponsoring events within the community can be both rewarding and valuable to a dentist and their practice.

“Supporting and sponsoring events is a good way to get your name heard by large groups of people. It is very common that we will see patients that were involved in setting up an event that we have sponsored,” Pascarella said.

For more information on these techniques and the legal limitations surrounding marketing and advertising in California, view Chapter 9 of the Guide for the New Dentist at cda.org/newdentist.