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Most dentists hate the idea of selling.

I hear it all the time: “I don’t want to have to sell;” “I didn’t get into this profession to sell;” “I didn’t go to dental school to become some kind of carnival barker.” Believe me, I understand.

But today I’d like to challenge you to put aside the negative connotations you associate with selling. Selling is merely communication with a purpose — and we all do it all the time. We’re selling when we’re convincing our spouse we should go to Scotland instead of Gettysburg for vacation (because we want to try golfing where it was invented). And is there anyone who sells harder than a teenage boy trying to get the car keys? He’s going to wash it, fill the gas tank, run your errands. Sell, sell, sell. And is it not a sell job to convince that same teenager that he needs to go to college instead of taking that construction job? He wants to jump into the workforce, but you know that he needs college if he’s going to realize his dreams. So you sell. Is that a bad thing? Not at all.

The truth is, selling bad things is bad. Selling something good is…well, good. And I think we can all agree that dentistry is a good thing.

I’ve had sales jobs all my life, and the times when I was the least happy — the times when I’ve invariably quit — were when I didn’t believe in what I had to offer. In a dental practice, you don’t have that problem. You have something great to sell.

Now if you just can’t stand the word selling, call it something else. Call it facilitating treatment acceptance. It’s a nice way of saying the same thing — and when you think about it, that’s what you’re really doing. You’re helping a patient who has no understanding of the value of dentistry to accept the treatment that you know is the best care for them.

In fact, what you do so significantly benefits your patients, I’m going to suggest that selling is not just something you need to do to succeed; it’s your professional responsibility.

Think about it: most patients have not been properly educated about the value of dental care. Not in school, not at home, not at work. You have the chance to help them understand how to get to their optimum oral health and make the decision to do so. You can guide them from where they are in their minds (wanting as little dentistry as possible at the cheapest possible price) to accepting your ideal standard of care.

Dentistry involves selling. Plain and simple and unavoidable.There’s nothing wrong or evil or deceptive about it. And at the end of the day, the better you and your team are at selling, the more your practice can grow, and the happier and healthier your patients will be.

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Comment by Fred Joyal on December 21, 2009 at 11:08am
What you're saying isn't at odds with my article. You may not like the word "sell," but if the dentists you work with ever try to convince cost-conscious patients to go through with their treatment recommendations, then they're selling. And as I've tried to make clear (maybe not so successfully judging by some of the comments this entry's received), that's not a bad thing. Selling needed, quality dentistry to patients who may be more inclined to spend that money on a new TV or a trip to Vegas benefits both the patient and the dentist. You can't compare dentistry to medicine when it comes to offering treatment. They operate on two different models. Most doctors bill insurance plans for their full compensation. The patients are rarely aware of the costs involved. If they were, you'd better believe they'd be skeptical every time they were asked to pay for a test that didn't seem necessary to them and doctors would find themselves having to sell patients on their recommendations as well. They already do when dealing with uninsured patients.
Comment by Mary Jane RDH BS on December 19, 2009 at 12:28pm
Dentists offer treatment options..that is not selling. They offer what is the treatment that will last the longest and in the long run, cost the least. They also offer what might get that tooth or teeth by for five or so years. But at times, there are not options..sheared off at the gingiva is such a case. But the word should not be used in our profession. It is never used in the medical field; we should be given the same respect.
Comment by Fred Joyal on November 4, 2009 at 12:13pm
I feel like we're of the same opinion here. The only difference is the terminology we choose to use. I'm certainly not advocating anyone approach selling dentistry or anything else unethically. However, neither should a dentist shy away from making recommendations for treatment that he or she knows a patient needs, and making those recommendations in a persuasive manner -- a manner in which educating the patient plays the primary role. The bottom line is that until our system changes to something where patients don't have to shoulder most of their oral health expenses themselves, there are always going to be patients hesistant to spend money on dentistry that they need, and selling them on the prospect is a necessary part of the job. Call it something else if you prefer, but that's what it is.

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