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5 New Year’s Resolutions to Make for Your Dental Practice

Don’t look now, but the holidays are here again. If you’re like most practices you’re probably still in the midst of that last-minute “I’ve got to get my teeth cleaned before Christmas pictures!” madness. Then will come the slowdown that lasts into the new year, before things start picking up again.

That lull is the perfect time to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions–for yourself and for your practice. If you’ve had difficulty in the past making practical resolutions that result in actual solutions, we’ve created a list of practical New Year’s resolutions for your office–ones you should find easier to keep, because it’s based on harmful behaviors you should STOP doing.

  1. Stop Trying to Do It All Yourself . Look, you have staff for a reason: trust them to do their job. If you feel like you have to follow along behind them to make sure everything is done correctly, you either need new staff or a new attitude. And while we’re on the subject, develop the habit of thanking your employees. Workers that feel appreciated are more likely to be happier, more loyal, and better team players. Catch people doing the right thing and praise them immediately. Tell them specifically what they did right, and encourage the behavior. Then watch your best employees perform even better.
  2. Stop Continually Worrying about Money . You can’t give patients your full attention while you’re obsessed with finances. Look at last year’s receipts, and establish an operating budget that works. An efficient practice should be able to run at 20-25% staff costs; anything higher probably means you have either too many employees or too many openings in your schedule. You may need to make some hard choices, staff-wise, but being able to operate efficiently can take away a lot of stress. It also helps to share the burden: once you’ve established a budget, make sure every member of your team knows they are accountable for helping to keep on-budget.
  3. Stop Being Controlled by Your Schedule . Your appointment calendar is the cornerstone of your success. The schedule needs to be full and productive, but unfortunately, that is a dynamic process: with just a few phone calls, a perfect day can suddenly become overbooked, a balanced week can fall completely apart. When that happens, your people need to know there’s no such phrase as “That’s not my job!” Empress upon ALL staff members that keeping the schedule as full and balanced as possible is everyone’s responsibility. There’s no room for prima donnas here: from the scheduling of appointments to timely reminders to the critical follow-up communications, your entire team must be fully committed to the maintaining the flow of the office.
  4. Stop Underselling Your Hygienists . Hygienists provide specific personalized, care that is highly important, both to your patients and to your practice: don’t be afraid to bill for what they do. Not only will this help your budget, it can provide a sense of validation for your staff. One thing to consider is how you invoice. For example, stop calling hygiene treatments a “cleaning” when you know there is so much more to the service. Feel free to itemize the process on the bill so that patients understand what all they’re getting. And in the same vein, stop calling the people who come to as “clients”: law firms and insurance agencies have clients. You’re providing specialized medical (dental) care for patients.
  5. Stop Letting Patients Off the Hook . How are you letting patients slide? Take a look at your accounts receivable. There should be no accounts outstanding for more than 90 days: the 90-day mark is when banks consider accounts to be uncollectable. If a patient has made no effort to pay you in 3 months, he or she has no intention of paying at all. Do your best to avoid bounced checks and/or chargebacks–even if that means insisting on a different form of payment from some patients. No one is saying you have to be mean or inconsiderate, and of course special cases will arise; even then, however, you are not out of line to require a repayment plan. Remember, in the end, it doesn’t matter how much you bill–only how much you collect.

These are just some starter suggestions, of course. The more efficiently your practice runs, the healthier your bottom line will long, putting you in a better position to achieve sustainable long-term growth.

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How Learning to Say Yes Can Help Build Your Practice

Are you a “Yes” person?

Believe it or not, many of the most successful dentists are. Of course, when we talk about being a Yes Person, we’re definitely not talking about being a toady, someone who tries to curry favor by thoughtlessly agreeing with anything that’s said.

No, we’re talking about those leaders who are willing to say Yes to challenges. Your attitude towards life plays a huge role in determining both your personal fulfillment and your ultimate success. Being a naysayer not only alienates you from the people around you, it can undermine everything you do.

It can even affect your health: Researchers have found that having a sense of optimism—characterized by enthusiasm, hopefulness, engagement, and a sense of purpose—can be linked to a measurably reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.

Knowledge Is Only a Part

Before you became a dentist, you had to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to provide proper dental care. Knowledge is important, of course, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle: for long-term success, you’ll need more than what can learn in a classroom or lab. Fulfillment only comes through growth … and growth requires a specific attitude–a “yes” attitude, if you will.

A Yes Person is the one who routinely goes the extra mile for the benefit of others. Yes Persons are confident, committed, and open to new experiences. This gives them an advantage, both personally and professionally. When you view patients as opportunities to make a positive difference in  the world, you start to realize how relevant even the most menial tasks can be.

It All Comes Down to People

It’s a cruel irony that the more ways we have to communicate, the less we actually feel like anyone is listening. Television, billboards, web pages, social media … we’re bombarded with input on a moment-by-moment basis. We learn to tune it out in self-defense … but tuning out tends to leave us feeling isolated, unimportant, and unreal.

Folks have always sought a sympathetic ear from medical professionals, but now more than ever, patients want to be treated like people. They want to be heard. They come to you in trust, looking for both empathy and a solution.

The person who is sick or in pain (or worse, has a child or loved one in pain), that person wants relief right now; they’re not looking for an appointment in two weeks. Anyone–current patient or first-time caller–who comes to you with severe dental pain should hear the same response: “We’ll fit you in today.” When existing patients feel taken care of, they’ll talk you up to others; going out of your way for a new patient in need could earn you a customer for life.

Your Team Deserves Your Best

Developing a “Yes” mindset doesn’t apply just to patients: it should also extend to your team. Be approachable. Be reasonable. Be fair. Become the leader your people will turn to for encouragement and insight.

Your willingness to go above and beyond for everyone is one of the best ways to build trust with you team. They’ll feel more valuable, and will typically contribute more to the overall practice. Seeing you doing more than the minimum for both patients and employees will encourage them to do the same. Remember, saying yes is contagious, and helps encourage your staff to develop an open, positive, and mentally flexible attitude.

The Way to Truly Thrive

Becoming a Yes Person opens you up to recognizing opportunities and taking on new challenges. Sure, taking some chances can seem intimidating, but saying no–letting that intimidation dictate your choices–is the first step towards stagnation.

Entrepreneur and motivational speaker Gary Cardone is fond of saying that “Failure is not an option!” To take that one step further, the fear of failing isn’t really an option, either: by not moving outside of your comfort zone for fear of making a mistake, you’ve failed before you even start

Will you make mistakes along the way? Sure–that’s part of growth. But to truly experience success–to truly thrive–developing a Yes Person attitude is essential. And it can all start with one simple step:

Just Say Yes.

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Should Dentists Accept Bitcoin?

Particularly if you’re running your own practice, you’re always on the lookout for a way to work more efficiently and provide better service. Whether it’s lowering prices, trying out new technologies or methods, or bumping your advertising, it’s a constant challenge to provide the highest level of care and still turn a profit. So it’s hard to just ignore it when some new idea comes along that has all the marking of a potential goldmine.

Like Bitcoin.

Most people don’t understand cryptocurrencies or how they work: they just know they hear and read it about people making millions on minimal investments, and it sounds too good to be true. In terms of being a miraculous investment opportunity, that’s probably true … but that doesn’t mean cryptocurrency is out of the picture for small businesses. Many are saying that cryptocurrencies are the payment method of the future, and you’d be ahead of the game if you started accepting it now.

But is cryptocurrency a good bet for your practice right now? There are several logistical things to consider before you jump into cryptocurrency; in this post we’ll take a look at some of them.

What Is Cryptocurrency?

Digital currencies are a way to cut the middleman out of a payment transaction. Rather than store your money with an organization like a bank for safekeeping, it exists only in the ether, accessible through an encryption only you have the key to. Cryptocurrency is decentralized by design: no central bank or government regulates or backs it. Buyers transfer funds directly to sellers, without any third party involved that processes the payments.

Everyday people can’t wrap their heads around the idea that the bitcoins themselves don’t physically exist and have no intrinsic value; the only reason cryptocurrency is worth anything is because the value belongs to you and you alone, according to the public ledger. Anyone can look at the ledger and validate this, and if anyone tries to use your cryptocurrency, pretty much everyone will know about it immediately.

Is This for Me?

Thinking about accepting crypto at your practice? Here are a few benefits to think about:

  • It’s cheaper. The lack of a middleman means reduced transaction fees. Accepting credit card payments means fees of 25 cents a swipe plus a percentage of the transaction total–with crypto, that’s not a thing.
  • You’re protected. Crypto’s transactions, like cash, are final. That means there are no fraudulent chargebacks, because no third party can reverse charges.
  • It’s global. For most dentists, this isn’t a factor. If, however, you represent products or sell research online, cryptocurrencies can open up international buyers–without having to deal in currency conversions.
  • Customers. Accepting cryptocurrency offers means customers have an additional way to pay–one with an extra layer of data protection.

But Why Not?

There are a few reasons to wait on accepting cryptocurrencies, as well:

  • It’s technical. Accepting cryptocurrency is an information-dense process with a high learning curve. You’ll need to choose a processor and set up a digital wallet on an established digital currency exchange … if your eyes are glazing over just reading that, you might need help with this part.
  • It’s still inconsistent. While we’re not seeing the massive value swings of a year ago, cryptocurrencies are still extremely volatile. You’ll need to transfer crypto into a more stable currency on a regular basis.
  • It’s safer-kinda. Cryptocurrency can help eliminate cyberthreats like stolen credit card numbers, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally secure. While companies are working to put more safeguards in place, as yet there is no way to completely stop cybercriminals–and unlike established currencies, cryptocurrencies are not backed or insured.

Like everything else, there are pros and cons with accepting cryptocurrencies. While crypto–and its underlying technology, blockchain–will almost certainly play an increasing role in our financial future, right now taking crypto payments could be more trouble than it’s worth. One suggestion: float the idea past your current patients. If you get excited responses at the prospect, go ahead and look deeper into it. If you’re only met with blank stares, however … maybe it would be better to hold off a year.

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4 Tips for Dealing with the Patients Who Fear You

You’d be hard-pressed to find a dentist working today who has ever had a patient leap into the chair, too excited to sit still: “I’ve been waiting for this all month, doc! Get to it!”

The reality is, no matter how much good dentists do, very few patients actually enjoy a “trip to chair.” An estimated seventy to seventy-five percent of adults in the US experience some amount of fear when it comes to having a relative stranger poke around in their mouths with noisy instruments. Of that percentage, about five to ten percent of exhibit a fear strong enough fear to be labeled a dental phobia.

This is problematic, of course: people who are deeply afraid of going to the dentist probably won’t. And as you would surmise, people who fear dentists typically have worse dental health than those who don’t–and not just because they avoid the dentist: logic would dictate that a fear of dental visits would incentivize folks to take extra good care of their teeth at home, but it usually doesn’t work like that. In some cases, the phobia has more to do with fear of having ANYthing done to one’s teeth, including self-brushing. That, naturally, leads to cavities, when require even more attention to the teeth, and the cycle can feed on itself.

Clearing the Air(way)

As it turns out, there are actually biological reasons that explain the desire to keep dentists out of our mouths. To start with, the mouth is a particularly vulnerable part of our body: getting all up in the mouth’s personal space tends to threaten some very basic needs, including having open air passages. And if that area is already in pain, things can feel exponentially worse.

Then there’s the upside-down-and-out-of-control factor: once you’ve tilted that chair back far enough to access the mouth, your patient is feeling almost upside down. Plus, you’ve put the patient in a situation where he or she can hardly talk or respond. That can create a lot of anxiety for some people. As one researcher states, “We have deep biological survival mechanisms. Fear and avoidance are also naturally triggered when we experience pain.”

Learning Not to Dread the Drill

As a dentist, there are few steps you can take to help combat odontophobia in patients:

  1. Be professional. Remind patients that you do this for a living, you keep up with the latest advances and training, and that you treat hundreds of patients–many who also suffer from fear.
  2. Request reviews. Ask patients who are comfortable with you for a short recommendation or social media review. Large groups like AARP suggest that all members check online review sites before trying a new merchant–the same holds true for a new dentist.
  3. Offer “consultations.” If a patient understands that you aren’t going to do anything but check out the situation, he or she might feel secure with an exploratory initial visit.
  4. Provide a fail-safe. Create a signal–something as simple as holding up two fingers–that means you will immediately pause what you are doing. This can give the patient a sense of control.

Obviously, none of these steps can cure odontophobia, but they can help in the short term. Over the long term, education is our best bet. As patients learn more advances in pain-free dentistry, they will hopefully accept that they have nothing to fear. In the meantime, taking patients’ fears seriously and professionally creates a win-win situation for both you and your patient.

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Is Green Tea Good for Teeth?

Green teeth are the last thing you want to see in a patient’s mouth. Green TEA, on the other hand, might have some positive implications.

Green tea has been one of the most popular beverages in China, Japan, and other Asian cultures for over 4,000 years. Ancient Asian medical practices taught that consuming green tea could heal wounds and cure diseases, and more recent scientific research is beginning to corroborate that by homing in on the potential health benefits of drinking green tea in areas such as weight loss and cancer prevention.

Another study from the British Journal of Nutrition suggests green tea might even help lower blood pressure. Frustrated by the inconclusive link in similar previous studies, researchers analyzed 25 randomized controlled trials and made some concrete discoveries: After 12 weeks of regular tea consumption, blood pressure was consistently lower.

Go Green for a Healthier Mouth

Not to be outdone, researchers from the American Academy of Periodontology have uncovered yet another benefit of regularly drinking green: A study published in the Journal of Periodontology reported that routine green tea consumption may also help drinkers maintain healthy teeth and gums.

Periodontal disease–chronic inflammation affecting the gums, bone, and other tissues supporting the teeth–has been connected with the progression of other diseases such as diabetes and stroke. By interacting with the patient’s inflammatory response to the periodontal bacteria, researchers say, green tea may actually help promote periodontal health, and–along with regular oral hygiene–help stem further disease growth.

Green tea’s health benefits develop in part from the presence of the antioxidant catechin, since prior research has established antioxidants’ ability to reduce inflammation in the body. Other plant chemicals known as flavonoids help explain why tea drinkers seem less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease. Short-term studies have demonstrated a link between drinking tea and an improvement in vascular reactivity: basically, green tea can help govern the body’s reaction to stress. There’s even research that suggests that regular consumption may lower LDL cholesterol levels.

While most teas offer a certain amount of benefit, green tea is the mother lode. Both black and green teas come from the same plant; the difference occurs after the leaves have been harvested. To make black tea, the leaves are crushed and allowed to oxidize before they are dried; the leaves that go into green tea are not. This oxidation process decreases those flavonoids we just mentioned, although not to a huge degree.

The Caveat

All of us have that one patient who is constantly looking for a silver bullet: some magical cure-all that will effortlessly fix every problem. If a patient comes in touting the miracle of green tea, take it with a grain of salt: some doctors do recommend drinking tea … but only if you enjoy it. While there are no currently-known downsides to drinking one or two cups of tea a day, it isn’t really medicinal, per se. That means those green-tea-extract supplements promising a concentrated dose of flavonoids have little to no value. And since drinking too much of certain teas can cause kidney damage (like kidney stones), downing seven or eight cups a day strictly for health reasons is long shot, at best.

Of course, all scientific studies are not created equal: one recent report suggests that listeners may literally “hear” your smile over the phone, which is a great advertising benefit but hardly an exact science. But any time we can tell a patient that a comfort-habit is fine–and may in fact be healthy–we score a win.

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Why Dentists Should Refer to Specialists

Specialties exist for a reason: nobody can do everything … let alone do everything well.

It’s a concept that makes sense, but is sometimes hard to convey to patients … and sometimes to dentists themselves. The general feeling here is that a dentist is a dentist, right? And since more than a few people are uncomfortable with our profession as a whole, asking patients to leave someone they at least marginally trust and have work done by a total stranger … well, that can be disarming, to say the least.

You’ve been through school, so you understand: even basic dentistry is complicated, which is why it warrants dental specialists. Patients, on the other hand, can be prone to getting upset that their dentist can’t do everything “in house.” That is understandable: the person will have to set up an appointment, fill out more paperwork, drive to a strange office so a stranger can perform a procedure on a patient that probably doesn’t want to have done in the first place. It’s a huge pain … then the person will have to come back to your office for more work.

It is the rare practitioner who has not had a patient ask, “Can’t you just do it?” And the answer is always complicated: Yes, technically, I probably could, you say. I have enough medical knowledge that I could most likely extract that tooth with a minimum of damage. But technically, a plastic surgeon has that much medical training, as well. So does a proctologist. If you want to get down to brass tacks, so does a veterinarian … is THAT who you want pulling your teeth?

When you refer your patient to a specialist, you’re putting that patient’s health in the best hands possible. You’re effectively say that the patient’s well-being is more important to you than the patient’s convenience.

Still, it’s easy to convince yourself you’re doing the patient a favor by performing work yourself. If you think about it, there are plenty of (admittedly shallow) reasons to do so: it’s usually more convenient for you, too. Plus, you’re losing out on potential income by referring. It might seem tempting, but you only have to screw things up once to realize it’s not worth it for you.

More money? Sure. But since we generally bill by the job, not the time, you have to ask how much time you’ll waste doing what a specialist has specific training and experience doing. Your patient might see it as cost-effective, but your accountant won’t. And that is assuming everything goes right the first time: it’s really hard to save money when you have to re-do work because you’re operating in unfamiliar territory.

It’s reasonable to presume that patients come to you because they trust you to do high-quality work. By the same token, it only makes sense to send them to the specialists that you trust. After all, you don’t want problems coming back to fall in your lap.

Consider this: you probably don’t want to hire someone that claims to be great at everything. That goes far beyond just a dental practice, as this article points out. But if you think about any general dentists you’ve met who claim to be good at everything … would you trust them in your practice?

It’s theoretically possible to be a master in all aspects of dentistry, of course. But dentistry itself is a specialty of medicine, and there are subspecialties within the field. Most general dentists provide high quality work on the most common procedures, and that’s really what is expected. Oral surgeons, periodontists, endodontists and more offer advanced training and additional years of schooling to become experts in their area. And a smart dentist knows, when the specialist can do a better job handling your needs, it’s time to refer.

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Why Smart Dentists Outsource Financial Help

Ever get the feeling that you’re not seeing the income you spend your days trying to produce? Despite all the tricks you learned in school and all attempts to create an efficient clinical practice, if it often seems like you’re doing little more than treading water financially, you’re not alone: Even dentists with good business sense struggle to understand why they have so little revenue to show for their work.

“I’m a dentist, not a banker!”

If you’re serious about improving the cash position of your dental practice, a good first step is to admit what you know–or more likely, DON’T know–about the financial side of running a business. This is no place for your ego: you are far from being the first person to go into business knowing your business … but not knowing the ins and outs of running one. Surviving in your own business is already statistically dicey … there’s no point in raising the odds just because you don’t want to ask for help.

Even you do have a head for business, personally handling everything from billing to collections to chargebacks eats into your time. Hiring a financial expert frees up all the time you’re currently spending managing tax, investment, and other financial matters: an expert will handle it more quickly and efficiently, you’ll have more time to actually earn revenue, and you should end up seeing more of the revenue you earn.

What to look for in a financial partner

The thing is, being a great financial advisor isn’t necessarily enough. While they may know the basics, it’s rare to find a personal financial advisor with the specialized knowledge and experience needed to navigate the particular waters associated with the management of funds for a dental practice. Think of it this way: if you’re a general practitioner, you probably know the basics of how braces work … but you’re smart enough to know you’re not really an orthodontist.

By the same token, the revenue streams and tax strategies that dentists typically employ in their practices are a bit different from, say, a law firm or an advertising agency. If we’re honest, most of us probably haven’t totally kept pace with the latest trends in dentistry–and if we aren’t totally up-to-date in our thinking, why should we expect it from someone in a completely different industry? The only reason to be an expert in both finances and the peculiarities of dental practices is that someone chooses to specialize in financial management for dental clinics–hard to find, sometimes, but that’s who you should be looking for.

A quick look at the resume of a dental-focused advisor or CPA should immediately tell you if a person has the necessary expertise in the world of dentistry. Experience will make all the difference in the world, in terms of the advisor’s ability to guide you with advice specifically tailored for your dental practice–and that should result in a dramatic positive impact on your bottom line.

When you retain–and learn from–a finance whiz who knows his or her business as well as you know yours, any fees paid to that person should ultimately produce a measurable ROI. Even your own efforts in financial management can be substantially more effective when backed by expert support. And as we mentioned earlier, you’re also creating extra time to work chairside, which should feed your revenue stream.

Immediate action, long-term results

You may love dentistry, but do you really want to be doing it forever? If you’re running your own practice, you need to make sure you have a proper retirement plan for yourself and your staff. Many dentists and advisors use off-the-shelf (or off the internet), boilerplate plans that are not customized for the specific needs of your practice. That’s less than optimal, at best.

How so? Well, an artful financial advisor will know when a defined benefit pension plan might be a better option than a defined contribution plan, for example. He or she will also understand how a custom designed retirement plan can be used to create the best balance of benefits, cost, and tax savings. That in and of itself can save you a bundle. Finally, your advisor should be able to set up your plan so the maximum payoff goes to you–not Uncle Sam.

Putting money where the mouth is

The physical assets required to operate a dental practice are not cheap … and trying to GO cheap can do more harm than good. Again, we’re talking long-term here: assessing financing for equipment, evaluating real estate holdings, establishing and managing credit lines for your practice … these are all areas that can impact the cash flow of your practice. The shortest loan term at the lowest interest rate may seem like the least hassle for you, but it isn’t always the best way to finance for maximum cash flow and accumulating savings.

A good adviser knows that a higher interest rate and longer term can mean less monthly out-go and savings that can be funneled into savings or retirement. Like we said, managing that would be a hassle for you, but hiring an expert to do it can save you stress and money.

And, too, sometimes it makes better financial sense to lease equipment, especially highly technological equipment with its constant upgrades. Same goes for office space. Doing the legwork on all this is what you pay the advisor for … and as we keep stressing, that will more than pay off in the long run.

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5 Ways Dentists Can Use Instagram to Connect with Patients

If your practice is not leveraging social media for marketing, you could be missing out. The potential audience is huge, especially on mobile (as of 2014, there were some 90 million iPhone users in the US alone). Facebook and Twitter provide excellent, inexpensive, and effective platforms from which to connect with your clientele.

But one of the fastest-growing social media sites, particularly with teenagers is Instagram. But medical professionals seem even more hesitant to venture there.

Part of that is understandable: after all, Instagram is based on sharing photography, and the medical field is not known for its photogenic processes. Dripping blood and rotting teeth are great if you’re selling horror films, but not exactly the most inviting image for your practice.

But Instagram is projected to have an US-based audience of 111.6 million by 2019; by then, that will be 40 percent of internet users. So is there a way to leverage this phenomenon without looking like you’re trolling for zombies? Here are some creative ways you can start reaching out to new patients, engaging with your community, and building a following on Instagram.

  1. Education – You can imagine just how much medical and health information research people do online. You’ve probably done it yourself, and you know patients are doing it. Use that interest to become a trusted authority. Use Instagram to share medical drawings, relevant data graphics, post-op recovery guidelines and the like as a way of establishing your practice as a credible, trustworthy source of information about dental care.
  2. Equipment – Face it: as dentists, we don’t have the most warm and fuzzy reputation. Dental issues are never pleasant, and both current and potential patients can quite reasonably be scared of the unknown. Try posting pictures the equipment you use regularly, along with concise, friendly explanations of how things work and what patients can expect when they visit.
  3. Everyone – Along those same lines, nothing is more reassuring when you’re anxious than the sight of a friendly face. Post pictures of your staff and other co-workers, so newcomers know who they’ll be dealing with. Stay away from the “everyone standing in a group with their hands crossed” sorts of photos; think about the way your patients will actually encounter these people and try to capture that. Take a shot of your receptionist from the lobby, for example, or actually lie back in the chair and snap a pic of your hygienist looking down.
  4. Expectations – Again, this goes back to fear of the unknown. Why not post a series of photos that walk a potential client through a normal first visit? You can cover parking, lobby, x-ray area–the more a patient knows what to expect, the more you can tamp down that anxiety.
  5. Experience – Particularly with cosmetic practices or orthodontia, it helps when people can see that you’ve done this before. Before-and-after photos of success stories can go a long way toward creating confidence in initial visits. Dental work is seldom pleasant, but it can go down a little easier if a patient is thinking of the end result. Just be sure to get signed releases from any patients whose cases you want to share.

Engaging in social media is a must for this day and age, and Instagram offers a prime opportunity for a dental professional to create a positive image. It has a growing and active user base, but because of low penetration by medical practices thus far, you may have few competitors right now. Take a little time to figure out how you can make Instagram a part of your marketing strategy. You won’t be sorry.

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How to Tell Your Patients about Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Recently, a segment on NBC’s Today Show featured Monica Eaton-Cardone explaining some of the safety concerns with so-called “smart toys.” While the short clip was informative, it emphasized the growing realization of just how deeply computers and technology have infiltrated our lives, and some of the possible repercussions that have yet to be addressed.

That is a healthy thing. But too much focus on the high-tech areas of our lives can tend to make us forget some of simpler things that still need attention. And since we’re already talking about kids and toys, let’s look at a subject dentists are aware of, but new parents may not be: the bottle.

 Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

“Baby bottle tooth decay” is the common term for early childhood cavities. (Notice how we did not use scientific or industry-related words here: particularly when talking to parents about their kids, it’s usually best to use common, everyday language as much as possible.)

Typically occurring in infants and toddlers, baby bottle tooth decay may, of course, affect all of the teeth, but is usually most prevalent in the front teeth on the upper jaw. Unfortunately, it’s easy for already over-stressed parents to dismiss BBTD as a non-issue: after all, they’re just baby teeth, right? Why worry?

Explaining the Danger

To start, acknowledge that yes, the child’s first (primary) teeth will eventually be replaced … then stress that in the meantime, their health is exceptionally important. Why? Well, baby teeth help a child chew food correctly, are a crucial aid in speech development, and perhaps most importantly, maintain space for the permanent teeth that will supplant them. Point out that missing teeth can even prevent the tongue from posturing abnormally in the mouth as the child grows!

Explain the consequences: when baby bottle tooth decay becomes too severe, you might not be able to save the affected tooth or teeth … and if baby teeth are lost prematurely, the adjacent teeth tend to shift to fill the gap, so a spacer must be inserted to keep the remaining teeth aligned.

This all can cause pain and discomfort for the child, and no parent wants that. Plus, even with all this preventative care, a tooth lost too soon can impact adult teeth, potentially leading to years of orthodontic treatment. In other words, prevention now can save parents a lot of hassle and money later.

So the answer is, yes, it is worth worrying about.

Where Does Baby Bottle Tooth Decay Come From?

Parents will want to know where the decay starts. Luckily, this is easy to both explain and understand: tooth decay is caused by plaque-causing bacteria. Babies are more susceptible due to the frequent exposure to sweetened liquids. This can include baby formula, juice, and sweetened water – in short, almost any fluid a parent might fill a baby bottle with. Some studies even suggest that breast milk can contribute to decay.

Every time a child consumes a sugary liquid, acid attacks the teeth and gums, Sugars in these liquids collect around a child’s teeth and gums, feeding the bacteria and eventually leading to decay.

This phenomenon is compounded through extended exposure: milk, formula, or juice right a bedtime or nap stays in the mouth longer, creating more bacteria and allowing it more time to damage enamel.

Can Baby Bottle Tooth Decay Be Prevented?

All good parents want the best for their children, but as we pointed out earlier, moms and dads are already overstressed caring for an infant. Fortunately, prevention of infant tooth decay is comparatively easy to remember and to do. Present your patients with a simple list of steps, such as the following:

  1. Never dip a pacifier in sugar, honey, or other sweeteners.
  2. Give your baby water in his or her bottle, especially during naps and at bedtime; this not only protects a child’s teeth, it’s a good habit for long-term health.
  3. Limit the overall amount of juice and other sugary drinks; adults tend to think of water as boring, but kids haven’t made this assumption yet … often, they are just thirsty.
  4. Wipe a baby’s gums with a soft, clean, damp washcloth after meals.
  5. Avoid cleaning a baby’s pacifier with your mouth, sharing chewed food or using the same spoon; it seems safe, but you’re actually sharing bacteria your child has yet to build up defenses against.

Start Good Dental Habits Early

If it’s not already past this time, try to schedule the baby’s first dental check-up between 6 and 12 months. If water is not fluoridated in your area, consider suggesting a fluoride supplement.

The main point you want to stress is that starting early is important, easy, and the key to a lifetime of good dental health. For more information check out the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) online.

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Medical Identity Theft: The Newest Threat to Your Practice

All small businesses have to worry about things like credit card fraud. Medical practices, however, have the added responsibility of guarding against medical identity theft. Medical identity theft is the illegal acquisition of a patient’s personal information–full name, Social Security number, health insurance number, and so on–with the intent to fraudulently obtain insurance reimbursements, prescription drugs, or the like.

Unlike fighting credit card fraud, which is common enough that even web hosts often feature built-in prevention tools, battling medical ID theft often falls to individual practices. There are some steps, of course, that can be taken at a higher level, such as working for change within the industry. In the end, however, most of the precautionary practices are ultimately implemented on a practice-to-practice basis. That means one more thing on the dentist’s already overflowing plate … one that is dangerously tempting to ignore.

But medical identity theft is a large and growing threat: In 2013, the health care industry accounted for 44% of all breaches, experiencing more data breaches than ever had before and surpassing total breaches for any other industry. Polls indicate that the Public at large that doesn’t believe their health information is being protected, and rightly so: the current system is riddled with loopholes and all but obsolete in a digital era.

Medical identity theft is particularly troublesome in that it victimizes not only the dentist and the patient, but other medical professionals as well. For example, when fraudsters steal data, they may either go to different medical establishments (such as another doctor) and use the phony information to illegally obtain drugs for themselves … or sell the information to other criminals who do so.

In another scenario, fraudsters may file bogus insurance or Medicaid claims to obtain settlements. Many in the medical and insurance fields have specialists trained to be on the lookout for monetary fraud, but when a patient hands over all the pertinent information, there is little seeming reason for additional proof to validate the patient’s identity.

More and more, criminals are discovering that billing insurance for goods and services ordered using fraudulent medical credentials is easier and more profitable than other crimes. In fact, it has been estimated that medical identities are 20 to 50 times more valuable to criminals than financial identities. The increasing need to digitize patients’ health information means the problem is only going to get worse.

Unfortunately, industry-wide updates to acceptable best practices are still a long way off. Health care companies could be doing more to prioritize information security, the way the credit card industry has migrated to EMV “chip” card technology … but so far, that isn’t happening.

Equally unfortunate is the fact that the antiquated system in the U.S. makes it nearly impossible to clear up a medical record once this type of identity theft has occurred. However unfair it may seem, for now, dentists are largely on their own when it comes to protecting patient data.