By James McCarthy
Bleaching kits are everywhere. Middle East Dentist reveals how to keep your practice ahead of the competition.
Bleaching kits are everywhere, from pharmacies to beauty spas. MED reveals how to keep your practice ahead of the competition.
As one of the most sought-after dental treatments in the Middle East, bleaching is highly popular among dentists. Dubbed ‘predictable, profitable and positive'; it offers a low outlay, high returns and - best of all - a springboard to pricier aesthetic treatments.
But the popularity of bleaching has meant dentists face increasing rivalry from over-the-counter whitening solutions. For considerably less cost than a chairside procedure, home kits promise the same results. So how can dentists compete to keep whitening in-house?
Dentists need to position themselves correctly as being more high-end.
Do the white thing
Good marketing is a start. Dr Payman Langroudi, clinical director at bleaching company Enlighten Smiles, tells dentists to capitalise on the procedure's appeal. "Whitening is a nice service because it is reversible, it is non-invasive, it is relatively cheap and people want it," he says. "There aren't many things a dentist does that will fulfil these criteria."
A mistake some dentists make is to hide the hook that will catch the patient's attention. "If you market yourself purely on the whitening side, you will get a lot of people coming to the practice for the first time because you are saying, ‘I do fantastic whitening like you've never seen before,'" explains Langroudi. However, dentists that wrap bleaching services up as part of a list of cosmetic services can obscure bleaching's low-cost appeal.
"If the marketing brochure tells patients ‘I do fantastic whitening but I also do veneers, implants, crowns and I do this and I do that' the message gets lost," Langroudi advises.
A 2006 survey by the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (BCAD) showed more than 31% of respondents had asked their dentist for bleaching. In the Middle East, where cosmetic services drive the industry, this figure has the potential to be even higher.
Dr Habib Zarifeh is the owner of the Habib International Medical Centre in Beirut. "A majority of the clients that come through my door for the first time are looking for teeth whitening services," he reveals. "For them it is a low-cost way to achieve the smile they really want."
But bleaching's low-cost appeal is also a pitfall. There are cheap alternatives on the market. Home bleaching kits starting at AED250 (US$68) are widely available from local pharmacies, while Dubai and Beirut beauty salons have started to offer cut-price whitening treatments. Langroudi advises practices to steer clear of trying to compete on cost. "Dentists have to completely get away from trying to compete with DIY kits and mall salons on a like-for-like basis. Give the patient something that these other places cannot offer."
Instead, dentists should be targeting higher-end clients who are uncomfortable using a product not recommended by a professional. "You can go to a shop and by something to bleach your hair, or you can go to a high-end salon and get it done at a higher cost," explains Langroudi. "Dentists need to position themselves correctly as being more high-end."
As a first step, all practice
marketing materials should emphasis the benefits of professional bleaching. These include fitted mouth-guards, good soft-tissue protection, management of sensitivity and -essentially - a solid point of service for follow-up treatment.
Equally, if patients insist on having a home kit, try and be the one to supply it. Selling good quality home kits in the reception area of your practice can also be a good way to boost your revenue from the service.
For a whiter tomorrow
There are both hard and soft benefits to bleaching. The hard benefit is that the patient gets the white teeth they want and the dentist can charge them for it. The soft benefits, however, are where the real profits lie.
Research has shown that bleaching is usually a first step towards a more comprehensive - and costlier - cosmetic procedure. Whitening tends to highlight other aesthetic problems with the smile, opening the door to crowns, veneers and other more permanent smile aids.
Dr Zarifeh uses discounted bleaching to tempt new patients, even writing it off as a loss-leader against high-end aesthetic treatments. "They get the whitening done and then I can offer them other cosmetic procedures," he reveals.
Once the patient is aware of elective cosmetic treatments, agrees Langroudi, it is much simpler to up-sell additional options. "Immediately the patient is more self aware. The patient still has crooked teeth, they are just much whiter."
He adds: "Bleaching is part of a bigger cosmetic plan and is like decorating a house. The minute you finish painting one wall, the rest of them look out of place and will need decorating."
Zarifeh believes that all dentists should be aware of how important whitening can be to practices breaking into the cosmetic market.
"Bleaching is the first thing that patients do. It gets them on to the whole idea of changing their smile," he says. "It no longer becomes a ‘you need this' relationship, but an ‘I want that' relationship."