Like sleep apnea, I learned next to nothing about orthodontics during my four years of dental school. The only thing I remember officially learning was how to write up a form and refer it to the orthodontist. It was unfortunate, but that’s what I left with. So, the thought of adding clear aligners to my practice was like planning to have a magical unicorn fly me for my daily commute to my private office. I didn’t think it was realistic or possible.
Fear of Something New
I always thought of anything orthodontic as this different species of animal. This is because it felt so different from my typical day-to-day general and implant dentistry treatment. So, it was no surprise that adding clear aligners created a fear of the dreaded “unknown.”
This feeling of fear is a normal response. Fear keeps us safe, especially when you add something you didn’t have any formal training.
There’s the fear of failing or the thought, “What if a case didn’t track or go according to plan?”
It can also be overwhelming to think about the investment in time to get yourself educated, contact the staff on board, and prepare a plan to navigate orthodontic insurance coverage.
Get educated. Start your first clear aligner cases with staff and their families. Then progress with some easygoing patients you know will be un-intimidating to work on. As with any new treatment, tempering expectations is significant. Have that conversation multiple times before the treatment starts.
Not a Backbreaker
As we all know, clinical restorative dentistry can be both mentally and physically exhausting. I’ve been practicing for almost twenty years and am constantly thinking about reducing pain in my back, neck, eyes, wrists, etc. Adding clear aligners can be a great alternative to the daily grind of general dentistry. It’s also nice to provide treatment without administering local anesthesia, which can be one of the most stressful parts of the patient experience and being a dentist. Less physical pain and stress = happier dentist = longer career.
Relationship with the Orthodontist
The local orthodontist is right next door to my office. He’s excellent, and I consider him to be a good friend. But I had a conversation with him explaining how his flow of referrals and practice revenue shouldn’t be affected by my adding adult clear aligners. His adult cases may increase due to our internal marketing and raising clear aligner and orthodontic awareness. There will also be many patients out of my comfort zone that I’ll still refer to him.
Most cases I am targeting weren’t previously on my radar regarding clear aligners unless the patient asked me. Such as your classic lower anterior crowding or some minor upper diastemas. For other more complex adult situations, I would ask how they felt about their smile, but it wasn’t in my wheelhouse to even have the conversation with adult patients and ortho unless the patient pursued it. My idea of orthodontics used to be purely focused on kids and making sure I didn’t drop the ball in the timing of their referral to the orthodontist.
All You Have to Do is Ask
You’ve probably heard the comment to not judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, when it comes to straighter teeth, it is so true.
This is how I start a conversation.
“Are you happy with your smile, or have you ever thought about straightening these teeth? I offer the clear aligners here now. I can quickly scan your teeth and send it to the lab, and in a day or two, they will send back an animation of how your teeth will move based on their algorithm.”
Some say yes, and some say no. But, at least you are planting the seed for a possible future case.
Also, for peace of mind, I only ask patients with excellent periodontal conditions and without any TMD issues.
I put a “Got straight teeth” sign in the waiting room, along with some brochures and posters scattered around the office. I also recommend keeping a model of clear aligners so a patient can physically see and touch them.
Ask the clear aligner company you plan to use about how they can help with internal and external marketing. Most patients have heard of “clear aligners,” Many look at their teeth due to the work-from-home paradigm shift. People are looking at their teeth all day during their Zoom office meetings.
The best marketing, however, will come from your staff, your family, or even yourself.
Got clear aligners in your office? If not, you should.
About the Author
Dr. Eric Block DMD, CAGS, FICOI, FICD, FAADS
Dr. Eric Block is a full-time practicing dentist in Acton, Massachusetts, husband, and father of two kids. He is known as The Stress-Free Dentist and hosts the Stress-Free Dentist Podcast.