How dental marketing keeps me from visiting the dentist
School was out! I think the only person more excited about the end of school, besides the school staff, was me. No more 6:30 wake up alarms for a solid month would put me back to getting a full seven hours, and I have to admit that I was jazzed. The downside was that with summer, came another laundry list of things that had to be done. Athletic physicals, lawn mowing in the brutal Texas heat, and the dreaded trip to our local family dental professional.
Going to teeth cleaning was about as much fun for me as—nothing I can think of. As the Rolodex of chores whirred through my head, I paused at the dentist visit to try for a second to wrap my mind around why I dreaded the task so much. Unlike so many people, I have insurance and access to dental health services. The dental care associates that we had seen were all nice enough, but something about the process always put my teeth on edge, literally. It was never better in one dentist’s office than another. In a small town, my insurance company was actually charged for X-rays I didn’t have time for that day, and in a large town, the wait was so far past my scheduled time that I felt like sending the dentist a bill for my hourly rate.
Thinking it through, I realized that I feel constantly bombarded with dental marketing without any corresponding perceived value on my part. You see, it would be one thing if the process was pleasant and I felt “cared for” at the end, but the lure from one stagnant waiting room equipped with 24/7 Disney and another one is pretty comparable. Between the Groupon offers, the Internet pop-ups, and the waving Zoom teeth whitening balloons, I feel stalked by dental professionals who see me as a dollar sign and never as a person. In fact, the only place that I have felt that hunted is the new car lot. Like so many people, I’ve sneaked in at night when the dealership is closed just to avoid feeling like a bunny rabbit coated in Marinara sauce. All in the attempt to make an informed decision absent the sales pressure.
Truth be told, the dentist is actually worse that the dealership, because at the dealership I can refuse the hefty add-ons and warranties with ease. I’m in the driver’s seat because I’m paying the whole tab for a new car. At the dentist, he’s getting my money and the insurance money, he’s crippled by licensing laws and “standard of care” rules that force him to treat me for things that I never asked for and don’t need, and it always seems like that’s still not enough. The cancer screenings and gum tissue measurements and a whole list of things that dentists never did in the past are tacked onto my bill without question, and every time I pass a dental office with the waving balloon I wonder why he’s so broke that he’s scrambling for my kid’s fluoride treatment like it’s the only thing that’s going to buy his lunch that day.
It wasn’t always that way. Dental care used to rank right next to medical care on the list of respectable professions. In the past, the only reason to dread going to the dentist was the drill. Today, that’s the least of my worries. Oral hygiene shouldn’t be a fight. Anyone should be able to walk into a dental office that is clean, calm, on time, and feel like that professional has your best interest at heart. That’s what’s they used to call “a practice.” A place like that would get my business in a heartbeat. For life.
That’s what people want when they need dental help, but they’re fighting to protect themselves from professionals that are fighting to take more and give less. Less empathy. Less relationship. Less time. Less education. Less dedication to the patient. The effect is endemic and the consequences for peoples’ oral health and the dental professionals who serve us is verging on catastrophic. When you have completed that many years of training, taken out staggering student loans, gained your state’s licensing approval, and opened your office and you have to beg people to come in, beguiling them with offers, iPads in the dental chair, and giant roadside balloons so that you can do your best to take as much from every client as possible just to make it—Something. Is. Utterly. Broken.
The dentists and we suffer this together, and yet we seem pitted against each other. Having gone through the issue, I came to the root of it: As a pacifist, I avoid conflict. I don’t want to fight my dentist (or anyone), and so I do the next best thing—Avoidance. Newly empowered and with both my own interest and my dentist’s interest at heart, I felt the best approach was to educate myself before going in to have the same bi-yearly argument with the hygienist and dentist regarding fluoride treatments for kids. I pulled up the most recent research and logged into Youtube to see what was going on in the fluoride debate these days. Turns out, the tickle I felt about too much fluoride was real. But that’s an issue for another day.