How Do I Market My Dental Practice?

If you have ever gone to a marketing seminar you will notice that internal marketing takes up usually 90% of the time.  The last 10% touches on external marketing.  The reason for this is that internal marketing strategies are easy to apply and test.  It is a lot easier to improve office systems and patient dialoguing instead of coming up with an inventive way to bring patients through your door.  In fact, it is much easier to give a list of ‘don’t try in your practice’ than be original. There are however, some things you can do to improve your return on investment with external marketing. 


The most important step in formulating an effective external marketing plan is demographic research.  You can get all the necessary demographic information from your cities website, the city planning department, online search engines and your own patient base. 

Population to Dentist ratio: A healthy growing practice will usually have a 1:1200 dentist to population ratio or higher.  A new dental practice needs to have at least a 1:1700 ratio to bring in a decent new patient base in the first year.

Average household income and average household value:  These statistics are good to look at when deciding on promotions, specials or marketing emphasis.   You want to make sure you are promoting a service that you area can afford. 

Age range:  Knowing the percentage of elderly verses children in you area can help you gear marketing promotions accurately.  You won’t find denture specials to be as effective in a young community and kids toothbrushes won’t be as popular in a large retirement community.  If you find that your area has a big mix of all ages then you may want to vary your external marketing to hit a wide variety of ages. 

Past, current and projected growth rate:  If you are in a high growth area then direct mailers and new move promotions can be effective.  If your office is in a very established part of town with little to no residential growth then you may not want to invest in expensive direct mailers. 

From your office determine the following:

Insurance: What percentage of your patient base has indemnity insurance? PPO?  Medicaid? HMO/DMO? No insurance?

Active patient base: What is your current active patient base?

Current new patient flow: How many new patients are you currently bringing in per month?  How are they hearing about your practice?  Are you tracking this?  Has this number changed over the last year?

An existing practice needs to have new patients coming in every month to replenish the normal patient turnover.  An office not concerned with growth really needs to have 10-15 new patients per month to replenish this natural turnover.  A growing practice needs to have 20 or more new patients a month.  A new practice needs to have at least 50 new patients per month to break even by month 6.  An ideal practice start-up can have over 80 new patients per month.

The Marketing Plan

Once you have a better understanding of your demographic, it is time to establish a marketing plan.  It is best to start with one or two strategies first and record the success.  If you aren’t seeing new patients then do something else. 

The first thing to remember in external marketing is that ‘print’, no matter how you do it, is only one type of marketing strategy.  You can do mailers, yellow pages, newsletters, move-in packets, newspaper ads, etc.   These are all ‘print’ forms of advertising.  The most effective by far for high grow areas is direct mailers.  You can try the others, but don’t sit there hoping for more than one or two new patients to come in that month.   If you are not in a high grow area then print forms of marketing typically are less effective.  As a side note, please avoid ads on the back of the grocery store receipt and before a movie at the local theatre – these are rarely worth your money.

There are so many other types of marketing that you can do in your community to get new patients.  Most of them are inexpensive, they just take some time on your part to make them happen.   My favorites are anything that gets you and your staff out in the community where people can meet you and see you interact. 

Idea for athletics:

Attend high school and little league sporting events together.  Wear the colors of the team and hand out cold drinks to the players at the end of every game with your logo on them.  Meet the parents that you sit by and get to know the players.  Sponsor the team by making matching mouth guards and throw a pizza party at your office while you take impressions.  As you can see, this takes time on your part. But the more people get to know you through schools, churches, and community activities, you start becoming the “community dentist.”

Get to know your chamber of commerce and keep up to date on all city events and stay involved.  Make matching aprons and enter your office in the chili cook off.  Set up a bouncy castle for kids to enjoy while parents shop at the community garage sale.  Set up a booth at the local health fair and have games like Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero game set up to attract a crowd.  Sponsor an adult dodge ball tournament. 

Talk with local church leaders and donate a smile makeover to someone in need.  Have the leader of the congregation pick the individual in need for you.

Hopefully this list of ideas is stirring up some ideas of your own.  Be creative and think outside the box.  Just remember to get your self out there and meet people.  Be involved and you will be surprised with the new patients that start coming to your practice. 

Track Your Findings

Keep an accurate record of where your new patients are coming from.  If you aren’t going to keep track of what marketing strategies worked then don’t waste time and money doing them.  Most dental management software programs come with a feature that allows you record how the patient heard about your practice.  If you don’t know how to do this, get on the phone and ask the programs support line. 

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