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The Great Shakeup: How Things Are Changing For Independently Owned Dental Offices

How many dentist offices are there in your local area?

Whatever the answer, the number is about to go down. But that doesn’t mean things will get any less competitive. Accelerated by the pandemic, huge changes are coming to the way dentistry is done.

Dental office operations will change like never before in the next three to five years. At the same time, you’ll face new challenges in getting the right people to your office and into the dental chair.

It’s not too late to make your practice more resilient by moving with the times.

First, let’s take a closer look at the challenges you’re up against.

Times Were Changing in Dentistry – the Pandemic Accelerated Everything

There are plenty of industries that had to transform overnight due to the pandemic.

Real estate was all but frozen after the first COVID-19 outbreaks hit the United States. Within a month, companies harnessed new resources to deliver virtual tours, online open houses, and even “drive-through” closings, allowing transactions to go forward safely.

The plastic surgery industry saw a “Zoom boom” as more white-collar workers, confined to home but still dealing with the pressures of office life, got tired of looking at their own faces. Nose reshaping, eyelid surgery, and facelift topped demand.

In both these cases, the changes wrought by the pandemic laid the foundation for new opportunities. In the coming year, as the public health situation becomes more stable, small and mid-sized businesses will continue to benefit from changes in consumer preferences that originated in 2020.

But what about dentistry?

There, the picture is mixed. Depending on where you stand today, things could get complicated.

According to research by PNC Bank, the U.S. economy is officially in recovery. Economic activity is above the pre-pandemic peak. Dental employment has recovered, too – but spending has not. Consumers are still lagging far behind on services spending in comparison to nearly all other spending categories.

27.9% of dental offices surveyed rate “not enough patient appointments” as their biggest dilemma; it’s dentistry’s #2 problem behind staffing. Dentist net income is down. Significant changes are in store for all dental practices, but small, independent dentists stand to be most affected.

As of right now:

  • Dentists are more diverse, with more women and people of color
  • Dentists are becoming less likely to be owners of their practices
  • Solo practices are disappearing or being consolidated rapidly

In addition to increased consumer spending in 2022, dentists must also prepare for three major trends:

1. New Enabling Technology within Dentistry Is Picking Up Speed

Telehealth has been one of the biggest success stories of the pandemic era.

It might not seem very compatible with dentistry, but that impression is changing. There’s more than one type of digital transformation, after all. While dentists can’t perform their procedures remotely using robots, the tools and technologies available to them are becoming more advanced by the day.

Take dental molding. Dental molds are used in a wide variety of orthodontic and general dentistry interventions. They are just as popular as ever for the clear plastic spacers that are taking the place of conventional wire braces. But soon, dental molds may no longer be necessary.

The intraoral scanner is taking over as the tool of choice for many dentists to get all the visual data they need, with even more precise outcomes than ever before. This is only one example of the way a whole new generation of digital technology has the potential to transform workflows and patient experience.

And that patient experience remains at the center of your company’s future growth.

In the pandemic, millions of Americans reported putting off elective procedures and preventive care so they could reduce the odds of disease transmission for themselves and their family. Now, more patients are presenting themselves for care at medical providers of all kinds, but dental care still lags behind.

The key problem: Many people have gone right on back to avoiding dental care.

Millions of Americans suffer from dental anxiety. The prevalence has been estimated at 48% of the population, with 12% of those suffering from “extreme dental fear.” Although there are ways to help them feel comfortable with dentistry, they first have to be willing to make contact.

Dentists in Central Florida and beyond have integrated anxiety-friendly marketing into their overall strategies. This is the way to tap into the “missing market” of dental anxiety sufferers. But as 2022 dawns, your ability to connect with them will increasingly rely on having the best technology available.

Think about it: The jump from conventional dental hand tools to medical lasers was huge, not only for dentists but for patients’ feelings on dentistry. We are on the threshold of another defining moment for the field. New digital technology will create opportunities to find and keep customers like never before.

2. Dental Insurance Is on Track to Expand and Patient Demographics Are Changing

Here’s another reason why the dental market may be growing: More people can access dental care!

Although dental insurance is available as part of ACA-compliant insurance packages, many people still sit on the sidelines when it comes to upgrading their plans. That may soon be coming to an end as more policies incorporate dental care and employers extend access as a way of enticing their workforce.

Adults, kids, and senior citizens are all expected to see an uptick in dental insurance use.

The rapid rise of dental insurance products might not make things any less confusing, but it’s sure to mean more people will have the opportunity to get the care they need. Depending on where you are and who you serve, your addressable market could grow by 10%, 20%, 30%, or even more.

Businesses like yours in Central Florida will be positioned to profit if you can expand your capacity to meet increasing demand. Combined with the technological advances above, you may have the chance to see more people and boost your quality of care while they spend less time overall in the chair.

That’s a win-win scenario, even for those among your customers who are enthusiastic to see you.

And it means that even if you feel like your business has plateaued, new horizons will soon be available to you. The best move is to ensure you’re posting enough useful, interesting blogs and other content so new patients understand the ins and outs of using their dental insurance with your practice.

3. There Are Fewer Solo Practices and Dentist-Owners Compared to Large, Organized Practices

Now, for the 800-pound gorilla in the room.

No matter how well your business is doing today or how effectively you adapt to tomorrow’s emerging trends, you’ll need to contend with this giant primate. It has the capability to turn your business upside down – and odds are good it will have a growing presence in Central Florida.

As dental insurance coverage expands, large healthcare organizations are pivoting to a new business approach. Instead of having independent dentist affiliates, they are buying up all the new technologies and hiring local dentists directly – eating up small, local dental firms one at a time.

Yours could be one of them.

This is both a threat and an opportunity. Some dentists are sure to find that the pressure of running their own practice is no longer wanted. Others have known that for a while and would jump at the chance to focus more of their time and attention on patients.

But there are plenty of dentists who prize the independence that having their own practice offers them. They love having “hands in the clay” when it comes to every aspect of their brand and business. And they don’t plan to go away quietly or give up without a fight, no matter the weight of the gorilla.

If this describes you, your digital marketing is one of your biggest and most vital assets.

It will help you maintain the volume of business and you need to safeguard your independence.

Independently Owned Dental Offices in Florida Have Options for Strengthening Business

Just like you, large healthcare enterprises are trying to do right by their patients. But, in addition to any advantages they might have, they have plenty of disadvantages. They’re large, gas-guzzling machines, needing lots and lots of patients just to cover their overhead, and facing even bigger regulatory hurdles.

As a smaller, independent dentist, you can be much more nimble and responsive.

That remains true no matter the ownership structure of your practice. Whether you’re a sole proprietor, part of a dentist-owned cooperative office, or in a dental franchise, your similarities are much greater than your differences – and you’ll all be in the same boat with 2022’s next wave of change.

The time to start preparing is now.

If you run online advertising for your dental practice, you may already have noticed that it’s getting harder. Large dental firms can turn on the tap to get nearly immediate traffic to their expanded offers. But there are competitive advantages for you to take advantage of, even if your budget is modest.

Here’s how:

Build Your Library of Online Content Around the Latest Dentistry Changes

Content is any helpful, informative material you publish on your website to meet your patients’ needs. Content helps them answer their burning questions, including those they may feel are “silly” or “trivial” and would never reach out to a dentist directly to answer.

As a digital marketing technique, content has two powerful benefits:

  • It makes you more visible in online searches relevant to your business
  • It helps people to plan and make important decisions about their care

The first element is easy to understand. Google is always indexing the new content you post on your website. When the terms you use in your content match the keywords patients plug into search, there’s a chance you’ll get seen. Your Central Florida marketing agency can help you increase the odds through search engine optimization, best practices that improve how your website performs.

The second is a little more nuanced. Content positions you as an expert, a trusted guide on the road to deciding what to do about dental health. Most visitors will have a problem, but no solution in mind. Then, they’ll research their alternatives – including which treatment might be needed and which dentist to get it from. Finally, they’ll choose a dentist who seems to match their needs the best.

By publishing content, you ensure you’re there every step of the way. That makes you far more likely to be chosen in the end than any competitor. And once someone takes the plunge, it generally takes a lot for them to change their mind and try a different dentist – the uncertainty simply isn’t worth it.

Most of your content will be “evergreen.” That means:

  • It’s relevant to most of your website’s first-time visitors
  • It rarely goes out of date, so you won’t need to rewrite it

To prepare your Central Florida dental practice for success in 2022, first, create content that reflects the most common questions your office gets. Then, expand your content to talk about your dental technology, the methods you use to provide a great patient experience, and what makes you special.

Whether you want a helping hand with professional blog writing or just need some guidance on what to write about, a digital marketing agency is your best ally. Expert advice helps ensure you don’t burn out before you see results, as many local competitors will.

With a dedicated content strategy and calendar, your blog will continue to get bigger every week. The longer you stick with it, the more search engines see you as the credible local dental practice.

Emphasize Getting Your Patients (and Future Patients) to Join Your Mailing List

Social media can be a terrific way to communicate with your existing patients and even find new ones. But if you want to feel confident that most of your audience will hear most of your messages, what you really need is an email subscription list. Email gives you direct control over the pace of your business!

Even when customers are determined to drag their feet – waiting weeks or months before they make an appointment – you’ll be there. Once your email list is set up, it only takes a few minutes to send out each message, and you can use limited-time offers to spark more calls during slow seasons.

The best way to make your email more effective is to split your list into two “segments”:

1. Prospects and Leads

Qualified leads are crucial to your business. To reduce the time and cost of finding them, though, you have to hold onto them. First-time visitors usually arrive on your website because they have a question you can answer. Entice them to offer their email address in exchange for deep, detailed information, then shower them with relevant weekly advice based on their demonstrated needs.

2. Current Customers

Current customers are the group many entrepreneurs overlook, no matter what industry they’re in. It’s much more expensive to acquire a new customer than to sell to an existing one, so make sure you have a list just for them. While the dental advice you send won’t change, you might have special offers just for your long-term customers – and you can remind them about follow-ups or other services.

Email is widely regarded as the digital marketing tactic with the highest ROI, letting you connect with thousands of people for just pennies. And if you’re already authoring a regular blog, it doesn’t add any extra work. All you have to do is share your new content in a targeted way.

Central Florida Dentists, Don’t Go It Alone: Let New York Ave Help You Navigate Change

You’ve worked hard to get where you are today. Don’t feel like you have to tackle the next chapter alone. At New York Ave, our team helps dental practices grow, scale, and reach more people. We learn about your unique brand and carve out a path you can follow for lasting success.

Contact us to find out more. We look forward to helping you soon.

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1 Average median salary in Florida for ‘Marketing Director’, based on research by Glassdoor. 2 Retirement calculated at 3% contribution, based on research by nirsonline.org. 3 Health premium average calculated by ranges provided from a 2016 Health Benefits survey. 4 Total employee average calculated at first year and includes the following considerations: $4k onboarding and training, $1k software and subscriptions, and $3.75k outsourcing help. Total agency average based on Florida-located, full-service agency.