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Dental Advertising? What’s Your Opinion?

February 17, 2015

Filed under: ARTICLES — Tags: , — Barry @ 10:53 PM



When Mike came in for his six month check-up I asked him the routine questions most dentists ask their patients.  “Have you been flossing?”  I already knew the answer, I get my information from much more reliable sources, but I always ask because this is class time and I’m a teacher as well as a dentist.

The look on his face said it all…he said, “Yes, I use one of those gadgets and I do it while I’m in traffic.  I don’t really believe in flossing anyway.”

“Okay…let me ask you a question (he should have known he was getting set up).  Do you remember that movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks?”

He nodded yes, and even knew the character’s name: Chuck Noland.

So I said, “If Chuck wanted to save his teeth, which would be pretty important for his long-term survival on a deserted island, what one tool would he most want to find in those broken Fed-Ex boxes that were washed up in the crash?”

Mike is an apt pupil and a pretty smart guy…so he chose floss…but he also said he would take Wilson the soccer ball as his real first choice.

Yes, we both concluded that floss is probably the first tool to use for long term retention of teeth.

But that is being challenged these days.  The other day I saw “new research” that claimed chewing gum was more effective than floss.

Chewing gum?  C’mon man!

It seems that everything I know about dentistry is being challenged these days.  No, this is not your father’s dentistry.

It made think about what informs our culture…where we get our information about dentistry.

When dentists ask each other to explain how much the profession has changed they usually resort to the usual suspects: the economy and insurance, but maybe it was a change that occurred in the mid-eighties: lifting the ban on professional advertising.

Organized dentistry opposed advertising for years.  A 2008 article in the Journal of the American Dental Association states what our founding fathers were concerned about by lifting the ban:

Advertising by dentists is a complex and significant issue. It does not affect just the business of the practice of dentistry but also—and more importantly, from a professional perspective—the public’s perception of dentistry.

Advertising is a sophisticated science.  In the early 1900’s advertising executive Claude Hopkins was hired by the inventor of Pepsodent toothpaste to help sell his new refreshingly minty new product.  At the time America was in a recognized dental hygiene crisis.  New recruits to the Army for World War I had horrible oral hygiene and the military considered dental disease as a national health crisis.    Hopkins, the author of the book Scientific Advertising was a specialist in changing people’s behavior.

Before his Pepsodent campaign, only 7% of America had a tube of toothpaste in their medicine cabinets.  Ten years after his campaign that number jumped to 65%.  Claude Hopkins successful campaign also had some impressive side effects.  It helped raise the public’s consciousness of oral hygiene and dentistry in general.

When I was growing up in the fifties and sixties, oral hygiene advertising combined with the idea of seeing the dentists twice per year and the association with the ADA’s Seal of Approval really helped dentistry’s public image.

I grew up with Bucky Beaver, Colgate ads, and of course Crest’s- Look Ma No Cavities.  Ahh…those were the days.

Then the ban was lifted.

And the non-professional advertisers entered the game.  The amateurs have effectively ruined the image of dentistry. 

Now I am not against the reasons why the Federal Trade Commission lifted the ban...for freedom of speech and anti-trust reasons related to non-competition.  Today professional advertising and the liberal approach to the ADA’s guidelines have created a Wild West scenario.  Discounts, coupons, groupons, creative insurance pricing…but what really gets me is the false claims made by those outside of dentistry.  I saw an ad last week by a dental lab that manufactured impression material for home use that when sent into the lab would give them enough information to create snap on veneers.  There seems to be no limits these days.

Let’s take a look at what that 2008 ADA article concluded:


That is why a significant concern about professional advertising is the potential loss of credibility and possible degradation of the image of the dental profession. This occurs when professionals conduct their practices more as tradespeople and entrepreneurs do, making dentistry appear more like a trade than a profession dedicated to health care. As a result, the public may perceive that dentistry more aptly fits the picture of a business or a trade rather than of a profession.

So, legality notwithstanding, many dentists believe that aggressive marketing practices such as discount ploys not only are in bad taste, but also diminish the profession in the public eye and may give the appearance of a greater interest in profit than in quality and integrity of service.


The real shame to me is what the power of advertising can do when professional marketers get involved.  Claude Hopkins changed people’s behavior and along the way helped create dignity for our profession…why can’t we do that again?