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‘Little tree flossers’ and the future of your product recommendations

Aug. 13, 2018
What you recommend: interproximal brushes. What the patient hears: little tree flossers. Eep! But there are problems with stocking dental products in the office, too. So what's a conscientious practice to do? The e-commerce age has some answers.

A friend of mine called me the other day and asked where she could find “little tree flossers.” She just had her teeth cleaned, and the hygienist recommended she get little tree flossers to help her stay on track with flossing. But she couldn’t find them anywhere. She had been to several stores and was just about to give up and stop looking. She didn’t want to bother the hygienist and felt too embarrassed to call the office.

I realized this was part of a bigger problem. I’ve seen it happen so many times in my hygiene days. Patients were frequently confused about which version of the product they needed and where they should buy it.

Sometimes we had the product at the office, but more often than not, we didn’t have the exact item they needed. If they needed sensitive, we only had regular; if they needed 15% whitening gel, we only had 35%; if they needed a brush head, too bad, we only had the brushes and whatever heads they included. How can we help patients if we don’t have the tools they need?

But back to my friend. Here’s what I noticed.

1. She didn’t really know what it was she was looking for when going to the store. It may have helped if she knew little tree flossers are actually called Proxabrushes (Sunstar Gum) or interdental brushes. I always found it helpful to have samples on hand to get the patient started and so they would know exactly what they were looking for when going to the store. If that was not possible, writing the name down was helpful. (I don’t think the store clerks knew what little tree flossers were, either.)

2. She didn’t fully understand the importance of the item she was looking for; otherwise, she would have kept looking. As hygienists, we recommend so many products to so many patients that we just assume they understand why they are important. Sometimes we don’t realize products have changed. Maybe the product was discontinued or maybe there’s a new version. As hygienists, we really need to make sure we are doing our due diligence when educating our patients about their oral hygiene needs.

3. Why is it so hard to find these products in the stores? Personally, I think it is because they do not sell a lot of it, so they simply do not carry some of the items. It is also impossible for the dental office to carry all the items we recommend to our patients.

With all the buzz about online shopping these days, surely someone would be able to figure out a solution for this dilemma. As it turns out, someone did. When I was searching for my friend, I stumbled upon a company called DentalStores that does this exact thing. They create an online store and an app specifically for dental offices. You can show patients the products you are recommending right in the chair, send them an email or a text, and even give them a discount if they want to buy it then and there. The products ship directly to the patient’s home and your job is done. They have a large selection of products, including interproximal brushes, fluoride rinses, whitening gels, and electric toothbrushes—pretty much everything I could think of!

Not only do they provide the store and the app, but you won’t have to worry about keeping stock in the office either. This service provides two great benefits for the practice: inventory does not need to be purchased and stored in the office, and the practice gets to share in the profits.

Now patients can shop for products, leave reviews, and become loyal members who visit your office regularly—sounds like dentistry has finally embraced consumerism, rather than fighting it.

As dental professionals, and as hygienists especially, we need to take on a bigger role in patient care outside the office, instead of leaving it to Instagrammers, Youtubers, and bloggers. When did it become normal for these random people to dictate what products our patients should be using? We’re the ones clinically examining them, so we should be the ones helping them, but if we're not doing it, someone else will. I can see how it starts: patients can’t find the product we recommend so they start searching for alternatives. We need to remember that patients need a guide and a role model, even when it comes to oral care, and hygienists or other team members can help fill this role.

There are so many moving parts in running a dental practice. Patient care is by far the most important. Embracing cutting-edge consumer technologies and services will ultimately allow us to simplify our work and build deeper, longer-lasting relationships with patients.

Janice Janssen has seen and done it all when it comes to working in a dental practice. Since her introduction into the field as a teen, she has worked as a dental hygienist and in other roles including office management, insurance billing, and collections. As cofounder of Global Team Solutions (GTS), Janice enjoys consulting because it allows her to share her techniques with the doctors, hygienists, and office staff who are on the front line every day.