Do you speaka my language? Getting your teeth into kids

Oct. 19, 2010
What's the best way to communicate and engage with teens and tweens about their dental health? Scott Zimmerman, president of TeleVox, says the language of SMS/texting could make the difference between healthy and not-so-healthy smiles.

By Scott Zimmerman, President, TeleVox

While perfect white smiles are the accessory du jour in Hollywood and beyond, let’s face it — no one really likes to go to the dentist. And religiously staying on track with dental treatments is, well, no fun at all. Now, step into kids’ shoes. The prospect of flossing, brushing, braces, and bands is likely as high on their agenda as algebra homework, and given the choice of showing up to an orthodontic appointment or experiencing the rush of superstardom from Guitar Hero, you have a group that’s pretty unmotivated to visit the dentist.

Now consider that a complete orthodontic treatment for tweens and teens is around 10 THOUSAND dollars, and this certainly focuses parents’ attention on trying to keep their kids on track with treatment maintenance. The longer the treatment takes, the higher the cost becomes. Something as innocent as kids bending, losing, or breaking their braces can set parents back about $600 for a replacement.

Then there are dentists and orthodontists, and their tireless receptionists and assistants. They do their best to keep smiles and mouths health. If only their young patients were as committed. Aside from the uphill battle of reminding kids to keep up with their treatment maintenance, herding cats is easier than getting kids to a dental appointment on time, or getting them to show up at all for that matter.

But there’s a serious side to missed appointments. While it seems innocent enough when a kid misses an appointment, the cost runs deep and wide. The kid loses out because his or her treatment is affected, parents and insurance companies pay significantly more, and dentists are faced with a pretty big business problem in lost revenue and wasted resources for every missed appointment. With about 10% of appointments missed or rescheduled, that’s a lot of empty chair time, missed revenue, and additional resources wasted in rescheduling.

So what’s the best way to get your teeth into kids? In the immortal words of The Men From Down Under, it’s a case of “do you speaka my language?”

While it may be gobbledygook to anyone over 25, it’s the native language of teens and tweens and could make the difference between healthy and not-so-healthy smiles. It’s the language of SMS/texting. It’s how tweens and teens talk. Dentists are getting smart to this and getting their teeth into their younger patients by communicating and engaging in SMS.

  • bcnu nxt mth: see you next month for your appointment
  • dntbl8 4t yr dtist appt 2moz: don’t be late for your dental appointment tomorrow
  • Dnt 4get yr :-# 2nite: don’t forget your braces tonight
  • CU@ 4pm 2day: see you at 4pm today
  • DY av nuf nu B&z?: do you have enough new bands?
  • wOOt almst done w/yr treatmnt: congratulations your treatment is almost over
  • chng yr B&z BYKT ☺: change your bands. But you knew that, right?

You can go to for a dental SMS vocabulary that parents and dentists can use to help kids have healthier smiles. Dentists, parents, and kids can also submit SMS suggestions and TeleVox will donate $5 to The Smile For A Lifetime Foundation for every new SMS message it posts on the speakamylanguage page.

Practice-management services and automatic message notification are nothing new to dentists or their patients, and no one would ever call them fun. But with new advances in technology from companies such as TeleVox, which combine communication with a human touch to create high volumes of automated personalized phone calls, voice mails, e-mails, interactive appointment scheduling, and SMS (texting), services can be fun, as well as extremely practical. It’s fun for parents because they save money when their kids stick to treatment schedules. It’s fun for dentists who see their young patients in the dentist chair on time. It saves significant resources by reducing missed appointments and reaping the reward of seeing healthy and happy smiles. Let’s not forget the happy dental staff members who no longer have to stay on the phone for hours tracking down patients or sending hundreds of personalized SMS messages. Oh, and the kids are motivated too.

Of course there are important privacy and compliance considerations that dentists need to follow in all patient communications. This is an additional factor that is driving the trend for dentists to move to hosted practice communications management services from companies such as TeleVox, which provide services and messaging systems that conform to HIPAA, FTC, and FCC guidelines.

This trend in SMS practice/patient communications and Web-based scheduling services is not just for big practices and patients in big cities. For example, TeleVox customers range from Ohio-based DentalCare Partners, who sent nearly 750,000 notifications to its patients last year, to the Booragoon Orthodontic Clinic in Booragoon, Australia, which has a far smaller volume of patients but still makes connecting with their young patients a high priority. And as we know, kids are the same the world over.

Author bio
Appointed as the TeleVox president in November 2008, Scott Zimmerman leads all aspects of TeleVox operations, including client operations, sales, information services, product development, and marketing. Previously he served as general manager of a division of GE Healthcare’s Clinical Systems business. Scott spent more than nine years at GE Healthcare in a variety of cross-functional and global leadership roles, as well as 17 years in the health-care space. He is a graduate of the John M. Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis.