When it comes to taking care of their teeth, many college students aren’t making the grade. According to the ADA Health Policy Resources Center, the number of dental emergency room visits in the U.S. increased from 1.1 million in 2000 to 2.1 million in 2010, an increase largely driven by young adults who don't have dental benefits.
A report* by undergrads at the School of Environmental Human Sciences at the University of Kentucky stated that more than two-thirds of college students suffer from oral diseases. Further research* by University of Kentucky students found a number of contributing factors to students’ increasingly poor oral health, including poor dental hygiene, the college lifestyle (late nights studying and partying), increased consumption of sugary beverages, and most notably, increased consumption of alcohol.
Why dentists should reach out to them
Though college students may not be at the top of your marketing list, it’s clear they need dentists’ help. By including young adults in your outreach efforts, you could:
• Build your practice — Estimated to be the largest consumer group in U.S. history, Generation Y includes some 18 million college students.
• Pay it forward — Sure, the students attending college in your town may move on after graduation, but once they recognize the importance of dental care, they’ll value it in the future. A survey conducted among graduating students and alumni by the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed that dental coverage was rated among the top five most important workplace benefits.
• Help students’ college careers — 51 million school hours are missed each year because of dental-related illnesses, according to the Surgeon General. Students with dental problems also report low self-image and high social anxiety.
• Save lives — “During the past decade, there has been increasing evidence documenting the relationship between oral health and systemic diseases," asserts a report by Delta Dental. “Signs and symptoms of diabetes, HIV/AIDS, leukemia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and many oral cancers may be first detected through oral manifestations.” It’s especially important that oral cancer is caught early. When detected early, it has an 82.7% five-year survival rate, which drops to 28% once it spreads to others parts of the body. The incidence of oral cancer among younger people may also be on the rise, due to its link to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).*
How to market to college students
To help young adults, a dentist first must connect with them. Create a marketing plan specifically for this age group. Begin the plan by determining what you have to offer:
• Student discounts — If you can’t offer money-off services, consider other incentives such as free teeth whitening.
• Sliding fee scales or discounts for cash — Money is tight for most students, many of whom don’t have insurance. Think about offering lower cost services (and take into account the time you may save by eliminating insurance paperwork).
• Mentoring — Offer your advice to a dentist-in-training, or invite students to shadow you. Let your local dental society know that you’re interested in helping the next generation of dentists.
• Community service — Participate in Dentistry from the Heart or other local health care events.
Both mentoring and community services can provide good public relations and connect you to potential new patients, but be sure to include some 21st century marketing tactics, too.
Top 7 ways to get more new dental patients to your practice
• Check out social media marketing – Google+, Facebook, and Twitter, when used properly, can be great tools to reach young adults. Make sure to brand your marketing for the age group you want to reach, and stay active with your social media accounts.
• Provide online services – According to Sesame Communications, 74% of patients said that online access makes them more likely to stay with their dentist. Make sure that patients can connect with services via their mobile devices, too.
By reaching out to young adults, you can grow your practice. More importantly, you’ll help a new generation grow up to be healthy, happy adults who value their oral health and the dentists who helped them stay healthy — a win-win for everyone.
David Silber is a DMD at Jefferson Dental Clinics. Dr. Silber is considered a mentor of his dental practice and takes ownership of the well being of patients through moral business practices and high quality patient care.
Visit http://www2.ca.uky.edu/HES/index.php?p=811, http://www2.ca.uky.edu/HES/index.php?p=658, and http://www.oralcancerfoundation.org/hpv/hpv-oral-cancer-facts.php for study results and more information.