Amanda Gallie looks at selecting and recommending products for your patients’ oral healthcare
To gain some inspiration for this piece I took a stroll down the aisles of a leading supermarket and a famous pharmacy retailer to see how the world of oral hygiene products is faring.
Here are my thoughts and a few points to mull over. The first word I’m going to mention is ‘complicated’.
I was shocked and surprised by the sheer array of products, with the shelves bursting at the seams. I was also disappointed by the number of seemingly novelty products reigning supreme. I’m a professional, this is my area of expertise and to be frank I actually came away from both shops confused.
So consider this: we are sending our patients to these mind-boggling places to pick up an essential product and in my opinion it’s a minor miracle if they come away with the most appropriate products for their particular requirements. In fact in many cases I suspect that patients end up buying products that are wholly unsuitable – and possibly detrimental to their oral health.
Not only do patients have to contend with the plethora of products on display in the high street, they are also exposed to the influences of advertising. Take for example the current ‘Clinically proven to treat gum disease’ television advert, with a model bleeding from the corner of her eye. The suggestion is that if you have bleeding gums use a particular mouthrinse… there is no mention of visiting a dentist/hygienist or that the product should only be used for a limited period.
Given the above it is imperative that professionals take the lead; educate patients as to what they should be using, how frequently and for how long.
In fact, it is my belief that we should go one step further and provide superior fit-for-purpose products that are tailored to our patients’ needs. Isn’t that part of our professional remit?
In the world of pharmaceutical and oral health products, there are big companies dictating price and tweaking the rules of choice. The products you see on pharmacy or supermarket shelves sometimes may not be the best products. More commonly, it is simply that the manufacturers of the products on display paid a small fortune to ensure that their products sit right in your line of sight. (I should at this point say how pleasing it is that one of the major supermarkets have responded to customer pressure by agreeing to remove sweets and sugary snacks from the till area.)
That’s the problem, so what’s the solution?
So what should you be recommending and retailing? This is hugely important: it’s all about which products you decide to stock and supply to your patient list. Products need to be tried and tested and have robust evidence to support their worth and ultimately prove they do the job that they claim to do. Choosing to stock the famous household brands we know and love is fine if they are appropriate to the needs of the patient, but we do at the same time need to consider the practical implications of competing with the supermarkets and big pharmacies.
You need to ask yourself, do you really want to spend your time justifying your prices to patients, looking over your shoulder at high street pricing and seeing patients leave the practice without the products you know they will need, simply because they perceive you to be more expensive than Boots?
With all these points in mind, I think there is a compelling argument for bespoke treatment specific professional products. One shoe will not fit all and this is particularly true in the case of orthodontic treatment where we know the risk of gum problems, white spot lesions and ulceration are significantly higher than in the general population.
There are very few quality-assured, evidenced-based orthodontic-specific products out there. At the start and during their treatment, patients will be looking for a one-stop information portal and point of purchase. With their frequent contact, orthodontists have an ideal opportunity to educate and motivate, prevent dental disease and create a bespoke service with added benefit of a meaningful income stream.
We need to think about education and in particular ensuring that patients appreciate that effective daily oral care using the right products is part and parcel of their treatment, as well as being the key to its overall success. Here are my top tips:
- Allocate 15 minutes for patients to participate in hands-on oral-care tuition and providing motivation. It is imperative that patients are able to demonstrate that they understand what is required and that they have mastered the techniques
- Getting your practice team to unite and deliver a positive, united oral-health message is key to your success.
- Knowing your product – this is paramount. Encourage peer-to-peer training, use the products you recommend to discover the benefits for themselves.
Start as you mean to go on
A great way to introduce patients to the right products is to give a complimentary oral health pack to the patient at the start of the treatment. This is usually built in to the unit price for private patients and offered to NHS patients at a subsidised cost. Then market the individual products as a monthly supply. You may wish to budget this into a monthly payment plan at the start of treatment, that way the decision is made easier for your patients.
A professional recommendation carries weight and is a powerful tool to drive product uptake. By getting patients to realise that their homecare and the products they choose are paramount in a successful treatment outcome it’s a win-win situation.
Putting myself in my patients’ shoes. If I was investing in orthodontic treatment and there was a superior product line to help me prevent ulceration, tooth decay and gum disease, I would certainly want to know about it and I would definitely want to be able to purchase it there at the point of information.