Dental samples: a good idea or a waste of space?

dental samples

A valuable offering or a waste of space? Practitioners have differing views on the true value of handing out dental samples to patients, so what is the best way to make use of them? By John Burfitt

Bring up the topic of having oral health sample products on the front counter in a dental clinic, and then stand back as a range of opinions are offered about their value—to not only the practice, but to the patients as well.

Some dentists claim they serve as decoration and little more, while others state they play an important role in branding. Then there are some who argue that samples are a waste of time, while others insist they can be an essential in the value-adding process.

“We have bowls of toothpaste and toothbrushes on the front counter of reception, and they just sit there—no matter what we do, we can’t give them away,” stated one Sydney dentist. Across in Adelaide, however, Dr Peter Alldritt of Rose Park Dental has had the very opposite experience. “They fly out the door as people take handfuls of them, but we also incorporate the samples into the appointment, so our patients know why these items are important to oral health,” he says.

This could be where many practices are getting it wrong in terms of how to best utilise oral health samples, and as a result, are wasting valuable value-adding opportunities, says Caroline Ucherek of CJU Medical Marketing. “I often see clients with these full bowls of toothpaste and brushes in their reception, and when I ask how they are working for them, they all say the same thing—the samples just sit there, taking up space,” she says. “The problem is they are not adding anything to the experience of being in that clinic. 

“Anything that looks too free isn’t really valued. If you want to make the most of these items, it’s important to use them properly, instead of just a free grab bag. Include them in the appointment so your patient feels they are a part of the personalised attention your clinic is offering to their wellbeing.”

Colgate offers sample toothpastes and patient education resources as a value-added service to the dental clinics they supply materials and equipment to.

“We receive a lot of positive feedback from oral health practitioners that these resources help provide patients with better access to high-quality and essential oral health products, particularly post-treatment,” a Colgate spokesperson stated. “Colgate oral care products are highly valued by patients and can play a strategic role as part of successful marketing strategies, assisting with patient acquisition, loyalty and retention.”

Dr Tracy Le of Sydney’s Rawson Dental also strongly believes that sample items are most valuable when they are incorporated into an appointment, with the dentist explaining to patients the how and why of using such items. 

“I pick out the samples like brushes, floss or mouthwash that best suit that person and hand them over as we go.” 

Dr Tracy Le, dentist, Rawson Dental

“Not doing it like this is such a wasted opportunity,” Dr Le says. “In our clinic, we have a hygiene room and as I am giving instructions to patients on what they should be doing for their regular oral hygiene, I pick out the samples like brushes, floss or mouthwash that best suit that person and hand them over as we go.

“What the patient feels is their particular needs are being customised, rather than handing over a random bag of goodies or saying, ‘help yourself on the way out’. It is far more personal this way, and effective. It also allows patients to ask questions.”

Keeping a note in patient files of what products have been given can also prove to be valuable information in follow-up appointments, adds Dr Alldritt.

“I write all this in my records, so the next time that person comes in, I ask how they went with using that particular toothbrush for their gum abrasion or the mouthwash for gingivitis, and they can give me feedback. That sample might not have been the best for them after all, so you find a new solution that is.

“If you tailor-make the giveaway especially for them, it is a better use of products. But if it is any old product you are just handing over in the name of marketing, then it is misguided and a needless waste of money.”

Most samples are provided free by dental suppliers or often included as part of bulk orders, but it is when additional materials are being included in the offering that costs need to be closely monitored.

It was an important lesson about the bottom line of offering giveaways that Sydney dentist Dr Rachel Mascord claims she learned when working in a practice years ago. A goodie bag was given with every appointment, and included imported, full-size versions of products, costing just under $20 per bag.“The costs of running the business was too high as it was, so we decided to cut the bags out altogether, which we were nervous about as they had been part of the practice branding for years,” she recalls.

“Well, no-one even noticed! A few patients later commented they thought some of our expensive samples were ‘cheap rubbish’ that they had thrown away before even getting home! It was such a waste of an exercise in every respect. As a result, we made the decision to value-add with our time, attention and giving good advice on how [patients should] take care of themselves. A bunch of stuff does not replace the quality of genuine connection with people.”

For all the success Dr Tracy Le has achieved with incorporating sample giveaways into her patient appointments, she agrees the best value-adding of all comes in the way she engages with patients. “It’s the intangibles of good service, follow-up and commitment to care that adds more than merchandise ever can,” she says. 

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