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Woman brushing teeth holding toothbrushRetailing—to some, a grubby practice, but to more and more, a solid business move that helps not just the dentist, but the patient, too. By Natasha Paulini

Dr Harry Marget is a man who likes to embrace the new. “I’ve sold vitamins, minerals, electric toothbrushes—pocket-sized branded ones, too—mouthwash, fresh breath kits, cosmetic kits, T-shirts, caps … I even had a perfume made,” he says. “That didn’t go so well.”

For Dr Marget, it’s a no-brainer. He has sold products through his practice, East Bentleigh Dental Group in Victoria, since starting it in 1972. “Since day one, I always wanted to be a complete and total service, and I feel the only way I can offer that is for the patient to be able to get everything they need in the one place.”

It’s a practice that makes clear business sense. Selling oral products to be used at home leverages not just a dentist’s good work but also the relationship with the patient. And who is better equipped than a dentist to explain how best to keep that smile bright?

“The benefit for us is that as we’re dealing in oral hygiene products, there’s a certain level of education that’s required,” says Erik Leinius, marketing manager at TrollDental, distributor of TePe oral-hygiene products. “The range that we distribute or sell to dentists includes many specialist brushes and other oral hygiene devices, which require a bit of explaining in regards to technique. To ensure the products are being used efficiently, it’s good to have that level of expertise. It works in our company’s favour as people will then associate our product with high quality and a high degree of specialty.”

Most dentists typically on-sell standard oral-hygiene products such as floss, toothbrushes—both electric and manual—and mouthwash, which are often available elsewhere. But there are still advantages to stocking them in surgery.

“Like most of us, most patients are lazy—or time poor,” says Leinius. “So there’s the main advantage of patient convenience and compliance; of the patient buying directly from the dentist the exact perfect tool to keep that implant clean and gums free from infection. And it’s available the minute they stand up from the dental chair.”

Needless to say, Leinius would prefer for every dental practice to stock oral-hygiene products, but for him as much as for the dentists who do so, it’s more than the bottom line. “By stocking in a pharmacy—and especially in a supermarket—there’s not necessarily that person explaining how to use it correctly, so a lot of people rely on the internet.”

Rather than reject consumers’ obvious move to online, TrollDental has harnessed it. Its consumer website links back to the recommending dental clinic by awarding points or ‘TrollDollars’ for recommendations resulting in sales.

“This is a twist on retailing in the dental clinics,” says Rachael Rose, general manager of TrollDental, through which dental professionals recommend what they want their clients to use and order on the website, oralcare4u.com.au, with
a discount code provided by the clinic. “We take care of sending the products for home delivery directly to the patient, and the dentist receives a percentage of the sale as TrollDollars. They can spend this on more product, effectively making a commission on the sales. Clinics can have a direct link to the webshop on their own websites, too. It is a great ‘passive income’ option for clinics who do not wish to retail but want to improve patient compliance by ensuring availability.”

When it comes to retailing, ease of use seems to be the key phrase. Dr Harminder Sian is the principal dentist of Dental Design—the practice he has run in Sydney’s Dee Why for 22 of his 26 years in the profession—and says the ease in which patients can continue the best oral care possible is his driving factor.

“Basically, we felt it was important that we recommend and supply there and then to the patient. As a dentist, you just want to make sure you’re doing the right thing by the patient. If you’re recommending a particular type of toothbrush or floss or mouthwash, the patient can start using it straight away, immediately combatting any problems that might occur.”

In Dr Sian’s practice, interproximal aid products are particularly popular: Reach Access Flosser, Piksters and Tooth Mousse—the type of products patients don’t think of buying in the supermarket. “They’re things you can get from the chemist, but we often have people pop in because they’ve run out,” he says.

The next level is what Dr Sian describes as prescription-based products. “Antibacterial chlorhexidin mouthwashes, teeth-whitening kits—these products are prescribed. Legally, the types of materials we are giving out is like a prescription drug, so we have to make sure the patient’s mouth is healthy enough to use them.”

On the front line are, of course, the hygienists whose close relationship with patients, particularly on the cleaning
and maintenance front, are crucial to
a surgery’s retail success.

“Patients are really motivated when seeing the hygienist, so they’re up for buying products straight away,” says Dr Sian. “Dentists can’t go into the depths of cleaning; that one-hour hygienist appointment affords hygienists plenty of time to understand what people are doing, and even correcting technique. Spending that time, explaining it the way they do, motivates patients to take better care of their teeth.”

Leinius seconds Dr Sian: “Hygienists are considered a sales force in themselves. They teach how and when to use the product, and we try and support that as much as we can with free samples, education products, and even commissions in some cases.”

That said, there’s a long way to go before surgeries resemble dental shop fronts. In the profession, there is still plenty of resistance.

“Some feel it’s too much hassle to do the books,” admits Leinius. “It does require a bit of labour: displaying the products, pricing, ordering and stocktaking. And every minute spent on that could be spent on another patient.”

Pricing can be a particularly tricky thing to manoeuvre, especially if dentists themselves are not receiving products at cost. “We would sell more electric toothbrushes if we got a better deal on them—The Shaver Shop sells them for less than we do,” says Dr Sian. “I don’t want to make any money; I just want the hygienist to actually show patients how to use it. It’s a product that’s only effective if you use it the right way.”

To the naysayers, Dr Marget has only one thing to say: you don’t know until you try it. “I wouldn’t be without it. If I could have another 59 products I would! I’m
a dental professional, but I’m a business first. What most dentists know is how to be a dentist—filling, cleaning, extracting. What patients really want after you’ve talked to them for an hour about how to clean their teeth is for you to say, ‘Here’s an electric toothbrush’.”

What’s next? “Dentists giving botox is the next thing, I think,” says Dr Sian. “It’s already big in the UK.”

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