An educated consumer is much more valuable than an uneducated consumer," says Kamilla Siekierski, owner, Dentek, Inc., Milford, Connecticut. "If the dental laboratory industry can get the message across about the difference between good and bad dentistry, the public will demand good dentistry and that will benefit everyone involved."
Siekierski and other laboratory owners and managers who support greater public awareness of dental technology see numerous benefits for our industry. They feel that it would increase the quality of work produced by laboratories and enable them to charge higher fees. It would reduce the number of low quality/low priced labs and improve dentists' attitudes toward dental technicians and laboratories. In terms of recruiting new personnel, expanded public awareness would enhance industry appeal for prospective employees and lead to improved pay scales and working conditions for staff.
Two strategies prevail. Some laboratory owners opt for a more global approach to creating greater public awareness by educating people about the industry in general. They feel that bringing dental technology out into the open and no longer being silent artisans helps the industry at large. Others prefer to take a more product-specific approach and teach patients about particular types of restorations and procedures, in hopes of increasing business for both their clients and their labs.
While spreading the word is not difficult, it does require dedication, time and effort. "It is an ongoing process," explains Mike O'Brien, owner, O'Brien Dental Laboratory, Corvalis, Oregon. "Even when I sit next to a young person on an airplane, I explain to him the responsibilities and tasks of a dental technician. I try to sell dental technology all the time."
Following are 11 ways that laboratory owners are successfully increasing public awareness of dental technology:
Newspaper coverage. Siekierski has been featured in several local newspaper articles during the past 10 years. She likes public relations because it is free and effective. "We've never paid for any coverage in the newspapers and we often get calls directly from the readers asking more questions. I recommend a dentist and make two people happy: the patient and the client," she says.
Most recently, Siekierski shared front-page coverage in an article, Unmasking the Tooth Fairy, in the October 1998 Business Extra section of the New Haven Register with laboratory owners Vincent Cappetta, owner, Artcraft Dental, West Haven, Connecticut and Vinni Abate, partner, York Dental/Cerama Laboratory in New Haven, Connecticut. The article explains the responsibilities of dental laboratories and technicians and how technicians interact with dentists and with patients.
Cappetta was approached by a reporter who thought dental technology would be a good topic since it had never before been covered in the paper and it's a subject most readers would probably not know about. Another angle the reporter focused on was the fact that Artcraft is a second-generation business (Cappetta's father started the lab in 1955).
For laboratory owner Bill Ogden, the expansion of his facility, Columbus Dental Laboratory, Columbus, Georgia, was the topic of an article in his local paper, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. The coverage focused on how he and his brother totally built the new 10,625-square foot building themselves. The lab's marketing representative, Elsie Hall, knew someone at the local newspaper and "talked up" the story about the new facility. "They jumped on it," says Odgen.
Even though the article was published 10 months ago, Ogden still gets comments. He was recently at a Chamber of Commerce meeting and other members (who have nothing to do with dentistry) approached him, saying they saw the article and recognized him and his business.
Cable TV. Recently, Wake Up Buffalo, a local, morning cable television news program in Buffalo, New York featured Heather Voss DeZak, CDT, and her laboratory, Voss Dental Laboratory. The program and its host—the Why Guy—visit various community businesses and highlight their products or services. The laboratory wrote a letter explaining why it should be featured on the show; Wake Up Buffalo responded in just two days.
The Why Guy came into the lab and aired three live segments—about two minutes each—showing technicians at work, grinding and building porcelain and featuring the cosmetic services the laboratory performs for its dentist-clients.
Soon after airing, both the station and the laboratory received several calls from viewers excited about the cosmetic services they saw and looking for information about the laboratory's services. In addition, people began going right into the laboratory looking for cosmetic services—they were referred to their dentists. Due to the overwhelming response, one week later the Why Guy asked if he could come back for a second airing.
In fact, many laboratory owners are promoting cosmetic services directly to the consumer. They act as adjunct marketers to their dentist-clients in an attempt to increase patient flow to the dental office and thus increase the lab's business. For example, Mark Jackson, owner, Precision Ceramics, Montclair, California used footage from the laboratory's promotional videotape to create a 30-second commercial for all-ceramic restorations and aired it on a cable channel in Palm Springs. The cost to air the spot was $25 during prime time; $10 off hours.
" We chose that area because it's a wealthy community and targeted mostly women's programs, explaining the esthetics and biocompatibility of all-ceramic units," explains Jackson. Viewers were urged to contact their dentists for more information. Jackson sent a copy of the commercial to dentist-clients in the area before it aired to let them know about the spot. "Dentists loved it; they really appreciated the effort," says Jackson.
Radio spots. Laboratory owner Rick Liley, Century Dental Lab, a three-person C&B lab in Cameron, Missouri, sponsors hourly newscasts on a local FM station that has a listenership of approximately 1/4 million people. In return for the sponsorship, the radio plays a 10- to-12-second spot after the newscast. For example, one spot invites area newcomers who are looking for a dentist to visit the laboratory's web site for a referral; another educates the public about cosmetic dentistry and again refers listeners to the lab's web site for more information. He pays $157 per month and the spots are aired eight times a day. "Although the spots are promotional for the laboratory, they are couched as public service announcements," says Liley. "We've seen an increase in the number of hits on our web site since we started the radio spots in 1998. Currently, we are getting about 300 hits per month."
Health fairs. Health fairs offer the advantage of a neutral environment in which people often feel more comfortable asking dental questions than in a dentist's chair. Jackson rents a booth at local health fairs and invites local dentist-clients to man the booth for several-hour shifts. Most attendees want to know more about bleaching, implants and veneers. The dentists have a chance to answer their questions and hand out business cards.
Beauty salons and fitness centers. Laboratory owner Gary Spadaro, Liberty Dental, Albany, New York makes the public aware of cosmetic procedures through beauty salons and fitness centers. In addition to advertising all-ceramic restorations, the laboratory sells bleaching supplies and trays. Callers to the lab's toll-free number are referred to a participating dentist in their area.
Precision's Jackson has targeted the owners/managers of hair salons and fitness centers by offering them free cosmetic consultations. In most cases, dentists give the patient a home bleaching kit; however, in one exclusive salon, the owner received veneers. After treatment, the patient gets "before" and "after" photos to keep. Usually dentists offer these services for free; if not, the lab picks up the tab.
In exchange for the services, the lab asks the patient to display an 11" x 17" counter card in his place of business. The card advertises attractive smiles and includes a tray filled with a dentist's business cards. When a customer asks about the display, the patient is inclined to share the photos and his experience. "Not only are we advertising for the dentist, we've turned the patient into a salesperson for our client," says Jackson.
Holding public office. For laboratory owner and city mayor Victor Euliss, the best way to spread the word about dental technology is by holding public office. He has been mayor of Graham, North Carolina, population 12,000, for the past six years. He is active in his state dental laboratory association, the rotary club and serves on the transportation advisory council and as a criminal justice commissioner for the state, a position he received by appointment from the governor. He also has a program on a local radio program once a month during which callers can talk about any topic they wish. "Once you hold public office, people inevitably want to know what you do for a living," says Euliss. "I explain that dental laboratories wholesale restorations to the dentist. I think I've built considerable awareness among the people I've met through my various positions."
The World Wide Web. Laboratory owner Dick Garnick, CDT, Dick's Crown and Bridge Lab, a one-person laboratory in Bellingham, Washington, utilizes his web site to educate the public about dental technology. He compiled statistics from employment and wage reports from various state and federal agencies about the number of dental laboratories, dental technicians and wages and accredited schools of dental technology and posted them on the site.
"My objective was to get information and statistics out there and open communication within our industry as well as get the word out about our field." Because of the site, he has received various e-mails and calls from the public, dentists, students and television and newspaper reporters interested in learning more about the industry. He learned how to design the website and got it up and running by himself. It costs him about $30 a month to rent space on an internet server plus his time for updating.
Presentations to community groups. Sometimes presentations on subjects related to dental technology can bring up conversation about the industry. For instance, Jackson conducts two-hour slide presentations on veterinary dentistry to local groups such as the Humane Society, Audubon Society, woman's clubs and veterinary societies. He shows the restorations he's made for tigers, chimps, etc. "It blows people away, because it's not something they think about, seeing chimpanzees with gold crowns," notes Jackson. "Naturally, the conversation comes around to dental technology at large, and it helps to let people know we're here."
Videotapes. Many laboratory owners view recruitment as the main purpose for increasing public awareness. They feel that by educating the public about the field of dental technology, it will help alleviate the personnel shortage in our industry.
Several years ago, the Dental Resource Alliance, a group of 11 laboratories, wrote and funded the creation of a videotape, Your Future Is In Your Hands: Careers in Dental Technology. The 15-minute video focuses on the benefits of dental technology as a career and can only be used by Dental Resource Alliance members. "We show it to all potential employees," says Richard Nordskog, vice president, Green Dental Laboratories, Heber Springs, Arkansas. The videotape was filmed by an outside production house and cost approximately $1,000 per minute to create.
Holding open houses. To attract people interested in switching careers, Green Dental Laboratories sponsors an open house twice a year. They are held two evenings a week from 4pm to 8pm. The public tours the lab and has refreshments while a human resource staff member visits with them and hands out employment applications.
Reaching out to high school students. Nordskog has also found that getting involved with local high schools and career days has been helpful with the lab's recruitment efforts. Once a year, the laboratory offers a two-hour tour aimed at non-college bound high school students. In addition to viewing Your Future Is In Your Hands: Careers in Dental Technology, they watch technicians working, see the fabrication process and get a tour of the laboratory. During a question-and-answer period, students can ask questions about dental technology as a career choice.
Periodically, the lab offers a free introductory program during which high school seniors or graduates can learn more about dental technology by attending a course twice a week for four weeks. There's no charge to attend, but it is a time commitment. The course is advertised through the high school and in newspapers. The laboratory does some initial screening to determine level of interest. "We teach students about dental anatomy. It enables them to see if they'd be interested, and also allows us to "feel out" their skills. The last class got us two employees, and we also had the benefit of some pre-training," says Nordskog.