Dentists Torn over the Ethics of Dental Marketing

Post your comments about dental marketing ethics to our blog. Read the dental marketing survey press release.

Dental Marketing Ethics

In this poll, we asked dentists: Does dental marketing sully the reputation of dentists in the eyes of the public?

Dentists were split on the issue. The slight majority (54%) said, "Dental practitioners should hold themselves to a higher ethical code than used car salesmen." The other 46% of respondents replied, "Today’s world is filled with ads, and consumers won’t judge a dentist negatively for advertising."

Read the dentists’ comments for more insight.

General dentists versus specialists

Specialists were significantly more opposed to dental marketing and advertising than general dentists. As the general dental marketplace becomes more
competitive, general dentists are more likely to feel they must actively market their practices in order to stay in business. Specialists, on the other hand,
are more likely to receive new patients via referrals from other dental practitioners.

Urban, suburban and rural dentists


Geographic location was not particularly correlated with results.

Male dentists compared to female dentists


Female dentists seem to be slightly more open to dental marketing than their male colleagues.

For more insight into what our respondents are thinking, check out their comments!

Ah, remember word-of-mouth referrals?

  • "It seems anything goes these days. Spend as much you want, but check your ROI closely. Nothing is better than good old-fashioned 'word of mouth' referrals!" (Texas dentist)
  • "I was brought up to believe that a professional's morals, ethics, quality of dentistry, and honesty brought patients to the office. I have depended on word-of-mouth referrals for the thirty-seven years I have been in practice." (Mississippi dentist)

Woe to the dentist who doesn't engage in marketing…

  • "Marketing is just a part of today's competitive marketplace. Those who are growing (and even maintaining) need to have a balanced approach in internally and externally marketing their practice. That said, marketing needs to not delve into the used car salesman world of false promotion – we should never market ourselves as more than we really are, nor deride our fellow colleagues." (Washington orthodontist)
  • "Sadly, the current state of the profession forces dental practitioners to market their practices lest they fall behind." (Florida dentist)
  • "It costs so much to market, it's hard to tell if its working, and we all have to do it to keep up with the other dentists who have started advertising." (California dentist)
  • "As long as the marketing you are doing is true and accurate, it will give you the competitive edge you need to build the practice to the size you want it to be." (Michigan dentist)

It's a fine line

  • "Marketing itself does not necessarily demean the profession, but the majority of what is going on in dental marketing does." (Texas orthodontist)
  • "While most is ethical, it walks a fine line." (New Jersey periodontist)
  • "I think advertising is okay, but on the other hand, there are exceptions… some seem less than professional to me… it's like pornography: i.e.. you know it when you see it." (Illinois dentist)
  • "If you market honestly and ethically, you will be rewarded. If you are dishonest or unethical, it will come back and bite you in the ***. There will always be charlatans." (Kansas dentist)
  • "I believe some of the marketing I see creates a 'buyer beware' mentality. I do feel marketing is okay; our profession should just have a tighter reign on what is acceptable." (Washington dentist)
  • "I feel we should be free to market in a way that's creative and open but tasteful." (Arizona dentist)

These charlatans are just trying to make money!

  • "Too much unneeded 'cosmetic dentistry.'" (Illinois dentist)
  • "Traditional dentistry placed the dentist as an expert who helped his patients with his expertise and care. Modern dentistry is want-based and the advertizing dentist merely a businessman trying to sell as much as he can." (Louisiana dentist)
  • "Dentists are starting to look like pure fish oil salesmen, not interested in fixing problems as much as creating income and selling expensive cosmetics. I'll be looking for them at Walmart soon. Sad." (Alaska dentist)
  • "Heavy advertising reduces dentistry to a commodity rather than a professional service." (North Carolina dentist)
  • "If we don't hold a higher ethical standard of advertising, we are going to make dentistry a commodity. We are cheapening our profession, and patients are more likely to shop around for a cheaper dentist. Once they start to do this, they start to devalue their dentistry and don't appreciate the field of dentistry. I am very disturbed in the direction the profession is headed. It’s one thing to say you don't do amalgams and another to say you're 'mercury-free.' 'Pain free dentistry' as opposed to what? Painful? It is all feeding into a very unprofessional, cut-throat and unethical atmosphere." (Washington dentist)

Marketing is the greatest thing ever

  • "Marketing ethically is one thing, but to say that marketing dentistry is unethical is ridiculous. What better way to communicate with prospective patients is there?" (Illinois dentist)
  • "Without getting our message to the public, dentistry will remain a great enigma." (Massachusetts dentist)
  • "Informational ads are helpful. (BTW,I don't thing used cars salesmen are bad; we need them as they need us. Placing all car salesmen in an
    unethical category is not fair, just as it would be to place all doctors in one.) Accurate dental information given to the public in an ad form helps us personally as well as all of us professionally. Self-serving ads don't sit well with me." (Minnesota dentist)
  • "I think marketing used cars and marketing dentistry are done differently. I think both are fine. You are not going to market dental services with balloons and 'only this week can you get a root canal at half off and no payments till 2010!' But if you offer whitening and veneers, the cosmetic services people want, I don't see a problem with that." (New Mexico dentist)

How can marketing be bad when it works so well?

  • "Done right, it is very ethical. Lawyers do it (some rather nicely). Today's consumers rely on advertising to make their choices. People used to rely on neighbors to recommend dentists. Now you are lucky if you meet your neighbor within five years. People are caught up in a very busy, hectic lifestyle and don't have time to chat and socialize with the neighbors. I have increased my advertising over the past 18 months, and it has been very rewarding financially." (New Hampshire dentist)
  • "Like many things in life, it depends on how it's done. Besides, it doesn't matter whether or not we think it negatively affects the public's opinion; it only matters what they think. And since the marketing is so effective if done right, then they obviously are okay with it." (Pennsylvania dentist/manager)
  • "If it diminished the profession in any way the public, would not go to those docs, and the ads in the phone book would be getting smaller. As it is, some ads are now two pages. It's a far cry from the ad that got me in trouble for with the dental board 25 years ago. The only ones who can sully the profession's reputation is us. 'We have met the enemy, and he are us.'" (Georgia dentist)

Things used to be different…

  • "It seems that newer dentists use any means possible to advertise their edge, and sometimes these are very misleading to patients." (Wisconsin dentist)
  • "It creates the appearance that the dentist's primary purpose is to SELL something to patients, not take care of their dental health. My recent experiences with patients shows that they are becoming more guarded in their discussions with dentists; the patients are aware that dentists commonly try to sell services as 'necessary' when such services really aren't needed. This attitude among patients was rare thirty years ago, but it's now an everyday occurrence. Obviously patients don't hold dentists in the same esteem they did years ago. This is due to the fact that advertising puts dentists into the same category as used car salesmen, like it or not. When was the last time that you saw splashy ads (like those common among dentists) placed by your local neurosurgeons or obstetricians? How about anesthesiologists? Pediatric oncologists? Those doctors are regarded by the public as professionals because they act like professionals. Dentists are increasingly NOT so regarded because they increasingly do NOT act like professionals. If you lie down with pigs, expect to be covered with mud." (California dentist)

"Higher ethical codes" don't pay for retirement

  • "I feel the public would not look down on marketing from a dental practice. I feel a lot of dentists compare themselves to the medical field (Hippocratic Oath and such). Most probably wouldn't think of marketing themselves to the public AND they may feel, ‘Dental practitioners should hold themselves to a higher ethical code than used car salesmen.’ But there is something that has changed over the years, and ‘higher ethical codes’ don’t pay for college tuition for the kids – Nor does it pay into one’s retirement! 20 years ago one's competition might have been the colleague down the street. Today, the true concept and understanding of who the competition i’ needs to be recognized. The competition crosses a practice's threshold every working day. They hold objections to treatment or case acceptance. The feel they can't afford to change their dependency upon their PPO Plan. AND they may even lack the confidence in the dental practice’s ability to deliver. So, who is the competition? Well, no, it isn’t the perceived patient, NOR is it the insurance companies that have been selling the ‘PPO Plagued’ plans over the last 20 years. The competition is that dentist who, unfortunately, did not recognize early, that they were running a business. Because of a dentist’s inability to ‘market’ themselves, the business (or practice) ends up running the dentist and they fall prey to the ‘PPO Plague’ just to get rear-ends in the chairs. They then have a misconception later that they are stuck in a vicious financial cycle and they feel they can’t get out. If one wants to gain back control of their business they must first, change their way of thinking and understand that marketing is part of the game (Yes, a game!). Every dentist needs to market themselves in all ways, ALWAYS! That, along with a positive mind set is what will pay for the college tuition for the kids and fund one’s retirement. Those who answer Yes to your survey, may be contradicting themselves IF they accept PPO Plans. We could probably agree that most used car commercials state, ‘We’re slashing prices!'” (Texas dental sales consultant)

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