Nothing to Smile About: Patients Decline Dental Treatments in a Tough Economy

Earlier this year, the Chicago Tribune reported on a survey of 300 Chicago-area dentists who indicated that, during these difficult economic times, patients are tending not to put their money where their mouths are.  Sixty percent of the dentists said that elective cosmetic treatments — such as crowns — are considerably lower on their patients’ priority lists, and 40% indicated that even preventative visits are slipping as people find themselves out of work and lacking dental coverage.

This week, The Wall Street Journal reported that “a little more than half of 1,275 dentists surveyed in July by the American Dental Association said their net incomes have decreased and their unbooked [time has] increased from the first quarter.” 

But some dentists are fighting this trend, the Journal article noted, by marketing their services in ways they haven’t needed to before — sending email newsletters, mailing hand-written reminder notices or calling patients to encourage them to schedule regular cleanings. One dentist who was interviewed even joined Twitter to keep in touch with patients. (A sample tweet, cited by the Journal: “Check out our latest implant surgery video to stabilize loose dentures.”)

And for those who have lost their jobs, more motivated dentists are offering installment payment plans to cover more costly procedures.

Ironically, the dip in high-price cosmetic treatments comes at a time when many could use them: Most recruitment experts agree that when it comes to seeking jobs, image matters. A healthy smile is often associated with youthfulness, the perception of which can give a job candidate a boost. In fact, in a recent article titled, “Take 10 Years Off Your Image,” posted on — a web site advertising jobs that offer salaries of $100,000 and above — the number-one rule is to have a whiter smile. But that may not help dentists: The article suggests that readers use do-it-yourself Crest Whitestrips.