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The Role of Teeth Whitening is Changing (Part I)

Teeth whitening has long been a staple offering among most dentists but the level of income generated and the role it plays has changed rather drastically in the last several years. The days of charging $600 or more for traditional in-office whitening procedures are waning as more retail solutions enter the market and group buying programs such as Groupon and Living Social have continued to drive down the price within the dental community.

Further, whitening has become more commoditized among dentists and is being used more progressively as a marketing tool to drive patients in the door and hopefully secure them, and their families, as lifelong patients. This also tends to lower the average whitening treatment revenue as dentists compete in their local communities to bring patients in their direction. This has proven to be a very effective technique if organized and executed properly; however profits from whitening need not be diminished entirely with this strategy.

Whitening can be used as a promotional tool very successfully if pricing, product mix, messaging, and patient education are planned effectively. And with the rapid increase of the internet and social media, whitening is also a service that integrates very well with these mediums as will be highlighted.

Despite the declining fees, whitening is an outstanding tool that offers immediately visible results, drives patient referrals, can generate strong profits, and appears to still be on the rise. According to a recent study released from the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), AACD members performed an average of 77 whitening treatments last year generating an average annual income of $19,100, and 57% said they expect this number to rise.*


In Office Whitening

In-office whitening treatments offer the most substantial, immediate whitening results for patients and also tend to have a sizeable margin which makes this offering most attractive to promote through the group buying programs such as Groupon and Living Social.

Depending on the population size of a practice location, this technique can typically drive hundreds of responses. For those unfamiliar with how these programs work, here is a brief summary.

The companies maintain a large database of subscribers to whom they send daily emails on various promotions from businesses in their community. For example with teeth whitening, if a dental practice normally charges $600 for an in-office treatment, the company will ask that you discount it at least 50% or more. This is what the patient would pay directly to the group buying company. Then the company takes 30% to 50% in fees and pays the balance to the business. Therefore, the net payout to a dental office normally charging $600 for an in office whitening treatment would be approximately $150 to $210. If 200 people buy the deal (which is not uncommon – depending on your area and could be as high as 500+) this could bring upwards of $42,000 to a dental practice in revenue. However, the profits gained from this promotion are driven a great deal by product cost.

While some whitening companies charge up to $80 to $90 per patient kit, many companies are far more affordable and equally effective solutions in the $30 to $40 range which, after adding allocated expense for staff time and other various materials, can still lead the group buying strategy to be very profitable.

Furthermore, the true underlying value is to capture new patients with long-term value. During the course of examining a patient prior to the whitening treatment, other treatment needs may become obvious and will present an opportunity to service the patient beyond the whitening treatment alone. This is a critical element that is oftentimes overlooked and not planned properly. It is crucial to treat these new patients in a comprehensive manner with a full exam that allows for additional oral care services.

Certainly there will be individuals who are taking advantage of the promotion for a one-time service, but if approached properly a number of them, and potentially other family members and friends, can become full care patients if they have a positive experience. Also, it is critical to capture all contact information and make sure these individuals are included in all other marketing outreaches of the practice including print newsletters, email campaigns and followup calls.

While the group buying programs do offer an outstanding way to drive awareness of a practice and revenue, it is important to ensure it does not de-value your offering long-term. These are meant to be unique savings opportunities for consumers while offering a broad new patient base to a practice. Normal prices should be held in place outside of these promotions to maintain the value integrity of professional whitening along with profit margins.


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