dental patientsIs your livelihood based on your income from doing dentistry for your work? In other words, are you dependent on money that you make from restoring teeth to pay at least some of your bills or living expenses? Put yet another way, do you need dental disease (mostly decay and occlusal disease to utilize your learned skills and training) to keep your doors open or provide daily work? Have you ever realized that your job and your hygienist's job are in conflict with one another?

You need disease because you fix disease. Your hygienist can still get paid for polishing disease-free teeth and working to prevent disease from ever happening, a sought-after commodity for which your dental patients are willing to pay.

I ran across one of my favorite recent articles in the New England Journal of Medicine the other day. Why is it my favorite, you ask? Obviously, because it supports my personal thoughts and beliefs. Isn't that what makes your favorites your favorites? I thought so.

My belief in treating dental patients: Historically, we are fixers of cracked teeth and decayed teeth, replacers of parts of teeth that have broken and of full teeth that cannot be saved. Notice the reactive modality that was the foundation of our profession and still is, to a large extent. I also believe, however, that we can change our focus and reputation to become facilitators of health, to help our dental patients make healthy choices with the gifts, talents and tools that we have, both individually and as a profession.

Treating Dental Patients: So What is the Problem?

Well, first of all we have the intra-office conflict mentioned above. Second, we have an identity crisis and start to question ourselves, with no clear direction or confidence of what is right.

So, the article, titled "What Business Are We In? The Emergence of Health as the Business of Health Care,"1 provides an example of two companies with a long, prosperous and reputable history that did not re-evaluate their identity as the world around them patients

See the connection?

Kodak was late to recognize that it was not in the film and camera business: it was in the imaging business. With the advent of digital imaging, Kodak was outpaced by other companies that could better achieve consumer goals. The authors note that the flaw is not new and that "In 1960, the editor of the Harvard Business Review, Theodore Levitt, wrote that the failure of railroads could be explained in part by the myopic view that they were in the railroad business and not the transportation business, which left them vulnerable to competition from cars, trucks, and planes.2 Levitt argued that it's always better to define a business by what consumers want than by what a company can produce."

I could not have said or written it better than when they presented the concept that "the analogous situation in health care is that whereas doctors and hospitals focus on producing healthcare, what people really want is health. Healthcare is just a means to that end."

If our focus is to help (facilitate) our dental patients make healthy (appropriate) decisions that will benefit them for the long-term, so that they can have what they want – health – we will be ahead of the curve, as the business of healthcare continues to evolve. As you know very well, it is evolving and it is in our best interest to understand where it is going, why it is going there and how to position ourselves in a place that serves the public and brings joy and satisfaction to our daily work and lives as well. It is not too much to ask. In fact, it is the true "win/win." In a future article, I will discuss what that looks like and where we fit. Until then, I hope you will avoid becoming a Kodak or railway system.


  1. The NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL of MEDICINE, What Business Are We In? The Emergence of Health as the Business of Health Care
. David A. Asch, M.D., M.B.A., and Kevin G. Volpp, M.D., Ph.D.

  2. Levitt T. Marketing myopia: 1960. Harv Bus Rev 2004;82(7-8):138-49.

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Commenter's Profile Image James Leamey
December 13th, 2014
Hi Kevin My personal dentist as a child would frequently state, "Dentistry is the only profession which tries to put itself out of business." I look forward to your future article as I now can relate to this statement and what you have brushed upon. Beyond our personal identity crisis, please consider our conflict with the corporate influence on R&D/marketing of dental materials. Ivoclar has certainly learned from Kodak. Not only are we torn by why and what we offer, we have little idea who to believe. James