Rebranding Periodontal Disease
Consumer Buyers vs. Healthcare Buyers
A key difference in motivation separates “consumer buyers” and “healthcare buyers.” Your practice’s marketing and communication strategies must incorporate both for long-term success. Your patient’s well-being is dependent on the effectiveness of a treatment, and treatment acceptance hinges on the implication and gravity of your message to them. This is exactly why the profession should consider rebranding “periodontal disease” as an “Oral Systemic Infection” (OSI).
To clarify, major consumer brands have a deep understanding of consumer motivation. For them, it’s all about “pride of ownership” (the newest iPhone, state-of-the-art computer, biggest flat screen TV, etc.).
Not so in healthcare. Because of this, your practice may be missing a significant opportunity. To be clear, with healthcare buyers, your patients, it’s not about pride of ownership. When they have a medical condition, it’s just the opposite. Their emotions range from real embarrassment all the way to total denial. Have you ever heard anyone proudly announce they have gum disease or bad breath?
In his book “Identity Crisis: Health Care Branding’s Hidden Problems and Proven Strategies to Solve Them,” Vince Parry suggests “by rebranding a condition that engenders embarrassment, a product (service) can help foster a new, more reputable way to think about a condition” . To achieve a successful outcome with treatment acceptance of periodontal disease, a different approach is needed. Rebranding periodontal disease as an Oral Systemic Infection (OSI) can eliminate the stigma and elevate it to its true value: a medical condition.
The good news is science now supports treating this disease as a significant medical condition. Dr. Lee Ostler, past president of the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), explains, “Periodontal disease is a medical condition with a dental solution.” Therefore, the stigma is minimized since it’s no longer just an embarrassing personal problem or a mere dental problem. Thus, this makes it easier for the dental provider to discuss OSI and for the healthcare buyer to accept it. This serves to ease the mind of the patient and enhance interaction with the provider.
In addition to the science angle, media exposure has provided an enormous third-party endorsement of these concepts through public awareness about the Oral Systemic Connection. Countless studies have demonstrated a link between poor oral health and systemic disease  . This is rapidly becoming the standard of care in U.S. communities, in the minds of your patients and the courts.
Still unconvinced “rebranding” is not applicable to healthcare? In his book, Parry notes some excellent examples: Incontinence is now called overactive bladder (OAB) and is no longer associated with bed-wetting; impotence is now called erectile dysfunction (ED), a medical problem that can be treated. In the oral healthcare arena, heartburn is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and is now treated appropriately as a medical condition.
But the most analogous one, and a key part of many dental practices today, is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Snoring has long been viewed with some comedy, and certainly with contempt and embarrassment from those who suffer. But the stain has finally been removed, resulting in many lives saved. Periodontal disease is an infection that is at least as serious as sleep apnea. Rebranding these conditions helped open the doorway to more comfortable, intelligent and acceptable conversations between dental providers and healthcare buyers.
The continued success of a dental practice will increasingly hinge on a provider’s ability to diagnose oral systemic conditions prior to the onset of disease and/or to offer treatment in order to minimize impact on existing medical conditions.
When practices implement marketing and communication strategies directed at the healthcare buyer — such as it’s a real medical condition (raising the value) and it’s an infection many people experience (eliminating the stigma) — this creates a more complete health/value proposition.
The way forward will always be based on proven science, but without tapping into the healthcare buyer’s motivation, none of the knowledge and skills of a dental provider will be utilized. The science indeed confirms periodontal disease is a medical condition that demands a dental-provided solution, thereby creating a natural and necessary bridge for communication between the dentist and other healthcare providers.
For that to fully take root, it’s time to rebrand periodontal disease as Oral Systemic Infection (OSI).
Closing the Loop between Dentistry and Medicine
Rebranding periodontal disease as an “Oral Systemic Infection” (OSI) minimizes the stigma a dental patient might feel, while raising awareness of the condition’s medical significance.
This tactic of rebranding has already proven effective in both the medical and dental professions. For example, incontinence has been rebranded as Overactive Bladder and snoring as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Not only does rebranding increase treatment acceptance and patients’ health, it also becomes an easy and necessary communication bridge between dental and medical practices.
Building on two key points from the beginning of this article — “adopting this science-based approach to healthcare distinguishes a practice from its competitors” and “the right words matter” — strategic communication helps dentistry motivate the healthcare buyer. According to a Privcap, LLC Report Q1, 2018, Jacques Mulder “The message modifies a behavior, and that results in a better outcome. Finding ways to get patients to behave differently, more consciously about their health, that is going to be where the real magic happens.”
A re-branding strategy can improve three critical points of communication between a practice and patient:
- Provide Critical Context: Defining gum disease as an oral systemic infection brings with it the automatic conclusion that follows: If untreated, it gets worse, negatively impacting the patient overall health. This shifts the burden and focus away from embarrassing personal attachments and raises the value beyond merely a dental problem that happens to a “bad patient.” This context shifts the mindset of the healthcare buyer and makes the communication process more comfortable.
- Make Clear Communications: A fundamental tenet of communication is: Confuse consumers and they won’t buy. Janet Press, RDH, an international trainer on hygiene protocols and laser certification, says, “You cannot treat infection with prevention.” Applying this concise statement to patient care is extremely powerful because it can overcome two obstacles: treatment acceptance and care delivery. Focus only on the seriousness of the infection as a medical problem and the need for immediate care. Otherwise, the patient’s defense mechanism comes into play, leading to embracing simplistic solutions such as “I just need to floss better.”
- Avoid Being Judgmental: Rarely do people frequent businesses that make them feel bad about themselves. The healthcare buyer’s negative self-perception contributes to cancelations or no-shows. Rebranding can also lower this barrier to treatment, increase patient health and contribute to practice success.
While the scientific implications of oral systemic infections have been evolving for many years, and more evidence is moving from “linked” to “causative” in regard to other diseases and ailments, not all dental providers communicate the oral systemic connection to their patients. Even if a practice has yet to philosophically embrace this science or does not feel fully confident in discussing it with patients, there is a simple answer to moving ahead.
It’s not uncommon for a patient with an OSI to ask questions that might deal directly with the oral systemic connection. For example; A patient may ask about diabetes and A1C parameters. A hygienist may not know the answer but may suggest bringing in a doctor to address the concern.
The dentist should strive to coordinate with the medical practice as to the best treatment approach for this patient. This comfortably and appropriately closes the loop between a patient’s dental practice and medical practice.
A Jan. 18 article titled “Medical and Dental Insurance Appears Fated to Converge” published on DrBicuspid.com offers further evidence as to the future healthcare responsibilities of a dental practice: “West Monroe Partners surveyed 125 C-level executives at medical and dental plans about their thoughts on the future of their industries. Nearly 100% of the executives believe that dental benefits will eventually become embedded into medical plans” .
According to survey co-author Kristen Irving, “Consumers want the one-stop shop.”
As expectations accelerate, the public, the medical community, the insurance industry and even the government now expect more than just a “Tooth Doctor.” They need the skill and attention of a specialized healthcare provider and dental team focused on the oral cavity.
This seems especially essential when rebranding of Oral Systemic Infection as a true medical condition.
 Parry, Vince. Identity Crisis: Health Care Brandings Hidden Problems and Proven Strategies to Solve Them. Parry Branding Group, 2017.
 Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Mar 20;20(6). pii: E1414. doi: 10.3390/ijms20061414. Periodontal Disease: A Risk Factor for Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease. Liccardo D1, Cannavo A2,3, Spagnuolo G4,5, Ferrara N6,7, Cittadini A8, Rengo C9, Rengo G10,11.
 Bale BF, Doneen AL, Vigerust DJ. High-risk periodontal pathogens contribute to the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Postgraduate Medical Journal 2017;93:215-220.
 Pablos, Theresa. “Medical and Dental Insurance Appear Fated to Converge.” DrBicuspid.com, DrBicuspid.com, 19 Jan. 2018, www.drbicuspid.com/index.aspx?sec=log&itemID=322569.
About the Author
Mr. Maccario is President of Dental Management Sciences, LLC, a business management firm for dental practices. He earned his M. B. A. from Pepperdine University.
Bob is a veteran of the dental field, with over 40 years of experience. He is the business manager for four private practices, has held a faculty position at University of Pacific Dental School as an Adjunct Assistant Professor, created a business school curriculum for a national post graduate dental institute and operated a large commercial dental laboratory for 18 years prior to managing dental practices. Bob is a popular speaker at major national meetings with emphasize on implementation and marketing of oral systemic dentistry on a sound business basis.
Bob and his Wife Kari live in Reno NV. Bob is President of the Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Association, a 501c Non-Profit dedicated to protecting the wild mustang horses in Nevada. You can contact him at email@example.com or 1-800-332-0363 ext 2#.
Image © Matt Madd/Dentist