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Resources: Articles

Paying careful attention yields story on business, marketing of dental practices Date: 04/12/13

Amy Jeter
Amy Jeter

By Mary Otto

“It's not just you,” wrote Amy Jeter of The Virginian-Pilot, in Norfolk, Va., as she opened her engaging story “Fiscal Rot Takes a Bite Out of Dental Practices.”

“A lot of people are hearing from their dentists more than they used to – not only through old-fashioned phone calls and postcards, but also through texts and emails.

“They're reminding you of your appointment, sure, but they're also wishing you Happy Birthday.

And maybe singing "Happy Birthday" on your voicemail. And maybe reminding you of your spouse's birthday. And maybe offering you $500 if you refer the most new patients in a year.

"We're constantly looking for ways that we can communicate with the patient to continually make every one of them feel like they are the most important patient to us," Kelly Dishongh, an office administrator at a local dental practice told her.

Jeter’s story, published last year, takes a look at the impact of the financial downturn on dental practices. The idea came to her through good old-fashioned listening skills, and she carried through with good reporting and engaging writing.

Jeter was kind enough to offer a few insights on how the story evolved:

The seed for this story came while I was working on another piece, one about people without insurance who wanted to apply for the federal government's high-risk pool. One woman I interviewed said times were tough in her line of work.

"What do you do?" I asked. "I temp as a dental hygienist," she replied. Then she described the difficulties that dentists were facing during the economic downturn, how it had gotten hard for her to find a gig.

Financial reports, academic surveys and dentists confirmed what she said about the industry's slump. So did the new, more aggressive, advertising tactics of dentists in my community. I found one offering deals on Groupon. A friend reported that another had started texting her for her birthday – and for her spouse's birthday.

I built a trend story with these and other nuggets that I culled from local practices.

My advice is to mine as many sources as you can – if you get one golden anecdote from each, that makes for a very readable story.


Mary Otto, AHCJ’s topic leader on oral health, is writing blog posts, editing tip sheets and articles and gathering resources to help our members cover oral health care. If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to mary@healthjournalism.org.