Your dental practice may have begun to see this scenario more often. Your patients want “natural” dental health products after reading something online. While their request may be well-intended, this can also be an issue of misinformation. Your patients’ perception of what products, ingredients, or chemicals fit the “natural” category isn’t always what is best for their health. In fact, so-called “natural” products can sometimes have detrimental effects.
We're going to dive into how to handle this situation within your practice. But first, let’s take a quick look at how this has become a more widespread issue for the dental profession.
The Impact of Greenwashing
Years ago, marketers in corporate offices worldwide discovered the power of making consumers feel that certain ingredients may be “toxic” and unsafe, even if they aren’t. This strategy has become more widely known as “greenwashing.”
Yes, sometimes certain ingredients can be dangerous, in small or large amounts, for humans, animals, and the environment. "Natural" dental health products aren’t inherently a terrible thing. And one positive development of this trend is that it has raised consumer awareness. Many consumers now pay more attention to the ingredients and manufacturing processes of the products they buy. They take greater responsibility for their well-being. But with greenwashing, where the claims often aren’t based on empirical data and research, the impact can be quite negative.
One prime example of greenwashing also notably impacts the dental profession. Fluoride has come under attack. As we know, fluoride is essential to protecting teeth given our modern diets. But greenwashing marketing campaigns have convinced many people that fluoride is a dangerous chemical.
Doctors and dentists refute many of the most baseless of greenwashing claims.
But unfortunately, this has led many patients to now increasingly distrust medical professionals. The power and influence marketing can have on consumers and patients is immense.
The polarizing politics of the pandemic further intensified this problem. Reportedly, 41% of Americans say they lost confidence in their doctors during the pandemic. And we can infer that similar sentiments might also abound within the dental profession.
This is a problem, because a patient who doesn’t fully trust you and your medical advice may not listen when you tell them that they shouldn’t use that all-natural, organic fluoride-free toothpaste.
So now for the real question: What do you do when your patients want “natural” or eco-friendly dental health products?
Communicate With Clarity and Respect for Their Perspective
Being respectful and patient (pun intended) with your patients is always a must. We know how frustrating it can be to fight this largely unacknowledged battle with modern-day marketing. But a patient who feels like you aren’t listening or don’t care about their perspective may not be your patient for long.
Patients often aren’t avoiding fluoride products simply because they liked the product’s packaging. Rather, these patients have probably read or been told something about fluoride that resonates with and/or frightens them.
Your job as a health professional is to address their concerns in a kind and empathic way. This can be tricky to navigate while maintaining professionalism and expressing the extent of your expertise, but it can be done.
Decide Where You Can Accommodate
Another approach when your patients request “natural” dental health products is to find ways to compromise. While you may not provide fluoride-free toothpaste, you could offer a pamphlet with advice and warnings related to at-home whitening treatments, including “natural” options, in patients’ take-home bags. This pamphlet could offer brand recommendations for whitening strips while also exploring the pros and cons of methods like activated charcoal, oil pulling with coconut oil, and bleaching treatments.
By making this less-invasive effort to inform, your more holistically minded patient may feel like you are respectful of their perspective without even having to directly approach the topic in conversation. And, you could include marketing messaging for restorative procedures that you offer within your practice as well. Win-win!
If you feel uncomfortable appearing to condone the above, you could also produce booklets, blog posts, or social media posts that discuss “natural” ways to protect your teeth via lifestyle changes. These could include hygiene tips as simple as avoiding sugar or mentioning that eucalyptol and menthol in gum can help reduce bacteria.
Above All, Remember That Your Patients Care About Their Health
The good thing about greenwashing is the fact that your patients want to learn. This messaging has inspired them to safeguard their own health.
But don’t allow the misinformation your patients have consumed to frustrate or stifle your efforts to share your own professional knowledge and experience.
In Summary, Here Are Our Tips for When Your Patients Want “Natural” Dental Health Products
- Communicate the importance of certain ingredients, established processes, etc.
- Accommodate them where you can, and be respectful of the holistic perspective while educating about greenwashing.
- Focus on the good intentions behind their exploration of “natural” products.
On the other side of a few conversations with you, your patient’s whole journey can inspire greater attentiveness to their oral health in the long run.