How to Survive and Thrive in Uncertain Economic Times
"Oral Healthcare Can't Wait™"

"By Gary W. Price Chief Executive Officer Dental Trade Alliance "

A clip from the TV public service announcement for the “Oral Healthcare Can't Wait” campaign. Voiceover: “Whenever he eats, his gums bleed.”


The current economic climate is causing many people either to postpone the treatment plans recommended by their dentists, or to put off dental visits altogether. Unfortunately, there are long-term health risks associated with postponing oral care. Indeed, the potential health risks of postponing oral health care can be significant, with more and more published research supporting the existence of a strong link between optimum oral health and overall well-being - especially in the area of periodontal disease. While this is obvious to all the members of the dental team, the public doesn't always see the urgency of the need to make dental care a priority. That's why, in a recession, it becomes especially important to keep the value of dentistry in the news.

In July 2009, the Dental Trade Alliance (DTA), a nonprofit trade association representing leading dental manufacturers, distributors, and laboratories, unveiled its "Oral Healthcare Can't WaitTM" (OHCW) awareness campaign. The objective of the campaign is to alert the public to the risks of postponing regular dental checkups and recommended treatment. Our message is simple: The mouth is the gateway to the rest of the body and its overall health. If more people realized this, they would prioritize their discretionary spending accordingly. Choosing between undergoing periodontal disease treatment and buying a new cell phone would be a no-brainer.

The data supporting this initiative came from a spring 2009 survey of Americans conducted by the DTA and Oral Health America to get their views on a wide range of oral healthcare issues. A significant number of adults reported having an unmet dental need. Economic uncertainty seemed to play some role in a significant number of instances where individuals were not actively seeking treatment for dental health conditions. One out of every six people reported not going to the dentist because of uncertainty about their job and/or the economy. This was even more apparent among those with lower annual incomes; almost one-third of those with low incomes are delaying a visit to the dentist even though their needs are great. We believe that this campaign can make a difference by mobilizing the dental profession to convince the public that although we face economic challenges on a national basis, the majority of Americans still have the ability to make continued and comprehensive oral health care an integral part of their lives. That's what we mean by the slogan, "Oral Healthcare Can't Wait.TM"

The Challenge of Getting Our Message Out DTA was very lucky in the early development of the campaign to find a partner in the Lanmark Group, the dental industry's largest advertising, marketing, and public relations agency. The Lanmark Group developed ads and marketing materials for the campaign, helped us with strategy and execution, and agreed to do all campaign work on a pro bono basis.

But despite the potency of our message, the challenge remains to communicate it to the public. In an ideal world, we would have abundant financial resources to buy the kinds of media that would ensure our ability to focus the public's attention on the importance of their oral health, but national advertising campaigns cost hundreds of thousands of dollars that we don't have.

To deal with this challenge, we have recruited major corporate and professional association partners to help us get our message out. We are grateful for the level of commitment we have received thus far from the entire dental industry, including manufacturers, trade publications, distributors, dental laboratories, and from dentists around the country. Special thanks go to the leading dental distributors, Benco Dental, Darby Dental Supply, Henry Schein, and Patterson Dental, and such major professional organizations as the American Dental Association, the National Dental Association, the Hispanic Dental Association, the American Dental Hygienists Association, the American Association of Dental Assistants, and Oral Health America. Many of these organizations have included information about the campaign in their newsletters and publications, and some have also provided links on their Web sites to the campaign Web site. Moreover, almost all of the major dental publications have agreed to run campaigns ads for free. To date, the ads have run in eight publications, for a total of more than 20 placements.

Because the roles of the dental practitioner and office staff are pivotal in communicating positive, compelling messages to patients about the importance of seeking and accepting recommended oral health treatment, we have created a special Web site,, to help dental professionals develop a sense of ease in communicating these messages. The Resource section of this Web site contains an extensive practice-level communications tool kit, which includes the following components:

  • Letter templates to send to patients outlining the importance of continuing their care.
  • Press release templates to send to local media outlining benefits of continuing oral health care and the risks of postponing treatment.
  • Public service announcement templates for practices to distribute to their local radio stations.
  • Patient education materials, such as brochures, posters, recall cards, etc., that can be taken to Kinko's, Staples, etc., for printing.

We are using social media as well. In addition to our Web sites, we have established a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

We have also designed a Web site specifically for the public,, which will be promoted in press materials.

Although we face economic challenges on a national basis, dentists have an obligation as health professionals to communicate the importance of making continued and comprehensive oral care an integrated part of everyone's life. Now, thanks to the resources provided by the "Oral Healthcare Can't WaitTM" campaign, they also have an operating manual for communicating the message that, despite the state of the economy, maintaining optimum oral health is important to everyone.