Oral Health Group

Dentistry Must Engage with Multi-Generational Patients

December 12, 2017
by Lisa Philp

Dentistry is a “people business” that serves a broad spectrum of age demographics that span multiple generations – from the millennials to the Gen X to the boomers, silent generation and so on.

It’s well-known that there are significant generational differences that are common to each segment, depending on when they were born and what the common things they were exposed due during maturation that impact lifestyle, health care, service expectations, attitudes, and technology use.


A one-size-fits-all approach to patient engagement and the same tried and true ways of attracting satisfying and serving dental patients no longer works with all patient segments equally.

Future dental patient goodwill and retention will be reliant on the ability to open their mind, let go of judgements, and to understand and ADAPT to the largest and most influential generation on the globe.

The youth segment of children born from 1981-2000 are named Gen Y or Millennials.

Millennials are the largest generation in history and comprise approximately are 27% of the population, which is the highest ever in North American history. They are currently in young adulthood and have overcome their delayed independence and are now making decisions on the brink and tipping point of commanding the largest buying power and have the highest influence in history.

Millennial buying power and spending today is estimated by the U.S. census board at $200 billion annually, with confirmation that they will influence another $300 billion to $400 billion in buying. They are predicted to have a lifetime spending total of $10 trillion as consumers. At this rate, they will exceed the baby boomers in spending and decision-making.

Their influence is expansive, as 80% of Millennials name one of their parents as their best friend, rather than naming a peer. And more than a third of Millennials of all ages say they influence what products their parents buy, what shops and restaurants they visit and what trips they take. This lack of conflict between these generations means that millennials will become vital carriers of a dental practice message, to not only their friends, but also their parents. They spread the word at a rate and impact that one day almost everyone will pass for a millennial, as attitude and buying patterns go.

Dentistry must find its path in appealing to this segment of youthful patents for growth, retention, and profitability. This may involve older generations letting go their judgments on the perception that Gen Y are entitled, engorged, cell phone addicted, ramen-eating, impatient, impecunious, underemployed, see through the clichОs and accept that it is normal for every generation to view the generation born BEFORE THEM is old fashioned and the generation born AFTER THEM as crazy.

We must open our mind to Millennials and we must take the time to understand their distinctions and adapt to their characteristics, upbringing, beliefs, wants and how they see things and treat them, and also how they want to be treated in the dental experience.

Gen Y or Millennials are the children of the boomers/X and they are generally optimistic, idealistic and associated with a group orientation. They have been well-looked after and have taken longer to become adults. They travel in packs or herds and are the most ethnically diverse generation ever. Their view of the future is short-term and they have huge goals.

Boomer parents have taught their children that every voice matters, that bullying is bad and equality is worth fighting for – that it takes a village. In large part, this generation polls as a gentle, loving generation, specifically speaking. Polls conducted at a similar age with previous generations displayed less of these civic-value inclinations.

They are accomplished multi-taskers who watch TV while seated at their computers listening to MP3, burning CD’s, instant messaging their friends and pretending to do homework. They value education and fun and find all mega corporations irrelevant to them and their future. They tend to be inventive, optimistic and want information quickly but don’t want to be told what to do. They must make their own decision, as they were asked about their opinion from a very young age.

They believe in community and were raised with everyone being equal and everybody wins, regardless of the result and often many received a lot of trophies and awards for little true accomplishments.

They grew up in the least structured family unit and tend to have the most positive relationships with their parents and consider them their friends, in which they want to spend time with the most.

This makes them very big influencers with the older generations. Offline, Millennials are more likely than other generations to shop, dine and travel with groups, whether these are organized interest groups, less formal groupings of peers or excursions with extended family.

One (1) in four (4) teens live in a single parent household and they all know someone who is gay and have been exposed to drugs, pornography and anything else via the internet, Facebook and instant messaging.

They are younger than their biological age by approximately five years when compared to older generations at the same time period in growth and their pet peeve is hearing older people tell them what they did at their age. They don’t need to struggle like previous generations and have lived a life of instant gratification. They expect to be handed what they want, when they want it.

They are the first generation to grow up online. Millennials (in large part) don’t watch television during scheduled times, attend church and sleep with their cell phone. They have hundreds of people they call friends and are on social networks and see all people on the internet as their potential friend and strongly influenced by the internet, Facebook and peer reviews.

Growing up with the internet has given them confidence and incredible skills in obtaining information quickly and applying it. They do have ambitious goals of high return with the least path of work and resistance.

They’ve grown up with digital devices that bundle communication, entertainment,  shopping, mapping, and education all in one. This causes them to identify with technology and adopt new technologies more quickly, compared with the more skeptical approach of previous generations.

Millennials are concerned with more than political and ethical issues. They also care about what’s genuine and authentic. This interest falls somewhere between a purely aesthetic preference and a search for honesty and for truth. And it’s a powerful force for motivating millennial customers.

Now that we understand some distinctions, their strengths and characteristics, we can now guide the dental experience by looking at the date of birth and age of a patient.

We must learn the steps and ways to adapt to their language, mode of communication, technology, use of the internet and their social networks. All of this impacts their characteristics that relate to the dental practice, dental care, health decision-making and spending.


Millennials have been termed the “drive-through generation” because they expect healthcare delivered quickly and efficiently and have changed the view that small boutique offerings is their choice. They have been reported to prefer retail clinics and acute care clinics as the fastest way to obtain health care. They don’t like the wait and want answers and treatment now and today, if possible.

Dentistry can ADAPT by operating with organizations and systems for consistency in the process of daily preparation, speficially patient flow and protocols for smooth operations that respect their impatience and time. Be sure that they know the time allotted to their visit and what time they are expected – when they show up on time, they demand to for you to RUN ON TIME.

Millennials want you to speak their language, as they prefer more of a casual conversation and down-to-earth tone, combined with efficient and effective assistance from a helpful stranger.

Dentistry can ADAPT by not using the jargon-heavy dental explanations with a clinical and technical monologue. Keep it simple and use terms as a casual sit-down conversation, not a rigid script used for everyone.

Millennials are visual and noisy about sharing their activities, consumption of food, beverages, services, and products, while showing  them to the masses. They take photos of their meals, where and when they are eating it, where they’re coming from, and where they’re headed.

Dentistry can ADAPT by asking them to help you build your social media presence. They love to share their dental experience on the internet, ‘Like’ you on Facebook, follow you on Twitter, as well as post videos on YouTube.

Millennials are more likely to communicate via their cellphone as their only phone: as over 40% have no landline and the majority of them sleep with, or next to, their cellphones. They own more cell phones and use for texting more than other generations.

Dentistry can ADAPT by collecting smart phone numbers at every checkout and researching the best software for auto text messaging to contact, communicate, and to confirm and remind them of their dental appointments.

They also are known to change their coordinates of their cell phone numbers, online addresses, social media profiles, and email addresses quite frequently.

Dentistry can ADAPT by regularly keeping the records up-to-date and constantly making sure that we have their current contact information.

Millennials are known to prefer an “experiential” environment, where their visit is more than a transaction and the pleasure of being in the practice isn’t limited to the procedure and technical aspects.

Dentistry can ADAPT by involving them in their exam, and talking out loud as you perform it, and asking them to follow along. They need to feel empathy that you are customizing their experience and this is done by asking open-ended questions about them, their preferences and goals, and then reassuring them that we have listened to their unique and distinct wants.

Gen Y’s were brought up in an atmosphere of equal relationships and co-decision-making. Parents and educators throughout their childhood emphasized collaboration and cooperation, where Millennials enjoy the possibility of collaborating with the practice as long as they believe that their say matters to the loyalty of their blurred role of the patient and service provider.

Dentistry can ADAPT by presenting treatment planning solutions with words that encourage collaboration and mutual decision-making. Words like ‘oral health partnership we will decide together’, ‘together with your input’, ‘develop’, ‘plan’, ‘train’, and ‘explore and expand’. Be sure to use visual technology and begin with the positive findings first, as they tend to not take the negative news well when delivered before the positive aspects.

New Patient Millennials don’t choose you, they STALK YOU and spend a lot of time doing their homework about your credentials, as being smart is COOL to them. They search for you online and if an easy link will click through to your website home page.

They gather online information before ever calling you and often have researched dental procedures and advice they find through the internet.

Dentistry can ADAPT by making sure the practice has an updated and current website with a mobile application, and that the practice is on Google Maps. Your website must have regular updates and activity to rank high on search engines. Be sure your Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are all connected to the website and cross-link easily for search engine optimization. You can also sign up your practice for cross-linking free directoriesm like Rate MD, Angels List, Google Maps, etc.

Millennials are very aware in their spending of out-of-pocket expenses and often are known to delay dental treatment, due to rising costs. They more so than any other generation want and expect an accurate estimate prior to making a decision to accept the dentistry.

Dentistry can ADAPT by making sure all needed dentistry costs are transparent and predictable, especially when there is out-of-pocket expenses. Be sure to provide them with a detailed quote and estimate of what will be done and the financial arrangements agreed upon.

Word of mouth is especially important to Millennials. That includes, of course, what’s said online. In the past year, 1 in 4 Millennials report reading online reviews for healthcare providers. These consumers are also twice as likely as non-Millennials to have participated in online communities in the past year, and they’re more trusting of the information they find there.

Dentistry can ADAPT by asking Millennials to write a review and refer their friends, as they are very comfortable sharing their own symptoms and treatment experiences through patient networks and their social peers. They often can do it while in the office on their mobile device and can be a benefit for posting reviews, rating the experience on directories, and post videos and photos for your practice brand and benefit.

Although generational diversity guides us with generalizations that prove valuable in understanding the different age groups so you may adapt your approach, your patient is an individual first, and a millennial second. On average, descriptions tend to match the patient’s generational cohort to a T. However, the specific patient in front of you may not have the same preferences or goals that are common to their generation. Ask a series of open-ended questions to get to know your patient as an individual.

The potential to have an outstanding practice can depend on your level of engagement with your patients on a generational and individual level and providing services that will relate with each of the generations.

Lisa Philp is the Chief  Visionary Officer of TGNA – Transitions Group North America. Lisa is committed to being an eternal student in the areas of personal growth, leadership, change management, human capital development, adult learning, advanced training techniques and communication skills. She may be contacted at www.tgnapracticemanagement.com or info@tgnadental.com.

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