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Dentist takes big bite into technology to grow practice

Investing in cutting-edge equipment helps give Dr. Matthew Peterson a competitive edge.

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Need a teeth cleaning or a crown? You’ve got a lot of options in these parts.

The West Coast District Dental Association, one of six components of the Florida Dental Association, for example, has about 2,000 members. 

So how does a dentist stand out from the crowd? Dr. Matthew Peterson has opted to use technology as a differentiator. Over the past several years, he’s invested about $500,000 in cutting-edge equipment for his practice, Digital Dentistry of Sarasota, things like intraoral cameras for each patient treatment area and software and hardware from CEREC that allow him to make same-day crowns.

“I would say it’s helped me in regard to attracting patients,” says Peterson, 60. “Patients like going to a place that’s state of the art. They talk when they’re out somewhere; it is a marketing thing.”

The high-tech equipment aids in both patient convenience and their understanding of the treatments they might need. The ability for Peterson to offer same-day crowns means busy patients don’t have to schedule multiple appointments. “It’s not for every case, but it’s a nice tool to have in my tool box,” he says.

'Patients like going to a place that’s state of the art. They talk when they’re out somewhere; it is a marketing thing.'  Dr. Matthew Peterson

He estimates that he’s one of less than two dozen dentists in the Sarasota-Bradenton area using this technology. “It’s got a tremendous learning curve,” he says. “A lot of dentists start down that road and don’t finish it. They roll the investment into the corner and let it sit there. I’ve forced myself to really dive into it and utilize it.”

Digital imagery gives patients a clear picture of their problem areas and helps Peterson explain treatment options. “I tell patients I bought this technology to save them from having to go to dental school,” he says. “Because all of a sudden the patient can see, understand, and appreciate what I see, understand, and appreciate. Then it’s not about me convincing them that something needs to be done; it’s more like the patient asking me, ‘How do you fix this?’”

Photographic proof also comes in handy when insurance companies dispute claims. And patients reap all these benefits without any pricing impact. Peterson’s investment in technology has to be treated as just a cost of doing business. “You can’t charge any more for technology,” he says. “It makes no difference whether or not I do it old school or new school; the fee is the same.”

It’s a long way from when he started his practice in 1992 and had one computer at the front desk solely for scheduling and printing out insurance claims. Now he’s got an office full of equipment that needs to be constantly updated and maintained.

“Technology is a double-edged sword,” he says. “It’s a wonderful thing, but it’s also a burden at times. Sometimes it would be nice to do it the old-fashioned way, but that’s really not an option today.”

He stays on top of everything by purchasing maintenance and support programs for his equipment and software. “My bill with the dental supply company before I buy the first cotton roll is probably close to $1,000 a month just in support,” he says.

To offset that, he keeps things simple in other areas. He owns his office space, which he purchased in the late 1990s and benefited from being able to tap his brother, Sarasota architect Guy Peterson, for design work. A lean staff — one part-time and three full-time employees — means fewer potential personnel issues. “You start adding a bunch of staff and things get more complicated,” he says. “And good staff’s hard to find, especially now that the unemployment rate is down.”

Peterson doesn’t get outside his comfort level when it comes to his work load and has about 1,500 active patients. (He declined to share revenue figures.) “I wouldn’t say it’s the busiest practice in town, but it’s definitely not the slowest practice,” he says. “I’m working as hard as I want to work at this stage of my life.”

His focus on technology combined with good old-fashioned customer service help him compete against the large corporate practices that are becoming more prevalent in the dental industry. “I feel like I’m the little mom and pop hardware store next to the Home Depot,” says Peterson. “I really strive to promote stuff that’s needed, not stuff that I need to sell. I try to treat my patients as if they were my family members.”


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