5 Types of Referring Dentists…and Which to Avoid

I talk to specialists everyday from ALL over the country. One thing that continues to stand out is the commonalities of each referral model. Specifically referrals from dentists.

Referral Pattern Stats

More than 70% of specialists continue to receive >50% of their patients from dentists. Do you fit in this category?

But Shouldn’t We Abandon Dentists?

I tell my kids all the time, don’t believe EVERYTHING you hear. There are a handful of “specialist-only” consultants touting us to completely get rid of dentists all together. Well, what about all of us that still get over half of our patients from them? If we do what they say, it could bankrupt us. Not good.

80/20 Rule

You’ve probably heard of the Pareto Principle (AKA 80/20 rule). Right now, I can bet you are getting 80% of your dental referrals from 20% of the dentists. If you’re unsure, run the numbers. It may not be perfect, but I know it will be VERY close. So let’s break down these two different categories. Who is in the 20% and who is in the 80%

5 Types of Referring Dentists

Top 20%

  1. The Loyalists – These few dentists have and will always have your back. Typically no matter what happens (new specialists move in town, or you may screw up a few cases you are working on together, etc) it doesn’t matter. They will ALWAYS continue to refer to you. Unfortunately, this may account for only 1-5 dentists, this is typically the lowest number of the groups but the BEST. Treat them like ROYALTY.
  2. The Devoted – These dentists typical refer every month and their number of referrals range from 1-5 patients a month. Occasionally you may notice that they skip a month, but for the most part you can count on them for at least a few patients a month. I would also treat them like ROYALTY as both this group and the Loyalists make up your 20% that send 80% of the referrals.

Bottom 80%

  1. The Uninspired – This is the first group that makes up the 80% of the dentists that typically don’t refer much. These are the ones that can still refer several patients a month and then all of the sudden, you don’t hear from them for several months. It seems like they occasionally drop off the face of the earth. These docs are typically NOT loyal to you. If you were a fly on the wall in their practice, you would hear this phrase, “Hi, Mrs. Patient, the doctor recommended that you see a specialist to have your implant placed. Here’s three business cards to choose from.” You have a 1 in 3 chance of making the cut with these guys.
  2. The Humdrum Group – At the end of each year, whenever you print out your annual referral report, you can easily identify those in this group as they typically will only refer one or two patients the ENTIRE year. They rarely EVER mention you to a patient unless something like this situation comes up. “My dentist referred me to another specialist and I noticed that they weren’t in my network. I called them back and they told me that I could come and see you instead.” Those patients always make you feel good inside, right?
  3. The Barnacles – We love these guys don’t we? No matter what we do, this group will NEVER refer to you. Fugettaboutit! I’ve had these dentists refer me their family members and/or staff in the past. I stupidly thought that if I treated them at no charge, then I may get an occasional patient. Boy, was I wrong. Also, these are the ones that ALWAYS show up at your dinners/CE events and eat until their hearts (stomachs) are stuffed while milking you for CE.

    Barnacles anyone??


I want to be upfront with you. The first 9-10 years of practice, we NEVER segmented our marketing to local dentists. Meaning we treated everyone the same which is a big No-No (same thing with patients). We now only focus on groups #1 and 2 and occasionally #3.  Now you can see what this can do for you and your marketing budget.

Marketing Budget

Let’s say you plan on spending $2K/month on dentists. This maybe in the form of:

  • Dinners
  • Lunch & Learns
  • CE Events
  • Ballgames/theater/concerts
  • Birthday/Christmas gifts, etc.

Hypothetically, if there are 100 dentists in your referring network, then $2K doesn’t go very far. Instead, we take the 20%, or 20 dentists in this case, and NOW we can focus on ONLY them which will encourage more referrals and relationship building.

What To Focus On

Zig Ziglar stated, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
This is something that I’ve been personally doing and teaching for years with my local docs. Think about this. If you take a new dentist in the area to lunch, what do you usually talk about? How great your practice is, what procedures you perform and WHY that guy should refer to you, right? How about instead, take Zig’s approach. Ask him what YOU can do to help him get started. Maybe he needs some help with hiring or insurance questions. Invite him into your office to observe or evaluate how the flow in your office goes. This will go a LONG way and make a great impression on him. I also give him copies of my first book, “What They Don’t Teach You In Dental School“. It’s a very easy, step-by-step process of basically everything we are NOT taught in school (business + basic marketing). They love getting something like this so if you could put together some basics about how to run a practice, that’s a GREAT referral tool.

Also, I have a private client who is a periodontist in South Florida. He recently purchased a practice. I reached out to him, and realized that he was no longer in his group practice but in the middle of purchasing his own practice. He was a bit overwhelmed so I removed my monthly coaching fees for now, gave him  my private cell  number and encouraged him to call me about questions anytime he needed help. I remember when I was in the same situation and needed help. I can still remember which docs reached out to me and helped me. I am forever grateful for this and always told myself that whenever I got into the position to help, then I would too.

Your Referrals

What do you think about the 5 types of referring dentists?

Do you agree with them? If so, share a story about a particular group.


Do you have another group you’d like to add? I’d love to hear about it.

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Dr. Jeff

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