The dental office pictured on Page 13 of today's Health section, which was printed in advance, is incorrectly identified in the caption. It is the Midwestern Dental Center in Dearborn, Mich.
Trade in your buck teeth on a 10-speed bike?
Once a year, The Dental Office -- a seven-dentist center in the huge Cherry Hill Mall in southern New Jersey -- promotes orthodontic services by offering a free 10-speed bicycle with every set of braces.
The office is open 80 hours a week, including weekday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays, and is run by Prime Health Systems Inc., a management company for dentists. Prime Health handles the business side of a practice, including office rent, hiring, personnel, billing, equipment leasing, computers -- everything, in short, but teeth and gums.
"You take a $2,000 case and give away a $100 bike," says Prime Health's chief executive, Arnold Albert. "You're giving away 5 percent.
"We took traditional business practices and applied them to dental practice. Dentists keep saying, 'I'm not busy.' But when they tell me they're not busy, I tell them they're not doing their job."
If only half the population is seeing a dentist, he reasons, dentists are doing a poor job of marketing.
Fear and inconvenience are two deterrents keeping 115 million Americans out of the dentist chair, Albert says. Nitrous oxide ("laughing gas") and stereo headphones help reduce the fear. Evening and weekend hours and a shopping-mall location offer convenience.
The center is heavily advertised with such slogans as "We cater to cowards" and "It's Sunday. Do you know where your dentist is?"
Parents who bring a child in for a dental appointment are given a beeper so they can go shopping in the mall instead of sitting in the waiting room. Refer another patient, and Albert will send roses. Just before Christmas, Albert mailed out 10,000 "Give a Smile" gift certificates, worth $25 each.
All that is enough to make some traditional dentists blanch. But compared with some, Albert's approach is restrained.
"Some doctors rent a roller-skating rink for a party for their patients," he says. "Or a bowling alley. Free bowling, free food. T-shirts, tote bags, frisbees, hats.
"The whole bit."