by Christopher Piehler

Christopher Piehler

On a typical day, an orthodontist sees dozens of teens and preteens. The most personable practitioners make a point of checking in with patients not only about their teeth, but also about whatever tidbits of their lives they are willing to discuss with an adult.

But all of us who have watched chatty 12-year-olds suddenly go mute with the onset of puberty know that, for many adolescents, having a conversation of more than seven syllables with a grown-up authority figure is about as much fun as changing the cat box. The orthodontist’s communication challenge, then, is to “talk” to teens without talking. And that means online social networking.

According to the latest poll on, 72.2% of orthodontists use social networking to promote their practices or stay in touch with patients and their parents. So far so good. (To the 27.8% who were computer-literate enough to take our Web poll but haven’t embraced social networking: Take a few minutes and check it out! At the very least you’ll find some long-lost high school classmates.)

Of course, social networking comes in many flavors. For example, 38.9% of our respondents have a presence on Facebook, 16.7% use Twitter, 11.1% blog, and 5.6% have posted videos on YouTube. All of these services have attracted more users than profits, and the difficulty of turning eyeballs into dollars means that sites can come and go quickly. (Does anyone remember Friendster?) So newbie networker beware: This year’s hot destination could be next year’s gigabyte ghost town.

If you want to be part of the conversation, .

Nevertheless, I applaud the 72.2% of orthodontists for making the effort to speak to teens on their own terms. Social networking is a relatively effortless way to build a connection between people who otherwise have little in common. To me, the question that warrants further investigation is this: Can social networking actually lead to more case starts? The companies that create these sites may not make money from them, but can you?

So if you or any orthodontist you know has any numbers that show what the return on investment for social networking is, I would love to hear about it—via phone, e-mail, or Facebook.

Christopher Piehler