As with any business, getting paid is crucial. An obvious statement, but one that many dental practices don't seem to take to heart, judging by their approach to billing.

Unfortunately, a "good service and hope for the best" mentality simply won't cut it.

In fact, according to a May 2013 statistic from The Accounting Minute, more than 18 percent of accounts receivable in the United States are past due. That represents a huge percentage of any business's revenue, and not something most dental practices can afford to ignore.

To that end, here are five effective strategies for minimizing patients' dental debt and ensuring the maximum profitability of any dental business.

1. Tell patients how billing works before the service

Expecting patients to understand how billing works without explaining it or setting expectations is unrealistic. Instead, it's important to give them all the information they need upfront: how much they'll be paying, when you'd like them to pay, any incentive plans you have, how and when you bill insurance, as well as what types of procedures are covered, partially covered or not covered at all.

2. Make prompt payment appealing with incentive plans

Some patients are always conscientious and prompt in their payments. Others, however, will not pay right away unless they have a good reason to. Consider setting up an incentive plan whereby patients can get 5 percent off if they pay at the front desk right after their service. Or you can offer a Starbucks card or a 10 percent off coupon for their next visit if they pay within a month. Alternatively, interest on unpaid bills can be an effective deterrent.

3. Set up simple payment plans to keep patients on track

Payment plans have been around for a long time for a reason: they work. If patients have to pay less at once, they're more likely to pay off the complete total. Make payment plans approachable by explaining them at the beginning of the relationship, reiterating them upon checkout and sending email or text reminders.

4. Check insurance before setting patients up for an appointment

Most routine dental procedures are covered by insurance: semi-yearly cleanings, X-rays, fillings, root canals and so on. However, cosmetic procedures often aren't covered, or are only partially covered. For patients who have a high deductible, coverage may not matter at all until they meet that deductible. While checking with insurance before setting up an appointment may lose you some hasty patients in the beginning, it will drastically reduce the number of outstanding payments in the long run.

5. Use the power of the personalized written word

When all else fails, personalized missives are usually quite compelling. Write to patients explaining what they owe, what that means for your business and your relationship with them, and what their options are. Usually, they'll respond quickly, with good results all around.

These steps don't guarantee that a practice will have no accounts past due. Unfortunately, that's just a fact of doing business.

However, by setting expectations with patients upfront and offering lots of options for getting their bills paid, most practices can significantly reduce their debt. While this might involve an initial increase in time and cost outlay, in the end it will be more than worth it.