Boundaries in Dental Practice (Part 2)

June 29, 2024 Paul Henny DDS

By Paul A. Henny, DDS 

In Part 1, we looked at personal boundaries in dental practice. I mentioned scarcity bias and how it is prevalent in undifferentiated dental practices but not so much in dental practices where providers and patients mutually share the values and agenda of the practice. Because scarcity bias is so human, so ingrained in us, I want to discuss two things in Part 2: healthy relationships and also how to address scarcity bias as it occurs in our differentiated dental practices. 

Insight Into Our Boundaries Leads to Healthy Relationships 

Healthy interdependent relationships are only possible through first understanding our personal boundaries (Who am I? What am I responsible for? What am I not responsible for?). That’s critical because psychologically speaking, boundaries are like fence lines with consciously regulated gates.  

The aphorism “Good fences make for good neighbors” prevails.  The same logic applies to the practice of dentistry and the nature of the relationships that we create—consciously or not, within it.  

And Now, We Circle Back to Differentiation  

Healthy interpersonal boundaries lead us toward more interpersonal authenticity, which leads us toward higher-quality communication of our values and purpose. Higher quality communication leads to a more sophisticated level of collaboration and healthy results, including healthy interdependent relationships, self-reflection, self-responsibility, improved oral and total body health, improved mental health, and a constantly growing reputation for your values. That’s differentiation. That’s personal authenticity. That’s success. 

Addressing Scarcity Bias 

Once we understand ourselves well and we communicate consistently with personal authenticity, we still have the challenge of “knee-jerk” scarcity bias in our patients. This is where patience comes in and empathy—understanding and recognizing their feelings. 

People are biased toward the here and now. The mind is naturally focused on meeting immediate needs at the expense of future ones. We procrastinate important things such as dental treatment unless we have an urgent need for it. We fail to make investments, even when the future benefits are significant or the costs of not doing so are substantial. 

When the dentist and patient participate equally in a co-discovery examination process and co-discovery consultations to discuss health history and current findings, and the patient is empowered and becomes comfortable mentioning everything on their mind, we have already begun the powerful process of leading each other through understanding what is happening in the body and what is happening in the mind (feelings and thoughts). We can start to talk about what the patient would like to achieve long term—the patient’s beyond-the-moment oral health goals. We can start to talk about what is possible to achieve together and introduce the notion that we can take steps at the speed that is mutually comfortable for us. 

Inspiration to do “the work” is often planted with just a few words that create a future desirable image in the patient’s mind. If we have the patience to let the inspiration grow, without overwhelming the patient, scarcity bias can dissipate. Often patients come back to the conversation the next time they visit us and say, “I was thinking about what we talked about, and I think I am ready to…”  

Negotiating health goals between two adults starts as an invitation to agree upon common goals. We can start early in the doctor-patient and hygienist-patient relationships by instilling the thought that preventive health care is a partnership. They can’t do it alone and you can’t do it for them. Everyone must play their part responsibly. 

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Dr. Paul Henny maintains an esthetically-focused restorative practice in Roanoke, Virginia. Additionally, he has been a national speaker in dentistry, a visiting faculty member of the Pankey Institute, and visiting lecturer at the Jefferson College or Health Sciences. Dr. Henny has been a member of the Roanoke Valley Dental Society, The Academy of General Dentistry, The American College of Oral Implantology, The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and is a Fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantology. He is Past President and co-founder of the Robert F. Barkley Dental Study Club.

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Effective Strategies for Managing Transition in Your Dental Practice (Part 1) 

June 26, 2024 Edwin "Mac" McDonald DDS

By Edwin “Mac” McDonald DDS  

Change is inevitable, and dental practices often experience significant shifts. Whether it’s practice acquisitions, personnel changes, or technology updates, leaders must navigate these transitions effectively. Here are some key strategies: 

Clear Communication: Effective communication is crucial during change initiatives. Prioritize clear and frequent communication with your team. 

Recognize Transition Phases: Understand the different phases your team will go through during transitions. Recognizing these stages helps you address their needs appropriately. 

Feedback Matters: Despite its challenges, providing feedback is essential. Avoiding it can lead to decreased morale, reduced productivity, and increased stress among team members. 

Remember, effective management during transitions directly impacts overall success. By implementing these strategies, you’ll lead your dental practice through change more smoothly. 

Phase One: The Ending Zone 

In the first phase of change, you are saying goodbye to the old and how people either individually or as a whole identify with the familiarity of it. People may experience denial, numbness, or resistance. The way each person feels and copes is likely to vary. 

It might feel like a significant loss to someone, so it is important that the leader understands how many people are affected at varying degrees of uncertainty and resentment due to the “loss” of what is no longer. Uncertainty and resentment create an environment in which team members may expend energy but not get much done.  

Recognize that this will be a time of loss and grieving for most. The key element that has the biggest positive impact is communication. I have walked several practices through ownership changes. One of them was a privately owned practice that was being acquired by a very prominent corporation. The initial response and reactions from the team members ranged from denial and numbness to resistance. Some employees who had been there the longest felt betrayed. These reactions varied from day to day, and week to week. What helped was constant communication. 

Before a change starts to happen, before the team sees signs of a transition coming, it is important to start communicating why and the transition that is likely to occur. Making employees feel secure and hopeful will reduce uncertainty and resentment. The more certainty you can give them about what will transpire and the future benefits they can expect the easier everyone will move forward, being productive and carrying forward the positive relationships you have invested in over the years. 

Strategies for Managing this Phase 

  1. Explain the rationale for the change and the benefits of it. If you are able, elaborate for each team member or department. There needs to be a venue to express concerns or gain support to bring about the closure. People need to know that you care about them as individuals. 
  1. Be transparent. Describe in detail what will change and also what will remain the same. Transparency is vital to cultivate trust. 
  1. Describe and celebrate the success and values of the previous ways of working and identify how they will be enhanced by the change. 

As long as we, the leaders, recognize their feelings, we have the opportunity to effectively help our team move to the next phase, so they do not stay in the ending zone too long. 

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Edwin "Mac" McDonald DDS

Dr. Edwin A. McDonald III received his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and Economics from Midwestern State University. He earned his DDS degree from the University of Texas Dental Branch at Houston. Dr. McDonald has completed extensive training in dental implant dentistry through the University of Florida Center for Implant Dentistry. He has also completed extensive aesthetic dentistry training through various programs including the Seattle Institute, The Pankey Institute and Spear Education. Mac is a general dentist in Plano Texas. His practice is focused on esthetic and restorative dentistry. He is a visiting faculty member at the Pankey Institute. Mac also lectures at meetings around the country and has been very active with both the Dallas County Dental Association and the Texas Dental Association. Currently, he is a student in the Naveen Jindal School of Business at the University of Texas at Dallas pursuing a graduate certificate in Executive and Professional Coaching. With Dr. Joel Small, he is co-founder of Line of Sight Coaching, dedicated to helping healthcare professionals develop leadership and coaching skills that improve the effectiveness, morale and productivity of their teams.

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Boundaries in Dental Practice (Part 1)

June 24, 2024 Paul Henny DDS

By Paul A. Henny, DDS 

Today, I am revisiting the value of personal authenticity and its transformational power within truly helping relationships. We know can’t evolve into becoming more authentic with our patients until we first “know ourselves,” which is another way of saying “until we’ve developed a lot of personal insight.” 

Personal insight is the beginning point of understanding what tends to drive our behavior and thinking, therefore, it’s the beginning point of change. But there’s another key variable in the facilitation-of-change process that’s often overlooked: What is the level of personal insight within the person we are attempting to help?  

What happens when we and our patients share similar values? 

We’ve all had experiences with patients with whom we easily and almost automatically connect. The conversations flow smoothly, and there’s a lot of agreement regarding what needs to be addressed, how and when. It happens because these folks share similar values and priorities, and likely, they’ve had some personal experiences that strongly support those beliefs. 

But let’s be honest. Those moments are rare for most dentists who have undifferentiated practices. 

What happens in undifferentiated dental practices? 

When I use the adjective “undifferentiated,” I mean the practice has a lot of patients who come for reasons other than shared values, agendas, and purpose. A patient’s dental insurance is a prime reason patients go to a particular dentist. Nearly free new patient exams and limited x-rays offered by many dentists is another reason. Being accessible for emergency dentistry in the patient’s local neighborhood is yet another. 

PPOs are likely the most common reason a patient sticks with an undifferentiated dentist. Patients with “insurance” don’t really have insurance. They have a minimal and limiting benefit plan disguised AS IF it were insurance. Consequently, misconceptions occur due to the intentionally confusing language. 

Additionally, insurance causes people to naturally focus more on their benefits (a reductionistic concept) than on their health (a holistic concept). So, in a very twisted and often dysfunctional way, dental insurance can cause people to make bad decisions that negatively influence their health as they psychologically prioritize money over their health.  

The Scarcity Bias 

The human brain has a bias toward scarcity thinking unless it’s actively circumvented through more right-side prefrontal cortex involvement. This scarcity bias occurs as most dental patients make treatment choices, and when this happens, we have a choice. 

  1. We can play along and rationalize it. “It is what it is.” We can take the checks and focus on economy-of-scale strategies and production. 
  1. We can actively work to remove insurance carrier influence from the patient decision-making process while facilitating greater patient involvement and problem ownership. 

Put another way: We either accept the codependency relationships (and all the anger, confusion, disappointment, and frustration that it brings along with the insurance benefits), or we actively work at creating interdependent relationships with patients, wherein they become the co-creators of their health future and share responsibilities associated with that goal. 

The Violation of Personal Boundaries 

When we actively participate in dependency-centric relationships, we violate interpersonal boundaries.  

On this, Avrom King brilliantly commented, “Dependency is the word we use to identify an individual who, for whatever reason, cannot claim and develop their latent personal power; instead, they negotiate psychological contracts with other people whose ego needs are served by accepting responsibility for the dependent person’s outcomes.” 

The minute we start to take responsibility for other people’s responsibilities, we begin a journey down a road that commonly leads to dysfunction, conflict, and frustration. 

Heath-centered dentistry is only possible through interdependent relationships, which means that ALL codependent relationships aren’t health-centered. They are centered on other things that are often associated with insecurity.  

To be continued in Part 2… 

 

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Dr. Paul Henny maintains an esthetically-focused restorative practice in Roanoke, Virginia. Additionally, he has been a national speaker in dentistry, a visiting faculty member of the Pankey Institute, and visiting lecturer at the Jefferson College or Health Sciences. Dr. Henny has been a member of the Roanoke Valley Dental Society, The Academy of General Dentistry, The American College of Oral Implantology, The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and is a Fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantology. He is Past President and co-founder of the Robert F. Barkley Dental Study Club.

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Partnering in Health Part 6: Seek a Mutual Goal 

June 21, 2024 Mary Osborne RDH

By Mary Osborne, RDH 

How can we make recommendations for care without fully understanding what the patient aspires to? The patient’s goals are the context or should be the context for recommendations that we are going to make as their partner in health. Too often, context is the missing piece in our conversations with patients.  

I’ve heard that Dr. Bob Barkley would say to his patients, “You know, Mrs. Jones, if I had taken X-rays of you every six months since you were born, we would have 80 sets of x-rays. And if I stacked them one on top of another and then thumbed through them, I would have a movie of the health of your mouth for the last 40 years. We would see how your teeth changed from health to the degree of breakdown we see today. We can’t do anything now to change that movie. That movie has already been made. But, if you like, you and I can work together to create the movie for the next 40 years. Is that something you’d like to do?” 

If we get agreement from the patient, “Yes, I’d like to work together with you to plan for the next 40 years,” that’s not a specific goal, but it begins to create a context for our recommendations. Instead of the provider setting the expectations of the patient, it becomes more of a mutual agreement to long-term planning, so that there’s a buy-in by both parties in the relationship. That’s moving toward a partnership.  

When we set a general mutual goal during the preclinical consults, it fits in well with our not knowing what we will uncover during the clinical piece of the appointment. Dentists and hygienists can be direct about it, and I think there is value in saying, “I’d like to come to a mutual agreement that we work together to understand what is going on in your mouth, and based on the circumstances we find, come up with the best solutions for you. Is that something you would like to do?” 

We can set expectations by saying, “As we go through this process, I will be asking for your input. We’ll take it slow and be thorough. We’ll discuss what you and I discover, and together we can think through the next steps you may want to take. How does that sound to you?” 

I think it is essential to this process to invite the patient to be in shared control by asking, “Would you like to proceed with the clinical examination? Do you have any questions for me before we begin?” 

When we come to the conversation as fellow travelers with the attitude that “the two of us can work together,” we open ourselves to working toward mutual agreement about what it’s going to take for this particular person to achieve the level of health to which they aspire. Starting as partners with the goal of improved health is a low-stress way of being in a relationship that is comfortable for both parties. 

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Mary is known internationally as a writer and speaker on patient care and communication. Her writing has been acclaimed in respected print and online publications. She is widely known at dental meetings in the U.S., Canada, and Europe as a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. Her passion for dentistry inspires individuals and groups to bring the best of themselves to their work, and to fully embrace the difference they make in the lives of those they serve.

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Values In Transition 

June 19, 2024 Edwin "Mac" McDonald DDS

By Edwin “Mac” McDonald DDS  

Change isn’t just about external circumstances; it’s also an inner evolution. We go on a transformative journey, and our reflections as we go touch upon our intention and legacy, our personal identity amidst the change, and decisions we make as the change unfolds.  

Challenge 1: Intention and Legacy 

When facing change, having a clear intention is like setting the compass for your journey. What legacy do you aspire to leave behind? Aligning your actions with your deeply held beliefs ensures congruence between your intentions and outcomes. But stress may cause you to move away from your most deeply held beliefs. I’ve witnessed this happen, just as I’ve witnessed deeply held beliefs guide what happens. 

Challenge 2: Personal Identity Amidst Change 

The question “Who do I want to be during this transition?” is profound. It invites introspection. Consider how you want to show up for yourself and those around you, especially those who are most important to you. Authenticity matters. 

Challenge 3: Listening and Accountability 

Change often involves decisions. Whose voices matter? Listening deeply to trusted individuals—those who respect and understand you—can provide valuable perspectives. Forming a leadership team of diverse viewpoints helps guide you toward success. 

The Importance of Values During Dental Practice Mergers and Acquisitions 

Many private dental practices are being acquired by large partnerships in 2024. These transitions have tons of potential and profit associated with them. Associated with these transitions are complex changes for the practice owner and team members…expanded ownership, more complex organizational structure, new operational systems, and a distancing of some decision making. They also come with the unknown of who will be your future partners after the next sale of the organization. Are you prepared for all of that?  

Preparing yourself and your team is essential. On the front end, asking every possible question including questions about the partnership’s core values, how they are integrated into the day-to-day operations, and communicating the importance of that to you and your team is essential to long term success. These questions and expressions are an attempt to examine the congruence and compatibility between you, your team, and your new partners. 

I am witnessing several friends transition successfully to one of these new partnerships. The common factor I observe is that each dentist has great self-awareness and received very strong assurance that they would retain autonomy to continue to practice according to the most deeply rooted values. I also observed that the large partnership was very stable with excellent systems and had high quality leadership.  

My father often told me: “The person that you have an agreement with is more important than the agreement itself.” In other words, a person of strong character will find a way to honor the intent of the agreement regardless of the specific circumstances of the moment. Values have longevity. Circumstances come and go. 

I have also witnessed an abandonment of strongly held values as an organization was going through the painful changes of decline. In abandoning their values, stakeholders were hurt and distanced themselves. It intensified and accelerated the decline. Values matter. Character counts. Clinging to our core values in times of change or decline will increase and accelerate recovery. There are countless Fortune 500 case studies to support this idea. 

Another Example of Values in Transition from My Life 

Finally, I want to leave you with a case study from my church, The Village Church. We had become a multi-site church in response to the demand of many people attending our main campus. As it grew, our leadership became painfully aware that it was not fulfilling our mission and it was not consistent with our closely held values of community and individual relationships. Over a period of several years, each church was given the opportunity to vote on becoming independent. They all voted around 95% in favor of the change. We gave away around 40 million dollars of real estate, equipment, furniture, and other assets to all of the churches.  

Today, the new independent churches are thriving as is our main campus where we attend. The decision was in conflict with everything that is happening in our business and church worlds where there is constant consolidation and scaling. However, the decision was consistent with the values that drive the purpose of the church. The change created multiple thriving churches that are serving their specific communities and growing people and their impact on our world. 

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Edwin "Mac" McDonald DDS

Dr. Edwin A. McDonald III received his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and Economics from Midwestern State University. He earned his DDS degree from the University of Texas Dental Branch at Houston. Dr. McDonald has completed extensive training in dental implant dentistry through the University of Florida Center for Implant Dentistry. He has also completed extensive aesthetic dentistry training through various programs including the Seattle Institute, The Pankey Institute and Spear Education. Mac is a general dentist in Plano Texas. His practice is focused on esthetic and restorative dentistry. He is a visiting faculty member at the Pankey Institute. Mac also lectures at meetings around the country and has been very active with both the Dallas County Dental Association and the Texas Dental Association. Currently, he is a student in the Naveen Jindal School of Business at the University of Texas at Dallas pursuing a graduate certificate in Executive and Professional Coaching. With Dr. Joel Small, he is co-founder of Line of Sight Coaching, dedicated to helping healthcare professionals develop leadership and coaching skills that improve the effectiveness, morale and productivity of their teams.

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Partnering in Health Part 5: Do you have TIME for new patients? 

June 17, 2024 Mary Osborne RDH

By Mary Osborne, RDH 

How much time do you schedule for a new patient, non-emergency visit? Is your priority efficiency or effectiveness? Is your goal to gather as much clinical data as possible, or is it to begin to build a relationship of mutual trust? Both are possible if you see the new patient visit as more of a process than an event.   

Too often new patients are rushed through an assembly line: brief conversation, clinical exam, diagnostic records, and treatment presentation! Is that really the best way to help people make choices about their health?  

There is no one right way to schedule a new patient. Different practices are successful with different models based on the values of the practice, practice growth, and the personality and skills of doctors and team members. The most important determinant of success is our ability to meet each patient where they are and join them on a journey to health. I am not suggesting we should be without practice standards of care.  We have a responsibility to decide what we need before beginning treatment. Our challenge is to guide patients to understanding why we need what we need, and why that is relevant to their unique situation.   

We may anticipate that patients will resist this type of experience, but if we make it truly about the patient and are flexible, I have found that patients are more than willing to participate in an individualized process that best meets their temperament and circumstances. 

I remember seeing a new patient that I was told was a “very busy attorney” because his secretary said so when she made the appointment and his wife said so when she confirmed the appointment. I anticipated that he would be a driver and prepared to efficiently move him through his appointment.  

As I explored his health history with him he expanded on the specific answers to questions. Soon, he was leading the conversation. When I remarked that I wanted to make sure we were making good use of his time. He said, “Mary, what’s this about time?” I replied that I knew he was very busy. He said, “Mary, this is about me. I have time for me.” 

His statement has stayed with me because I realized that if the conversation had been about me going through my check list and not listening to him, it would not have been a worthwhile experience for him. It also wouldn’t have been a worthwhile experience for me. 

I have learned that when the patient feels in control of the process they are willing to give that time to themselves. A lot of aha moments occur as they learn about themselves while speaking. When patients feel like they are on an assembly line being moved through our system, they have every right to be resistant.  

Empowering patients to lead the process is both an attitude and a learnable skill. When we can lose ourselves in the moment, really listen, really encourage, and really care about the patient’s thoughts and feelings, it is easy to make connections to the next step we recommend.  It is my experience that I can more quickly become a trusted health advisor when I intentionally share control with my patient. 

Most patients are willing to invest more time in the process when they see the connection between their needs and what we recommend.  These are typically patients who have or have had complex health issues and are seeking to improve and retain health. They perceive the value of the extended process and how much value you place on spending in-depth time with them.  

The entire team’s communication can deliver the message that everyone in the practice is keenly interested in them, and their appointment is uniquely planned to meet their needs.  

What has been your experience? Are you open to scheduling more time for conversations that typically garner trust and appreciation earlier in the relationship? 

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Mary is known internationally as a writer and speaker on patient care and communication. Her writing has been acclaimed in respected print and online publications. She is widely known at dental meetings in the U.S., Canada, and Europe as a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. Her passion for dentistry inspires individuals and groups to bring the best of themselves to their work, and to fully embrace the difference they make in the lives of those they serve.

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Best Day Ever 

June 14, 2024 Daren Becker DMD

By Daren Becker, DMD 

A 16-year-old girl presented with the worst case of ectodermal dysplasia I had ever seen.. She was missing all of her lower teeth except for her 12-year molars. She presented with a lower denture (made by a previous dentist) on two temporary implants in the canine position.  She had only a few maxillary teeth that were malformed; some of these were still her primary teeth.  The appearance of her smile made her look like she was a 9 year old child. 

She was embarrassed by her smile and realized she would need implants and restorative dentistry down the road. At the time, she was too young. Our hearts went out to her. 

Another dentist had recommended direct bonding, which certainly could have worked, but I thought that we could get a better aesthetic result for her with significantly less time in the chair. So, we captured preclinical digital impression scans with our iTero scanner and along with Matt Roberts at CMR Dental Lab in Idaho, we designed a digital wax-up for an improved occlusion and smile. From there, we had milled PMMA (Polymethyl Methacrylate) overlays created that we direct bonded onto the existing dentition as a long-term temporary solution. We did not need to prep any teeth, and we quickly gave her a broad beautiful smile that looked natural and age appropriate. 

She was in tears. We were in tears. Her mom and sister were in tears. It was the best day ever! 

Soon after, she got a part as an extra in a series filmed here in Georgia, and is thinking about a career in acting. Seeing her life change with simple, comfortable clinical procedures has been priceless. 

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Dr. Becker earned his Bachelors of Science Degree in Computer Science from American International College and Doctor of Dental Medicine from the University of Florida College of Dentistry. He practices full time in Atlanta, GA with an emphasis on comprehensive restorative, implant and aesthetic dentistry. Daren began his advanced studies at the Pankey Institute in 1998 and was invited to be a guest facilitator in 2006 and has been on the visiting faculty since 2009. In addition, in 2006 he began spending time facilitating dental students from Medical College of Georgia College of Dentistry at the Ben Massell Clinic (treating indigent patients) as an adjunct clinical faculty. In 2011 he was invited to be a part time faculty in the Graduate Prosthodontics Residency at the Center for Aesthetic and Implant Dentistry at Georgia Health Sciences University, now Georgia Regents University College of Dental Medicine (formerly Medical College of Georgia). Dr. Becker has been involved in organized dentistry and has chaired and/or served on numerous state and local committees. Currently he is a delegate to the Georgia Dental Association. He has lectured at the Academy of General Dentistry annual meeting, is a regular presenter at ITI study clubs as well as numerous other study clubs. He is a regular contributor at Red Sky Dental Seminars.

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Partnering in Health Part 4: Our Questions Shape the Conversation  

June 12, 2024 Mary Osborne RDH

By Mary Osborne, RDH  

The questions we ask on a health history form have more to do with disease history than health history, right? The focus is on disease right away. I like to shift that focus to health by saying, “I see that you’ve filled out this history and I’d like to talk to you about specifics, but I wonder if we can begin by you telling me a bit about your health in general? How healthy do you think you are?”  

I have found that if I start with health, I’m more likely to have a patient talk about health. If a patient says, “I think I’m pretty healthy,” I can ask, “What do you do to take care of yourself?” I can relate by acknowledging that I am trying to take better care of myself and how it isn’t always easy. Or I can pick up on something that is important to the patient, such as a concerted effort to get enough sleep or stick to healthier foods or to bicycle many miles a week. I can say, “Tell me more about that. It sounds like you feel better when you do that.”   

The questions you ask shape the conversation. And by the way, that does not just apply to reviewing a health history with new patients. It applies to every single interaction, with every single patient, with everyone on the team.   

When someone comes for their routine hygiene check, I might ask about their recent vacation or how their kids are doing, but I also always ask questions that open a conversation about health. Instead of starting with, “Have there been any changes in your health history since I last saw you?” I like to ask, “How has your health been since I last saw you?” Instead of asking, “Have there been any dental problems that you want us to pay attention to,” I ask, “What have you been noticing about your teeth recently? What are you noticing when you brush or when you floss?”  

We have to deal with disease. That’s a part of our job but moving toward health is more enriching. It’s positive.   

If you want to be seen as a partner in health, then moving the conversation in the direction of health is much more powerful than focusing on disease. The truth is everyone has a personal health story. There are things they are happy about and things they are sad about. When we take a little time to explore that story with questions, we and our patient gain insight into their experiences, attitudes, and feelings about their health. We and our patient get a better understanding of their motivations and the strategies they employ to become healthier. If we invite them to share their perspective with us, they will be more willing to hear our perspective, and we can extend an invitation: “Would you like to hear my perspective about that?”  

I recognize that inviting and engaging the patient in expanded conversations about their health may take a little more time, but it is effective time. Over the years, I noticed that when I thought I was being most efficient, I was generally being less effective. And in the long run, I ended up spending more time understanding what the problem was and trying to give more information without getting enough feedback to know if I was being heard or influencing the patient.   

One of my favorite things to hear from a patient is “You know, I never thought about that before.” I remember a woman who told me that she had been a smoker, but she had quit smoking. And I asked her how she did that. What prompted her? She said it was when her daughter was born that she realized that she didn’t want the smoke around her daughter. In her health review and preclinical conversation, she mentioned one of the things she did for exercise was tap dancing lessons, so I asked her how she got into that, and she said, “I figured I could spend time with my daughter, get exercise myself, and set a good example for my daughter. Wow, I guess my daughter is really a good influence on my health, isn’t she?” 

Those are the light bulb moments that light up my day.  

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The Intentional Hygiene Exam

DATE: September 5 2024 @ 8:00 pm - September 5 2024 @ 9:00 pm

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Date: September 5, 2024 Time: 8 – 9 pm ET Speakers: Michael Rogers DDS & David Gordon DDS Description: Is your hygiene program an interruption to your day?  Or is…

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Mary Osborne RDH

Mary is known internationally as a writer and speaker on patient care and communication. Her writing has been acclaimed in respected print and online publications. She is widely known at dental meetings in the U.S., Canada, and Europe as a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. Her passion for dentistry inspires individuals and groups to bring the best of themselves to their work, and to fully embrace the difference they make in the lives of those they serve.

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A Simple Score Sheet Gamifies Moving Patients Forward 

June 10, 2024 Clayton Davis, DMD

By Clayton Davis, DDS 

About 15 years ago, my wife and I were on a trip to New York City. My laboratory had told me about two dentists there who practiced together and did an amazing amount of cosmetic and restorative dentistry. Their best month was about six or seven times more than my best month, so I was curious. I knew they had studied with some of the same mentors I had. They had gone to Pankey and Dawson. They have a a comprehensive approach. While I was in New York, one morning I told my wife I was going to visit their Manhattan office and see what I could learn. 

Their office had reasonable furnishings (nothing fancy) and a reasonable level of equipment. It was tidy with nice staff. It seemed similar to what I have in my office. I sat down with the dentist who was there that day, and he shared with me what they do in their practice. They do a fair amount of marketing in health and beauty magazines that are circulated in the New York City area but otherwise it all sounded very familiar to my practice.  

A few moments later, there was a knock at the door. It was the hygienist, and she said, “Doctor, ready when you get a chance for your examination. Mr. Anderson is in today, you may not recall, but he had said that he wanted to get his veneers done after his daughter graduated from college. That was a couple years ago when he said that, and his daughter is graduating in June, so it’s time to bring that up again. I mentioned it to him today, and he’s scheduled to start that in July. So, when you want to come on in and talk to him about it, that would be great.” 

She walked away, and I looked at the dentist. I said, “What just happened? The hygienist handled everything about moving that patient forward for treatment. I can’t get mine to do that. As a matter of fact, we’ve had conversations, and they don’t seem to feel comfortable doing that.” 

He said, “I don’t know. We talked to them about it, and they’re tremendous about it. They really help our practice move patients into treatment.” 

I went home wondering how I could move my hygienists in the same direction, and an old business concept came back to me. If you want to improve something, you need to come up with a way to measure it. So, I came up with a form for logging what I call “Hygiene Points” and presented it to my hygienists. We talked about how we want to improve our ability to move patients forward with their treatment through the hygiene department. I simply asked them to score themselves on how it went at each appointment in talking to patients about any kind of treatment that came up. 

As each patient passes through hygiene, they receive a score. The lowest score, a score of 1, is for when I come into the operatory, talk to the hygiene patient, bring up some previously recommended treatment, and they go ahead and schedule it. A score of 2 is for when the hygienist finds a problem like a cracked tooth and says that it needs to be monitored. A score of 3 is for when I’m in hygiene and diagnose something new and get the patient to commit to schedule treatment. A score of 4 is for when the hygienist gets previously recommended treatment scheduled at the front desk without my involvement. A score of 5 is for when the hygienist takes an intraoral picture and points out a problem to me and I get a commitment to schedule. In other words, they say, “Let’s take a picture of this. I want Dr. Davis’s opinion on it when he comes in the room.” And then because the hygienist was concerned and I confirm in front of the patient that this is an issue that needs to be addressed, the patient schedules treatment. The collaboration and communication go so well, this is worth 5 points. And then the ultimate score is 6 for when the hygienist gets a commitment to schedule treatment for an obvious problem before I come in to confirm the diagnosis.  

The first couple of months that we used this scoring, we recorded a baseline monthly total.  After that, the competitive instincts of the hygienists kicked in and they wanted to improve their total score each month. I did not give them a reward incentive, and over two years, more production was coming out of hygiene. The old saw “You can improve what you measure” has certainly increased restorative collaboration and revenue in our practice, and the pursuit of higher Hygiene Points has been fun. 

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Clayton Davis, DMD

Dr. Clayton Davis received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina. Continuing his education at the Medical College of Georgia, he earned his Doctor of Dental Medicine degree in 1980. Having grown up in the Metro Atlanta area, Dr. Davis and his wife, Julia, returned to establish practice and residence in Gwinnett County. In addition to being a Visiting Faculty Member of The Pankey Institute, Dr. Davis is a leader in Georgia dentistry, both in terms of education and service. He is an active member of the Atlanta Dental Study Group, Hinman Dental Society, and the Georgia Academy of Dental Practice. He served terms as president of the Georgia Dental Education Foundation, Northern District Dental Society, Gwinnett Dental Society, and Atlanta Dental Study Group. He has been state coordinator for Children’s Dental Health Month, facilities chairman of Georgia Mission of Mercy, and served three terms in the Georgia Dental Association House of Delegates.

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The Antidote to My Pain 

June 7, 2024 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

By Barry F. Polansky, DMD  

An excerpt from Spare the knives…save the dental souls! published in Dental Economics, March 1, 2002 

For many in our profession, the daily onslaught of difficult procedures, rejected treatment plans, assistants who just don’t get it, the end-of-the-month cash-flow crunch and other office “fires” can lead to a fate not unlike the victims of the Chinese torture. 

The ancient Chinese employed a form of slow execution called “The Death of a Thousand Cuts” in which the victim was sliced repeatedly with a knife. Each individual wound was superficial and nonlethal, but the accumulation of hundreds of cuts proved fatal and caused much more pain and suffering than one sure stroke. 

Henry David Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I’ve come to believe that, in dentistry, there are a higher proportion of people in that category than normal. We start our dental practices to give ourselves more life; yet, inevitably, our practices slowly suck up the lives we have. 

Ironically, it wasn’t the dentistry that caused my distress. It was the “business” of dentistry that devoured my soul. All things being equal, I love the clinical side of my profession. But all the problems that confronted me in my practice—social, financial, and physical, during the normal day-to-day routine were overwhelming. The business of dentistry is hard! Unfortunately, I didn’t quite recognize that at first. 

Like many people, I studied philosophy at college, enjoying the sense of order that a well-constructed framework of ideas could bring to an otherwise indecipherable argument or problem. So, when faced with such a myriad of problems in the early days of my practice, quite naturally, I began to search for a philosophy of dentistry that would help me make sense of the issues at play. 

I looked to successful dentists to find my mentors, and, at the time, there were some great ones—Pankey, Dawson, Reed, Becker, Barkley. What I learned was a real eye-opener! I thought the antidote to my woes would be advanced clinical skills; however, these dental gurus were talking just as much about staff management, financial control, and the philosophy of running a business as they were about how to cut a great crown prep! I was surprised, but it made sense. I put these ideas into effect, and my practice turned the corner from that time on. 

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Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dr. Polansky has delivered comprehensive cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, and implant dentistry for more than 35 years. He was born in the Bronx, New York in January 1948. The doctor graduated from Queens College in 1969 and received his DMD degree in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Following graduation, Dr. Polansky spent two years in the US Army Dental Corps, stationed at Fort. Dix, New Jersey. In 1975, Dr. Polansky entered private practice in Medford Lakes. Three years later, he built his second practice in the town in which he now lives, Cherry Hill. Dr. Polansky wrote his first article for Dental Economics in 1995 – it was the cover article. Since that time Dr. Polansky has earned a reputation as one of dentistry's best authors and dental philosophers. He has written for many industry publications, including Dental Economics, Dentistry Today, Dental Practice and Finance, and Independent Dentistry (a UK publication).

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