Create an Organizational Culture that Is the Antithesis of Learned Helplessness 

May 24, 2024 Pina Johnson

By Pina Johnson, Professional Certified Coach, and Edwin (Mac) McDonald, DDS 

B.F. Skinner, a noted 20th century behavioral psychologist, conducted an intriguing and provocative experiment using laboratory mice. Using behavioral conditioning he was able to condition one group of mice to believe that through their actions they were able to determine their fate. Using the same methodology, he also succeeded in conditioning another group of mice to believe that there was nothing they could do to alter their fate. 

He then placed the first group of mice, the ones that believed their actions mattered, into a large tub filled with water. As anticipated, this group of mice, when placed in a life-threatening situation, acted instinctively and began to swim to the side of the large water-filled tub. Upon reaching the edge of the tub the mice were able to crawl out to safety. 

The second group of mice, the ones that believed that their actions were meaningless, when placed in the tub of water, simply sank to the bottom and drowned. Appropriately, the lack of responsiveness displayed by the second group of mice was termed “learned helplessness.” 

Culture Lifts or Sinks Ambition 

Belief that our actions and choices matter is essential to “making things happen.” 

According to Edgar Schein, an icon of modern leadership thought, the primary function of leadership is to create an organizational culture. The culture that we choose to create will influence every aspect of our organization and ultimately determine our dental practice’s success or failure. 

Value-based leaders understand the power to alter the course of the organization does not reside with a few; it is shared by many. Organizations with cultures based on shared beliefs and purpose are higher performing. Leaders of the highest performing organizations foster cultures rich in collaborative decision making and a profound belief that everyone has influence. 

Counter Learned Helplessness by Empowering Self-Confidence 

We have come to recognize that good-old “self-confidence” is a learned competency, and effective leaders create organizational cultures that promote and teach self-confidence to each individual team member. This is accomplished by empowering teams through collaborative decision making and ensuring each team member has been given the knowledge, skill, support, resources, and appropriate authority to accomplish each task required to meet the shared goal. 

Unleash Teamwork and Creativity 

In organizations with shared leadership cultures, human self-confidence is unleashed beyond saving oneself to act in the best interest of the organization. Knowing that our individual actions will have some effect on our organization’s future (and thus on our own future and the future of others we value) compels us to want to take actions that have positive benefit for everyone. This is “meaningful” for the individuals within the organization. This raises their engagement in the work and simultaneously generates a sense of wellbeing.  

In our dental practices, “We are serving others with empathy and care to ultimately improve their wellbeing.” This is a form of love. It begets appreciation and reciprocity. When the slings and arrows of daily life initiate negative thoughts of being out of control of a situation, remembering our purpose and prior successes enables us to see disappointments and frustrations as opportunities to create a new type of approach and carry on. 

The goal for effective leaders is to allow all of this to happen in a psychologically safe environment in which our staff need not fear repercussions for their well-intended actions even if the outcome of these actions is less than ideal. By creating organizational cultures that are psychologically safe, we draw out our organizational creativity which is often stifled by the psychological repression found in command-and-control cultures. 

Creative thinking is considered to be one our highest-level cognitive functions and has been found to be a distinguishing characteristic of exceptional organizations. The wise leader understands that their organization is best served through shared power, collaboration, and utilization of their organization’s collective creativity. 

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Pina Johnson

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Getting to Treatment: Letters to My Patients 

May 22, 2024 Laura Harkin

By Laura S. Harkin, DMD  

My dad and I were enjoying our favorite lunch spot years ago when he turned to me and said, “Laura, isn’t it amazing? There’s an incredible sense of trust that our patients have in us. Sometimes, we give our best recommendation for treatment, and it is declined as if it weren’t important or a priority. I’ve recognized that, more often than not, our patients eventually choose to move forward, proving that it was more a matter of timing and circumstance than lack of value.” 

Trust is the cornerstone of our practice. It was transferred from patients to Grandpa to Dad and to me. I do believe that every morsel is earned through guidance, thoughtfulness, and skill. Trust is an entity that requires constant nurturing. In private practice, one should recognize that a doctor’s trust in their patient is equally as important as a patient’s trust in their provider. With synergy there’s the opportunity for optimal health. Even as a child, I had a very clear understanding of the care my dad had for his patients. This feeling is innate and deeply imbedded in me. I imagine that he felt the same.  

I don’t consider myself “a writer,” but I’ve always enjoyed the art of letter writing. I grew up writing frequently to my grandparents and friends and always loved picking out stationary that reflected my personality. Recently, I reread the letters that my grandfather typed on his old typewriter and my oldest brother scribbled on his Grateful Dead CD inserts – crafted just for me. It seems fitting then that I enjoy writing personalized letters to my patients. In fact, I’m pretty sure I salvaged my mental health during COVID by writing “updates” to my patients during months of closure. I digress. 

The letters that I write to my patients are most often in reference to comprehensive treatment. They provide a bird’s eye glimpse of our most recent findings, diagnoses, and treatment recommendations. My older patients, especially, appreciate my thoroughness, organization, and systematic approach to recommended treatment. These letters certainly aren’t handwritten, but the hard copy renders a sense of care that’s transferred from my hands to theirs. We must remember that individuals comprehend and retain information differently. The one-on-one, verbal, treatment consultation can become lost in the shuffle of everyday. Add dental language and complicated procedures to the mix, and that’s simply a recipe for confusion.  

Whenever I present complex treatment to a patient, I write a letter in everyday language to support our conversation. It’s stored in their digital chart as part of their dental record. In my first paragraph, I state my patient’s chief complaint. A summary of clinical findings followed by bullet point. Next, I provide my best treatment recommendation, an appointment sequence, and the financial investment. Photographs are also a helpful insert to aid in explanation for family members who were unable to attend the consultation. I think there’s value in a tangible letter taken home to revisit.  

Treatment letters are also an irreplaceable resource for my team. When a patient calls to schedule treatment previously presented, my stored letter immediately becomes a reference for scheduling appointments, including time allotments and space in-between subsequent visits. In my office, we offer a courtesy for treatment paid in full. This amount is figured in the financial investment portion of my letter so that conversations regarding immediate payment or a payment plan can easily flow. Should a case not be accepted prior to a routine recare visit, this letter serves as an excellent reminder during team huddle. It’s inefficient to page through multiple chart notes and software-driven plans with no explanation of the diagnoses which caused a need for restoration in the first place.  

In my first few years of practice, it was hard for me to accept that I needed to view this document as fluid with a potential need for multiple modifications to suit my patient’s desires and limitations. For example, financial concerns often lead to the need for phased treatment or a compromise from the ideal. I’m committed to openly discussing what may occur if no treatment is rendered or if a compromised approach is chosen. Likewise, I believe in the importance of presenting the financial component of extensive treatment myself. As the dentist and business owner, I must “own” the fee that I’ve carefully determined to reflect indirect and direct time, the skill level and support to be provided by my team, the technical excellence of my laboratory technicians, and my own knowledge. The fee that I present is steadfast, barring an unanticipated need such as root canal therapy. Should there be a need for additional chair-time or visits, it’s included in the quoted fee.  

Finally, my letters include my expectations for post-treatment maintenance. For example, if we are to complete a hybrid case in conjunction with a surgeon, I’m careful to share the importance of periodontal health and frequent maintenance visits to prevent peri-implantitis. In patients who have pre-existing medical conditions that when uncontrolled can be contradictory, I stress the importance of regular monitoring. Ultimately, I strive to empower my patients to choose and achieve oral health, Undoubtedly, oral health positively impacts overall health. My personal letters are a distinguishing trait of my practice that convey the level of care to be carried from presentation through treatment and in maintenance. Consider the value in this extra step! 

 

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Laura Harkin

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Partnering in Health Part 3: The Power of the Medical History 

May 11, 2024 Mary Osborne RDH

By Mary Osborne, RDH  

The late Dr. Bob Barkley said your dental degree gives you the right to practice dentistry, but you have to earn the right to influence your patients. How do we earn the right to influence? How do we get that invitation we need to be invited into influence? 

There is a powerful tool you already have in your practice that can enhance your relationships from the initial visit through continuing care: a Health History. The Medical History forms most offices use are designed to efficiently gather information from patients about existing and previous conditions and diseases. Patients quickly check boxes. But it can do so much more. If you use health histories as opportunities to begin a dialogue with your patients you can also connect with them in the context of a mutually interesting topic — their health! 

I might begin a conversation with a new patient by saying “In this practice we believe that the health of your teeth is related to your overall health. I know you filled out this health history form and we can talk about the specifics of that, but I wonder if we could begin by taking a few minutes for you to tell me a little bit about your health in general.” Beginning with a conversation in that way it takes us out of focus on disease and opens the door to talking about health; what they know about their health, how they feel about it, and what they do to maintain health. Similarly, when a patient comes in for a hygiene visit instead of asking if there are any changes in their medical history, I might ask, “How has your health been since I saw you last?”  If we listen carefully to their stories about health, we will gather important clinical data, and we will also begin to understand their values. We will begin to co-discover what is important to them. 

The concept of co-discovery is frequently seen as having to do with helping the patient see current clinical conditions that we see. In that way, it’s a very useful tool. But I’d like you to begin to also think about co-discovery as a way of being in relationship with your patients. When you take a few minutes to have a dialogue about health you learn about your patients, as they learn about themselves. It is an opportunity for you to learn about their experiences, concerns, and perceived barriers to health—and it’s also an opportunity for patients to learn about themselves. 

In her book, “Kitchen Table Wisdom,” Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen says, “When you listen generously to people they can hear truth in themselves, often for the first time.” If you’ve had a conversation like this you know the magic that occurs as a patient realizes things about themselves they’ve never thought of before. As they speak out loud they hear themselves for the first time. I have found that if I show up as an understanding fellow traveler with a desire to learn, it opens the door for them to begin to see me as a trusted advisor. 

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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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Partnering in Health Part 2: There Is No Suffering We Cannot Care About  

May 6, 2024 Mary Osborne RDH

By Mary Osborne, RDH  

Think for a moment: Is there a change you think you could make in your life that would contribute positively to your health? Is there anything you could be doing—or not doing—that could improve your overall health and wellbeing? Most of us can think of something we could do, or do more consistently, to improve our health. Next, ask yourself if the reason you have not made the change you need to make is because you do not have enough information. Our clinical training taught us that if we give people the right information they will change their behaviors. It’s easy to get disappointed in ourselves and our patients when that turns out to not always be true.   

Reflecting on our own past and current health challenges is a way to remind ourselves that health is a journey, not just a set of strategies. What makes perfect sense to us now, may not have been relevant 20 years ago. Often we have heard the relevant information before but were slow to act on it. We may have conflicting priorities, such as time, or money. We may have had fears or doubts. When we can look at our own journey with understanding and compassion we are better able to see our patients that way.   

I remember a patient who came to us with a lot of dentistry that needed to be done. As we talked with her about recommendations for treatment, her eyes welled up with tears. “It’s nothing,” she said when I asked her what the tears were about. Eventually she shared with us that she and her family had been saving up to build a deck on their house. Doing the dentistry she knew she needed would mean they could not build the deck. There was a time when I might have thought, “What’s more important, a deck or your dental health?!?” But I was moved by her struggle. I can’t judge what a deck may mean to her and her family, but I can relate to her sadness in letting go of something they had been saving toward.   

As you advise patients, it’s helpful to share that are you on a path to better health yourself, and that it is not always easy. In this way we can step outside of the role of “expert” and come to our conversations as fellow travelers. And when we do come as fellow travelers, we bring our empathy, our humanity, and we allow ourselves to feel compassion. We are likeable.  

One of my favorite books is Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal. She quotes the psychologist Carl Rogers, who said:  

Before every session, I take a moment to remember my humanity. There is no experience that this man has that I cannot share with him, no fear that I cannot understand, no suffering that I cannot care about, because I too am human. No matter how deep his wound, he does not need to be ashamed in front of me. I too am vulnerable. And because of this, I am enough. Whatever his story, he no longer needs to be alone with it. This is what will allow his healing to begin. 

Because we are on a journey of becoming healthier just like everyone else, we can sit side by side with a patient. We can say, “I get it. It’s not always easy.” We can allow ourselves to feel compassion—that urge to genuinely help someone, and gently invite them to understand they are no longer alone.

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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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Partnering in Health Part 1: The Missing Piece 

May 1, 2024 Mary Osborne RDH

By Mary Osborne, RDH 

There was a time when I thought “partnering in health” was just about getting people to take better care of their teeth. 

Many years ago, I had a patient who was excellent with her home care, but she showed up periodically with an acute periodontal infection. We asked about stress and her overall health, but she was not aware of any issues. We would treat the infection and she would be fine for a sometime. We knew she worked for National Public Radio, and one day we made the connection that her infections showed up concurrent with NPR’s fund-raising drives. That shared realization allowed us to help her see that her stress was affecting her dental health and her overall health. She was open to conversations about lifestyle changes that would help her be healthier. My relationship with her influenced my thinking and my ability to connect with my patients from a perspective of Whole-health Dentistry. I came to understand that I had been missing opportunities to influence the way people think and feel about health. I knew that I wanted my patients to see me as “a partner in health.” 

Unfortunately, most of our patients come to us with the perspective that we are fixers of teeth, not partners in health. 

In the culture today people are bombarded with information about what is healthy. From friends and families, social and news media, and a wide variety of health care practitioners, everybody expresses opinions on how they are supposed to take care of themselves. Why, then, are we surprised when our patients don’t know whom to trust? Why are we surprised when they shrug their shoulders or appear confused? It’s not always a case of conflicting facts but a case of various perspectives that people don’t know how to navigate. 

Think about where you place your trust. How do you decide whom to trust about decisions—whether it’s about your health, or about your finances, or about how you raise your children? When I ask myself that question, two criteria surface. They need to know their subject and to know me. I want that person to know what it is they’re talking about. I want them to be well informed. I also want someone who knows me, who understands my values. I want that person to have a sense of who I am and what is important to me. 

As we get to know our patients over the years, most of them come to see us as trusted advisors when it comes to their dental health—but fewer see us as trusted advisors when it comes to their general health. If we jump too quickly to making recommendations about their overall health, we are more likely to meet resistance. If we want to cross the bridge into influencing our patients’ overall health and wellbeing, I believe we need an invitation to cross that bridge.   

The Missing Piece in our quest to influence the overall health of our patients is the failure to invite patients to share their perspectives on health. Beginning a conversation with a new patient with the question, “What can you tell me about your health in general?” is an invitation for them to talk about their experience of their health, not just details. Instead of “reviewing” health histories, what if we “explore” health histories? As we connect and get to know each other we can learn to listen beyond information to hear attitudes, beliefs, fears, biases, concerns, barriers, etc. As you understand their perspectives on health issues that come up in conversation, it’s easy to ask if they would like your perspective on that issue. These conversations often lead to more questions and answers that invite more and more invitations from our patients to be their partner in health. 

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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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How Do You Like to Receive Feedback? 

April 29, 2024 Kelley Brummett DMD

Kelley Brummett, DMD 

Recently, I completed growth conferences with everyone on my team. The beauty of a growth conference is that it’s all about growth. It’s all about effort. It’s all about meeting each other and becoming more aligned with the mission of the practice. If I have something I want to share with a team member that’s a concern or something new I would like them to achieve such as mastery of a new skill, I think about how I’m going to communicate it. And as I do growth conferences with the individuals on my dental team, I am cognizant that they are likely to want to receive feedback differently as individuals.  

I’ve discovered that if I ask my employee upfront how they like to receive feedback, they pause to think before responding. I wait patiently for their response because I know the response will save both of us time and energy. For example, there are some team members who want the short and skinny of it—“Give it to me straight now.” They don’t want you to hold back. There are some team members who need to be gently warmed up before they can hear the message and require thorough explanations of why. 

I’ve discovered it helps to frequently ask the “how do you like feedback” question of my team to get their buy-in of my feedback. The beauty of “feedback” is that even criticism can be framed in a positive way as the next identified step in working towards a goal.  

Those of us in dentistry know that sometimes we move fast, but there are times that we need to sit back, think through what somebody gave us information about, and then come back and have a conversation. Mary Osborne has guided us to have conversations with patients that allow us to slow down and learn more about them so they can think, hear themselves speak, and learn about themselves. I’ve decided the feedback question is also a good question to ask patients. “How do you like to receive information? Would you like to know all the details or for me to summarize?” 

I’ve learned from Mary and experiences with patients that “staying in questions” helps them grow. Staying in questions also helps team members grow. Staying in questions helps us providers grow. So, feedback—how do you give it? How do you like to receive it? How do you handle it? I encourage you to think about this. 

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Kelley Brummett DMD

Dr. Kelley D. Brummett was born and raised in Missouri. She attended the University of Kansas on a full-ride scholarship in springboard diving and received honors for being the Big Eight Diving Champion on the 1 meter springboard in 1988 and in 1992. Dr. Kelley received her BA in communication at the University of Kansas and went on to receive her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. After practicing nursing, Dr Kelley Brummett went on to earn a degree in Dentistry at the Medical College of Georgia. She has continued her education at the Pankey Institute to further her love of learning and her pursuit to provide quality individual care. Dr. Brummett is a Clinical Instructor at Georgia Regents University and is a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Dr. Brummett and her husband Darin have two children, Sarah and Sam. They have made Newnan their home for the past 9 years. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, reading and playing with her dogs. Dr. Brummett is an active member of the ADA, GDA, AGDA, and an alumni of the Pankey Institute.

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Stories About Stories 

April 22, 2024 J. Michael Rogers, DDS

By Michael (Mike) Rogers, DDS

Close to my office there is a small strip center that includes a realty group and a small church. At one end, there is no sign to show what it is, but it has a drive-through window. Every day there is a significant line of cars going up to that window. Cars line up waiting their turn, and the line is so long the cars snake through the parking lot, out into the street, with hazard lights flashing. 

I have a friend who loves to create stories about what is going on in strangers’ lives. Why is someone driving so fast? What meal are they going to create with food in a shopping cart? Why are two people arguing?  

Fantasized from some level of observation, my friend has captured what this drive-through is all about. He believes that because the drive-through is adjacent to a church, you can pull up to the window and are given a donut along with a prayer. It’s a small ministry for people to have a better day. That’s not a bad narrative but no real basis for the story. I say that as the line of cars grows longer, the prayers gain power. I get a warm feeling of their impact on others. 

I find we make up stories in my office as well. We make them up about why someone didn’t show up for an appointment, why someone didn’t move forward in care that has been advised, or why someone won’t pay a balance. Our tales are based on some level of observation, but they are tales none the less. 

I try to remember to look at these moments in three ways. 

  • What do I know? 
  • What do I think I know? 
  • What do I want to know? 

We practice this in our office. I encourage my team to not live in “what I think I know.” This state of mind too often leads to creating stories that reflect a judgement. If I hear a team member begin to create a narrative based on a circumstance with the phrase “I think…,” I try to politely make them aware of what they are doing. They most certainly recognize when I do it and politely let me know. I just grin to hide my disappointment in myself. Maybe someday, I’ll say, “thank you.” 

In relationship-based practices, we have such marvelous opportunities to help people be healthier. Asking questions about what we’d like to know and sometimes creating self-discovery for the patient as well. We often get repeated moments to connect and learn with each other. The need to make up stories is dissolved when we get to hear their story. Sometimes that story is fun, other times hard. We get to walk along that story with them. What a gift to live a life in that connection! 

Recently, a member of the realty group on one end of the strip center came in to see me. I couldn’t resist asking what the line of cars is about. It turns out it is an Ignition Interlock site for people that have had a recent DUI. You go up to the window for your installation time of the small handheld breathalyzer to prevent your car from starting after drinking alcohol. 

I haven’t shared that with my friend. I like his story better. 

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J. Michael Rogers, DDS

Dr. Mike Rogers is a graduate of Baylor College of Dentistry. He has spent the last 27 years developing his abilities to restore patients to the dental health they desire. That development includes continuing education exceeding 100+ hours a year, training through The Pankey Institute curriculum and one-on-one training with many of dentistry’s leaders. Dr. Rogers has served as an Assistant Clinical Professor in Restorative Sciences at Baylor College of Dentistry, received a Fellowship in the Academy of General Dentistry and currently serves as Visiting Faculty at The Pankey Institute. He has been practicing for 27 years in Arlington, Texas.

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Are Your Temporaries a Practice Builder or Simply Temporary? 

April 10, 2024 Gary DeWood, DDS

Gary M. DeWood, DDS, MS 

Many dentists believe that provisional restorations don’t really matter. After all, they are not really a stand-in for the final restoration. I would respectfully disagree. I am a proponent of creating functional, durable, and highly esthetic provisional restorations, every time. They have the potential to impact your dental practice a lot more than you might think. Whether you print them, form them, or free-hand them, a GREAT temporary is a great billboard for your practice. 

  1. Make the provisional as Esthetic as the final restoration.

I contend that the more your provisionals look like what you are hoping for when you seat the final restorations, the more people will talk about them, AND you. 

I was able to build a referral restorative practice by creating provisionals that made patients want to come to my practice and specialists want to send people. For much of our career, almost the entire team of the oral surgery office we worked with, and many of the team members from the other specialty practices we worked with, were our patients in Pemberville, Ohio. 

Front teeth or back teeth, when you make them look like teeth, people will like it and they will show and tell other people. “This is just the temporary?!” was not an uncommon question or exclamation from our patients.  

  1. A GREAT guide makes a GREAT provisional restoration.

Your wax-up** cast/model serves as your vision, as your preparation guide fabrication device, and as your provisional former. When the preparation is appropriately reduced for the material selected, the temporary can mimic the restoration. 

** The wax-up might be created with wax then duplicated with impression material and stone to create a cast, or it might be scanned to be duplicated with resin and printed or milled to create a model. 

  1. 3. Use that provisional to highlight the talents of your team members.

You might LOVE to make those provisionals, but if your assistant is equally excited when it comes to recreating nature for the patient to appreciate, then it could be an opportunity for patients to see that your assistant does much more than set-up, clean up, and hand you an instrument. My dental partner, Cheryl, (who is also my wife) and I actively sought out things that could help our patients experience our team as much more than our helpers. 

As we all know, dental assistants are an integral and vital part of what the practice is and are a powerful force in how and why patients ask for dentistry. Assistants who fabricate provisionals have an opportunity to be seen differently, and we were always looking for ways to create partnership with them in our treatment. 

  1. 4. Take pictures of them.

Photographs of the temporary will make it easier for the lab to design the outcome. They will be able to see what you are thinking, able to visualize what you want, AND maybe even more importantly, see what you do not want. With anterior provisionals, I have frequently noted to my ceramist, “Please put the incisal edge in exactly this position vertically and horizontally in the face, then use your artistry to create the tooth that belongs in the face you see in the photographs of the patient before, prepared, and temporized.” 

There were many times when the technician was able to see and create effects that I might have not recognized as being “just the thing that would make these teeth extraordinary.” And don’t forget to show the patient the photograph. 

  1. 5. Love the material you make the temporary with.

The better the provisional material is at holding tooth position and functional contact, the less adjustment we’re going to have, so using a high-quality material is important. There are a lot of them out there. I like bis-acryl materials that polymerize with a hard surface, have little or no oxygen inhibited layer, and can be polished easily. The polish is more about feeling smooth than about the shine. Ask you patients how their provisional tooth “feels” when you are done, so they sing your praises. 

  1. 6. Use high-quality core material.

When you use a good core material the prep will be smoother, making it easier to fabricate nice provisionals. Ideal prep form goes a long way toward better provisionals. 

  1. ASK your patient to tell people.

As noted above, when you can elicit an emotional response about the awesomeness of your provisional, ask the patient to tell other people, “….and this is just the TEMPORARY!” 

Related Course

Mastering Treatment Planning

DATE: October 2 2025 @ 8:00 am - October 4 2025 @ 1:30 pm

Location: The Pankey Institute

CE HOURS: 25.5

Tuition: $ 4795

Single Occupancy with Ensuite Private Bath (per night): $ 345

 MASTERING TREATMENT PLANNING Course Description In our discussions with participants in both the Essentials and Mastery level courses, we continue to hear the desire to help establish better systems for…

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Gary DeWood, DDS

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The Value of Consultants, Coaches, and Mentors in Dental Practice 

April 5, 2024 Gary DeWood, DDS

Gary M. DeWood, DDS, MS 

As an associate dentist, you may be fortunate to learn from the instruction and observation of a senior dentist, but over your career, you will gain innumerable benefits from outside consultants, coaches, and mentors. 

One of my mentors, Dr. Richard A. Green, told me that one of the keys to my success would be to surround myself with a Board of Directors. He was correct. My board is composed of people who are willing and able to see my vision and hold me accountable for going to it. Some are consultants, some are coaches, and some are mentors. Sometimes they are all three in one person but no one person has all the answers. 

Consultants, coaches, and mentors help us in different ways. 

In dental practice, I often hear the words mentor, coach, and consultant used interchangeably to describe the activities of someone assisting the doctor with the management of his or her practice. I believe that these functions, while not mutually exclusive of the same individual, are different in their roles with regard to all three of you. 

What do I mean by that? “You #1” is the entrepreneur and leader of the business you have established. “You #2” is the manager of that business. “You #3” is the dentist working in the business. Each you possesses a different level of training, understanding, and ability. Each you benefits differently from consulting, coaching, and mentoring. 

Early in practice my partner and I hired consultants to see what escaped us and to give us solutions.  

Consulting is all about being an outsider looking in. The adage that consultants are individuals who are paid a lot of money to tell you what you already knew but couldn’t see, does not diminish their effectiveness or necessity, particularly in offering solutions.  

I met Jim Pride while I was still in dental school. In the early years of our relationship, following the acquisition of our practice, Laura, our Pride consultant, consulted us by telling us what to do. I was directed to employ systems that were developed by Jim Pride and his team while working with many Pride Institute clients. I did as we were “consulted” because I had no reference for individualizing the systems, something that changed as we found the parts and pieces that delivered and left behind parts that did not resonate for us.  

As my partner (who happened to be my wife) and I changed, our expectations changed, and our needs changed, we continued to need that outsider looking in to see for us that which we could not see. We did not, however, need or want to be offered solutions. The best consultants understand that their ultimate goal is to empower and develop their clients’ skills and abilities so that they can eventually operate independently. 

When we no longer needed a consultant, we needed a coach. 

Unlike consulting, where solutions with precise instructions are offered, coaching offered us a process out of which our vision for our practice developed. Dental practice coaches ask questions rather than give answers. They are observers. They take us inside ourselves and assist in our development as leaders. They draw out what is already within and empower us to act on it. 

What, then, is a mentor? 

For me, mentors are individuals who have traveled the path we seek to follow. They may fill the role as a consultant and/or a coach depending on our needs and their comfort with the things that are challenging us at any given time, but frequently their primary role is that of an example. The Pankey Institute community abounds in them. 

I have observed that dentists who develop a relationship with a mentor are able to move more quickly and clearly toward their preferred future. It is precisely for this reason that one of the goals of participation in a study club is to build groups with a broad range of experience and experiences. It is the third YOU, the practicing dentist, who gets the most from being mentored 

Dentistry is a tough job. It’s demanding and stressful to perform highly technical, intricate procedures continuously on a daily basis. Our mentors show us that we can do it because they did. Often there is peer-to-peer collaboration in “surfacing up” the mindset, approaches, and solutions that will work best for us. Always there is encouragement. 

Sometimes mentors listen. Sometimes they challenge. Always they support. Their map is not always the map we choose to follow, but their example–as individuals who continue to see their vision and map their future accordingly–inspires us to do the same. 

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DATE: March 6 2025 @ 8:00 am - March 8 2025 @ 2:00 pm

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CE HOURS: 16

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Single Occupancy with Ensuite Private Bath (per night): $ 345

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Gary DeWood, DDS

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Trust Is Essential to Helping Our Patients 

April 3, 2024 Paul Henny DDS

Paul H. Henny, DDS 

Trust is commonly thought of as a firm belief in the reliability, truthfulness, and capability of another. But trust is about vulnerability . 

The more a person trusts, the more they are willing to allow themselves to be potentially hurt. They make a risks-benefit analysis, and when they feel they are ready, they decide to throw the dice.  

Conversely, when a person isn’t willing to trust, they have strategically chosen to minimize their vulnerability.  

Think about the times when you were personally unwilling to let someone into your life—when you were feeling too vulnerable. 

It’s easy for us to project our values without sensitivity to others’ often hidden concerns. When a patient says no to x-rays, to allowing us to proceed with a proper restoration, or other appropriate procedures, they don’t trust us enough right now. And when that occurs, it’s easy for us to instinctively respond by projecting our values onto the situation.  

A better strategy is to empathetically explore why a person responded to the situation the way they did—try to understand the situation from their perspective, and then focus on finding common ground in shared goals and values. Hopefully, with the right questions and empathy, we can build a bridge of trust and help our patients cross over to a place of more information on which to make the appropriate decisions for themselves. 

“No” often means “not yet,” as in “You haven’t convinced me yet that I should allow myself to be that vulnerable around you.” 

Co-Discovery requires a leap of faith on our part—a belief that most people will eventually do the right things for themselves. If we are unable to trust our patients on that level, then we’re going to struggle emotionally, demonstrate frustration, and to some extent inadvertently manipulate patients into doing what we want them to, a behavior that drives emotionally sensitive patients away. 

We need to trust our patients will make the leap as well. We need to willingly take the time and energy to continue in and trust the Co-Discovery process during which the patient starts to believe that we are the best resource to help resolve their problems and achieve their goals. When we allow our patients the time to make decisions based on what they think is in their best interest, they usually make healthy choices and appreciate the services we provide. This is how we succeed in helping them (and us) have a healthier, happier life. 

For an in-depth look at Co-Discovery and multiple essays on patient-centered dentistry, you are invited to read my recently published book: CoDiscovery: Exploring the Legacy of Robert F. Barkley, DDS, available at The Pankey Institute and on Amazon. 

Related Course

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DATE: March 6 2025 @ 8:00 am - March 8 2025 @ 2:00 pm

Location: The Pankey Institute

CE HOURS: 16

Dentist Tuition: $ 2795

Single Occupancy with Ensuite Private Bath (per night): $ 345

Achieving Financial Freedom is Within Your Reach!   Would you like to have less fear, confusion and/or frustration around any aspect of working with money in your life, work, or when…

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Paul Henny DDS

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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