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

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

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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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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. 

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

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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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Managing Employee Compensation in a Fair & Open Way

August 13, 2021 North Shetter DDS

As a small business owner emerging from the Covid crisis, one of the issues we face is how to manage employee compensation in a fair and open manner. Are we paying our employees a fair wage for what they do in the demographic area that we live in? Often it is not possible to know what the competition is paying.

In our current job market, skilled labor knows that they can be tough negotiators. Under current National Labor Relations Act rules employees have the right to discuss wages, hours and working conditions with others. Pay discrepancies can result in potential claims of discrimination and resentment. A mix of new hires and old hands, in particular, may lead to conflict about wages.

Your Wage Budget & Scenario Analysis

One way to address this as an owner is to create a spreadsheet that establishes the range of wages you are able to pay for various positions based on your requirements and your budget. It might look something like this:

In my case, I need to know not only what I am paying and whether I am competitive to get the best talent. I also need to know how any changes will impact my overall budget. As I am considering changes in my current employee wages and what I can pay a new hire, I need to know my overall business finances.

I also need to not manage my practice revenue to cover the luxury items I want in my personal life but instead to grow and sustain my business. I need a business growth mindset plus the attitude that Dr. L.D. Pankey promoted when he admonished dentists to learn to live on less than they make. Our teams make it possible to be in business. People come first. We’re in a people business.

Professional Guidance & Standards

My state professional association conducts a survey of offices every few years that provides a reasonably accurate picture of wages and benefits based on a number of demographic variables. That information, along with discussion of this issue with my peers, provides me with an idea of what the range of wages should be in my area.

My industry ideal is to keep total overhead for staff as close to 25% as possible, but in today’s economy this is becoming more difficult. I have found it helpful to define the market value of the various positions in the business and to understand the difference between the team members who produce income and those who do not.

Ask & Answer for Yourself a Few Questions

Where are your wages relative to your peer group? Are you underpaying, or overpaying, some of your people, and if so, what will you do about it? Where are your wages with respect to your budget and to what business analysis considers Ideal?

Something Most Dentists Don’t Do

You can take the information from your spreadsheet and share what you have learned with your team on an individual basis.

Each person needs to know that there is a range of pay for what they bring to your business. When they reach the top of the range, often due to longevity, that is all you can offer in wages. You might consider offering additional employee benefits, for example, additional vacation time. But know that what you offer will very likely be shared with everyone else.

Your wage budget worksheet allows you to develop an open and fair discussion of compensation. It helps remove much of the emotion that often gets in the way when employer and employee seek to justify levels of compensation. Your team members need to know you respect and value them, and to grasp that to remain in business there must be a profit and a budget for the business that makes sense for all concerned.

Relationship-Based Dental Practices Have an Advantage

Although recent news and chat forums indicate wages are rising for dental workers and this is putting pressure on dentists to increase their fees, we have much goodwill we can use to counterbalance this. Employees are not apt to jump ship when they like the environment in which they work…where their work is respected, their work is meaningful, they enjoy their co-workers, and solutions are found to reduce stress.

Dentists, who are truly relationship-based in their philosophy of dental practice, offer a totally different working environment than the many dental practices, in which employees describe their workplace as toxic. You can leverage the goodwill of your team members to help recruit the right new employees and stay in budget.

————

In the comments below, I’d love to hear how other private, fee-for-service dental practices are currently mindfully managing hiring and wages.

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North Shetter DDS

Dr Shetter attended the University of Detroit Mercy where he received his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree in 1972. He then entered the U. S. Army and provided dental care at Ft Bragg, NC for the 82nd Airborne and Special Forces. In late 1975 he and his wife Jan moved to Menominee, MI and began private practice. He now is the senior doctor in a three doctor small group practice. Dr. Shetter has studied extensively at the Pankey Institute, been co-director of a Seattle Study Club branch in Green Bay WI where he has been a mentor to several dental offices. He has been a speaker for the Seattle Study Club. He has postgraduate training in orthodontics, implant restorative procedures, sedation and sleep disordered breathing. His practice is focused on fee for service, outcomes based dentistry. Marina Cove Consulting LLC is his effort to help other dentists discover emotional and economic success and deliver the highest standard of care they are capable of.

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A Sturdy Foundation for Relationships

May 7, 2021 Mary Osborne RDH

What would you like to build your relationships upon in your practice? With all the attention that is paid to dental insurance, it sometimes seems as though that becomes the foundation of our relationships with patients. When this is the basis of our relationship, the moment the plan changes, the patient may be looking for another dental office. Do we want to have our relationship based on such a fragile platform?

When I think about what we could have at the foundation and how we could make this happen, several things come to mind.

Compassion as the Basis

Basing a relationship on compassion can begin with the very first phone call. When a new patient calls, compassion can be expressed by something as simple as, “What prompted you to call us today? I hope you are not experiencing any discomfort.” Right out the gate, you are putting out there that you care about their comfort.

For a new or an existing patient, you might to say something like, “I’d like to make sure we schedule enough time to do this very thoroughly…very gently, and that we provide you with the best possible service so you are as comfortable as you can be.”

When you talk with patients about conditions you are seeing in their mouths, you can express concern as simply as saying, “I see a crack in this tooth, and I am concerned that, as it gets larger, you may experience some pain. Have you experienced any pain there?”

Mutual Trust as the Basis

On the very first call, you can begin to base your relationship on mutual trust and respect. You might do this by saying something like, “I’d like to schedule enough time for you to get to know us and for us to get to know you. When we learn what is important to you, we can help you make choices that are in your best interest. We’ll want to know what your previous experiences have been in dentistry because we want to provide you with the best possible experience in this practice.”

During Hygiene appointments, you might say something like this, “As I look in your mouth, it appears to me that over the years, you’ve gone to the dentist regularly and done everything you could to take care of yourself. You’ve chosen to have treatment when it was recommended. I believe that if you have the right information and you have some support in working through the process, we can help you make good choices for yourself in the future.”

If the patient is not in pain, you might say something like, “You’re in a really good position right now. We’ve got time to study the information we’ve gathered and to learn about your preferences. The doctor will want to go over all the information we’ve gathered today and spend time thinking about your oral health circumstances and options. If you decide later to have treatment, you will be fully informed about your options so you can make the decision that is right for you.”

Shared Values as the Basis

When we discover shared values in conversation, there is a powerful connection between us and the patient. If a patient mentions a filling has lasted for decades, you might say something like, “It seems to me that you like to have your dentistry last as long as possible?” And if the patient says yes, you might say, “Excellent, we’ll take that into consideration when we think about options for you.” Give them opportunities for discovering together with you what is most important to them.

The foundation you intentionally build on compassion, mutual trust, and shared values will enable you to expand conversations you have with patients about insurance and the cost of care. You will be able to assure them you will do whatever you can to make the dentistry they value affordable for them.

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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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Here. Now.

September 23, 2019 Paul Henny DDS

While communicating, we can learn to become more mindful of the emotions which are rising up in our body and the sensations we are feeling on an intuitive level. We can begin to notice what has happened that has triggered our initial response, as well as feeling the sensations it has created in our body.

This requires us to remain in a state of curiosity and observation rather than in assessment and judgment. And when we treat these thoughts and sensations with equanimity, we are less likely to react inappropriately during stressful situations.

When I mention staying curious, I mean to approach the experience with the curiosity of a child.

When we remain curious, we are inspecting our experience like a child who has seen a flower for the very first time. This helps take the power away from the strong emotions we might be feeling in that moment. To paraphrase Mary Osborne from this past weekend at The Pankey Institute Annual Meeting, “You are standing on the balcony, and not on the floor.”

This whole mindfulness practice is extremely important as it gives us a chance to hit the pause button.

And when we pause, we’re able to respond rather than simply react. Reactions are often what our limbic brain wants us to thoughtlessly do. And if we have developed an insensitive pattern of reacting over the years, it can lead to regret and suffering. Hence, by developing an ability to pause our limbic brain’s instant impulses, we become more capable of responding in a much wiser fashion.

Mindfulness is at the epicenter of a truly relationship-driven practice.

And it’s a skill which can be developed and enhanced over our lifetime. Hence, it’s at the epicenter of “knowing ourselves” as well.

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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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