Board Certified Periodontist

71 – The Dental Practice Common Denominator

Hi and welcome, or welcome back. You are listening to the Perio Hygienist Podcast, a podcast for my fellow dentists as well as my colleagues in the dental hygiene community, as well as future dentists, hygienists, dental specialists, and anyone else who cares to listen.
My name is Ben Young, and I am a practicing periodontist working in San Antonio, Texas. This is Episode 70 and I have titled it The Dental Practice Common Denominator
This is the third in a series on communication in the dental office.
Two podcasts ago I said that the hardest part of periodontics is communication. This should be true across the board in any activity involving more than one person. Dentistry always involves more than one person because we deal in patient care.
The last podcast was about the strongest marketing tool every dental office has. It isn’t the website or signage, or TV and radio. It is how well the office team works together. And I believe this is so important that I described the whole thing as putting on a performance – and I personally think in terms of a play. There is a script. There should be rehearsals. And most important. Everyone on the team understands what performance mode is and when they are in it.
Today’s podcast is about the audience.
This is more than just the patient. It basically is everyone outside the team itself. The people who deliver supplies, those who work on the equipment, the salespeople, and most importantly, the patients and those who come with them to appointments.
It’s funny how easily this is forgotten, or even not understood.
To begin with, the default, knee-jerk, point of view is that everything is about me. The dentist thinks it is about him or her. The receptionist, likewise – all the way down the row. There can only be one right answer here – if you want a functional office environment. The common denominator is the patient – and future potential patients – which are all the others in the audience I described above. Here is how it works in communication.
If the dentist makes it about his or her ego – that everyone is there to service “The Boss,’ then there is dissension. Why? Because adults don’t like to be treated like children. Sure, people can be pressured to comply for a while. Sure, people will put up with a lot of misery to make sure they can support their families, but general subliminal vibes of happiness and contentment will not automatically be transmitted in ways that help patients feel safe and comfortable. Underlying unhappiness and tension drive patients away and seem to give them permission to act ornery themselves. If an employee is unhappy in the work environment, what makes a patient feel they will be getting good care?
Reverse the order and imagine a dental office where the dentist works tirelessly to please and be liked by the employees. Think of it like a hostage situation. This doesn’t work either. Happiness doesn’t come to a dental office just because the dentist tries to be nice, any more than it works at home where the children have complete liberty to do whatever they want.
I am sure many listening to me right now are thinking that all of this makes so much sense that it is unnecessary to talk about. Everyone knows that the patients come first. Really?
Corporate dentistry is the fastest growing business model today. And what is its greatest weakness? I submit it fails in building or maintaining patient trust because very quickly it is obvious that the driver of everything is money – not patient care.
I 100% agree that a dental office must be economically viable to survive, but this can only happen when patients become loyal to the practice – which means loyal to the people there – which means that longevity of dentists and dental teams is critical if the practice expects to prosper annually.
And if patients or the audience is the common denominator to effective communication – what does this mean? How does this work in practical and daily ways?
If I, as the dentist, want to improve some aspect of the practice, I won’t explain it primarily in terms of how it will benefit me or make my life better. And I won’t try and sell it to employees on how it will make their lives better. For all of us, it might or might not make our lives easier. Instead, I will talk about how it improves patient care. If it doesn’t improve patient care, then I am not interested.
For example. Patients in pain need to be seen right away. It does not matter that I may not have an appointment in four weeks. I want my office team to do everything they can to get these patients in right away. If the patient is offered an appointment today because she or he is in pain – and they turn it down – then that tells us that they are not in the pain we were lead to believe they were and they can wait in line with others.
Another example. If a dental assistant needs to decide to serve a patient or assist me – I want them to serve the patient. I will manage until they can get back to me. Remember – we are in performance mode whenever a patient is in the office or on the phone. This means I will not overtly, or loudly, direct assistants to do things. I will make sure I do not embarrass them in public. Later, when patients are gone, and we are back into what I call rehearsal mode, we can discuss how we might do things differently. Perhaps the assistant made the wrong decision. If the assistant was thinking of the patient first, I am pleased and will continue to encourage the behavior. If there are better ways to do the same thing in the future that both serves the patients and enables my work for patients to run a little smoother, we will discuss these options in private.
Another example. If any employee thinks I need to do or behave differently, he or she can come to me – in rehearsal mode of course – and offer their suggestions – but I tell them they will probably only convince me if they can put it in terms of how it benefits patient care.
The last example – and there are certainly many more – is this. I improve office morale the most when my team sees me caring most about giving the patients the best care I can. They have to be convinced I am a good dentist – and they have the front-row seat.

Well, that’s enough for today.
This has been The Perio Hygienist Podcast, and I am still Dr. Ben Young.
Thanks for listening.
Bye for now.

When life gives you melons, you’re dyslexic.