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 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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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 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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Team X-Ray Standards Review 

May 31, 2024 Laura Harkin

Laura S. Harkin, DMD 

I’m the owner of a third-generation dental practice. My father was a special person who cared for his patients as much as he did his dentistry. One important piece of advice that he gave was to make sure that my patient records were always complete and pristine. He said, “Anything that you are sending to the laboratory or to a specialist, even down to how you write your lab script or note, must be precise. And the reason is not only to minimize adjustment at the end but to also set an expectation for the same level of care returned by the lab or specialist.” 

As a team, we have spent time evaluating our models and photos to discuss how they can be improved and to recognize our highest standard. Recently, I became a little concerned about some of the radiographs we’d taken in the office. I encountered a few bitewings in which I was able to see the bone levels or the image wasn’t anterior enough to check the distal of the canine. So, as a team, we set aside time to review current x-rays and discuss the diagnostic qualities that we seek to achieve in each type.  

A team huddle provides built-in time and a safe place to do something like this. While reviewing the images, it became very clear that the team knew how to take vertical and horizontal bitewings. They also had a clear visual for how the images should look. Sometimes, however, a team member was shy about retaking an x-ray for they worried that a patient would be uncomfortable with the process. Other times, I imagine, they felt pressed for time and hurried to move down their checklist. 

Our review of images reinforced the level of care we collectively aim to achieve in all facets of our clinical day. Just as we strive for beautiful, mounted study casts, we take our x-rays with intention for our ourselves, our referral sources, and, above all, our patients. Consider taking a team meeting to share each other’s tips and tricks for taking x-rays in patients with difficult anatomy, a gag reflex, or missing teeth. Our own team members have a wealth of knowledge that sometimes doesn’t move from one treatment room to the next! 

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Laura Harkin

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Who Wants the Whole Pie? 

May 27, 2024 David Rice DDS

By David R. Rice, DDS 

I’m guessing your practice is a whole lot like mine. People can be challenging. Patients are people. Ergo, yes, patients often bring us challenges. With that and 29 years into dentistry, there are a few challenges I’m willing to admit and, like you, work to overcome.  

Our great patients get great dentistry.
Our challenging patients get our best effort.
Our job is to understand who each is, what each wants,
and how we do our best to deliver it. 

As you and I learn the best techniques and technology, we have to understand that many of our patients see the world differently. They see it differently than each other, and they see it differently than we do. At first glance, yes, this is an obstacle. But for those of us willing to spend time focusing on their views, this is a massive opportunity.  

About 20 years ago, the treatment planning and presentation mantra our team developed was: Pizza by the slice or the whole pie? 

 A talented and curious team with character, plus a well-defined process,
always equals complete care and profitable production. 

 Here are the four keys: 

  1. Understanding who of our patients wants complete care—the whole pie right now. 
  1. Knowing who of our patients isn’t ready for the whole pie today and needs us to serve that complete care one prioritized slice at a time. 
  1. Recognizing that some patients love pepperoni, some love veggies, some are all NY and thin crust, some love that Chicago deep dish, and so on. 
  1. Delivering each individual patient’s pizza the way they want it without yielding on our quality. 

All our patients come with a story. Some are ready for a whole pie. They want complete care and they want it now. Other patients are overwhelmed by the whole pie. Right or wrong, some past experience makes their yes to the complete care we know they need challenging. We can push them, or we can appreciate where they are and work with them one slice at a time. 

I’m not proposing we compromise our care. I’m offering us all an opportunity to elevate it. Whether you’re scanning and milling, 3D printing, injection molding, direct bonding, or prepping and temping long-term, the materials and technology we have at our fingertips today afford us an incredible ability to segment care. 

Complete-care case acceptance at 90%+ is a reality when we add great communication skills to the clinical skills we’ve worked so diligently to achieve. Today, I challenge you to assess, calibrate, and elevate your ability to deliver pizza by the slice…or the whole pie. 

  

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David Rice DDS

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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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Regular Tuition: $ 2050

Single Occupancy Room with Ensuite Bath (Per Night): $ 345

This “can’t miss” course will empower Dental Assistants to bring their skills to excellence! During this dynamic hands-on course, led by Pankey clinical team member, Sandra Caicedo, participants will learn…

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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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DATE: August 7 2025 @ 8:00 am - August 15 2025 @ 12:00 pm

Location: The Pankey Institute

CE HOURS: 22

Regular Tuition: $ 3295

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The Blueprint for Running a Practice with Long-Term Growth Dr. Pankey’s original philosophy encouraged dental professionals to be proficient in 3 specific areas: technical mastery, behavioral excellence and business savvy….

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Laura Harkin

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What Motivates Dental Teams? 

May 15, 2024 Pina Johnson

By Pina Johnson Professional Certified Coach 

 What motivates teams is a question that has been asked for as long as someone has been seeking solutions for organizational performance. The day of top-down (or command-and-control) leadership is gone.  

Daniel Pink, in his 2009 book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, takes a deep dive into the decades long effort to understand the research around human motivation in the modern workplace. Consistently, employers believe they are doing a great job of recognizing, rewarding, and motivating their employees. The people that work for them report the opposite. The tension between the two groups is observable and measurable. In this book, Pink discusses the key patterns that are consistent in what motivates people., takes a deep dive into the decades long effort to understand the research around human motivation in the modern workplace. To his credit, he uncovers the key patterns that are consistent in what motivates people. 

What doesn’t work—external rewards and punishments 

Although there are times and places to administer rewards (carrots) and consequences for behaviors that violate the organization’s values (sticks), “carrot and stick” strategies do not work and have not been working for quite some time. In fact, according to a great deal of research, these strategies reduce performance over time after a brief initial improvement when they are introduced.  

What does work—internal motivations 

Research has clearly demonstrated that there are three primary internal motivations that drive team member engagement: 

  1. Autonomy 
  1. Mastery 
  1. Purpose 

Autonomy over your work appears to be the strongest driving force among those three. There are many aspects to autonomy that you can explore in Daniel Pink’s book. My takeaways are that people want: 

  • Control over how they do their work 
  • Ability to creatively enhance the methodology of their work 
  • A strong voice in the direction and future of their work 

This begs the questions:  

  • Have you met individually with each team member and talked about this?  
  • Are you giving them the freedom to do their jobs well?  
  • Are you developing them with training opportunities and direct challenges?  

Responsibility without authority creates frustration. Responsibility demands autonomy. 

Mastery is defined as the desire to get better and better at something that matters. You can feel the natural connection to Autonomy as the desire to improve is based in each person’s unique gifts, talents, skills, and desire to use these for something important.  

Control seeks compliance. Autonomy seeks engagement. When a person becomes fully engaged in an activity, and is challenged enough to be stimulated, they can lose themself in that activity be it work or play. That optimal state of peak performance is described as flow. Mastery happens in and through those experiences of flow. Mastery is a mindset that requires a great deal of grit and becomes the infinite game that we never complete. 

Purpose answers the question for each person: “What are you supposed to do with your one short life?” When the organization has a clear purpose, the individual understands their role in that purpose. When they connect the organization’s purpose to their own life’s purpose, then you have a powerful force at work. Is the purpose of your organization clear? Have you asked the key people in your organization what their purpose is? Have you helped them to connect those two purposes?  

Our responsibility 

As practice owners and leaders, we are people developers. Everyone possesses a unique set of gifts, talents, hopes, dreams, and ultimately a life purpose. Unlocking that unique set of internal motivators for everyone on your team is the key to building an abundant future. That future is defined by a transformational mindset rather than a transactional mindset in which power is limited by time, redundancy, compliance, and efficiency.  

Each person motivates themself. Our role as a leader is to help our team members, one at a time, to discover, connect with, and unleash their powerful internal motivators. Then together, as a team, we can channel all of that discretionary energy into a shared mental model with a laser-like focus on the organization’s clearly defined and stated purpose.  

Pina Johnson PCC is a Certified Professional Coach with the International Coach Federation, and as a former practice administrator, she has over 20 years of experience in the dental field. Her coaching strategy and emphasis lie in developing leadership skills and practice cultures that produce peak-performing teams along with increased productivity and profitability. In her private practice, Pina specializes in group coaching. Partnering with Drs. Joel Small and Edwin (Mac) McDonald at Line of Sight Coaching, she coaches many dental teams with great success, resulting in increased employee engagement, reduced stress, improved performance, and enhanced communication. Pina received her professional coaching certification from the University of California, Davis. Upon completing her training, she was invited back to serve in multiple capacities as a UC Davis coaching program faculty member. Pina has been a featured speaker covering topics including, The Neuroscience of Trust, Management Behaviors that Foster Employee Engagement, and How to Talk So Your Staff Will Listen, and Listen So Your Staff Will Talk. 

Pina is a Member of the American Association of Dental Office Managers, Dental Speaking Consulting Network, Dental Entrepreneur Women, International Coach Federation, and the ICF Sacramento Chapter. 

 

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DATE: June 12 2025 @ 12:00 pm - June 14 2025 @ 7:00 pm

Location: The Pankey Institute

CE HOURS: 17

Regular Tuition: $ 2050

Single Occupancy Room with Ensuite Bath (Per Night): $ 345

This “can’t miss” course will empower Dental Assistants to bring their skills to excellence! During this dynamic hands-on course, led by Pankey clinical team member, Sandra Caicedo, participants will learn…

Learn More>

About Author

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Pina Johnson

FIND A PANKEY DENTIST OR TECHNICIAN

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