Practice what you preach

A large part of my working career for more than 25 years has been focused around Dental Support Organization development. I have been a huge advocate and now have even more reason to believe in this side of the dental market, I am now a patient.

Over my lifetime I have probably had half a dozen dentists.  Out of those probably one was good, the one I went to while in college. My first dentist, while growing up in a small town in Massachusetts, probably did the most damage, second to that was the dentist I had for the 30 years I lived in NY.  As I got to understand more and more about dentistry, I knew more and more how weak she was, but like many of you reading this article, we stay with our dentist for the convenience and familiarity.

We moved to Maine recently and that necessitated a new dentist.  I did not have the opportunity to use a DSO supported office in NY, but up here I do.  I chose for my wife and I to go to Aspen Dental, and I am so glad I did. I have nothing but praise for the dentist I see and the entire staff.

Being someone who has written articles and talked from the stage about “teamwork and patient engagement” I feel I am living what I preach when I walk through the door of the office.  We have talked about the change into the consumerism of dentistry and this office is located in a popular shopping center with a nice retail fronting.

It is important that you don’t read what I am writing as a Yelp review for just Aspen Dental, I am writing to the dental community who are still leery about how good DSO offices can be and to others that might struggle with some of the offices they support.

Let me tell you what has made me feel good enough to write this article so it can be compared to your goals of running or even going to the dentist yourself:

Pre-visit: I am a huge fan of call centers. It is estimated that close to half the calls to a dental office go unanswered due to the local activity in the office.  DSOs have the option of using an established one or setting up their own.

First visit: I was wowed, which is what should be your goal. I was met with smiling faces.  A woman came out to greet me and brought me into the back.  She explained what a new patient visit entails and she ushered me through the entire visit.

The first step was for her to take a digital panoramic x-ray.  I am in my mid-sixties, been in the dental industry for 30 years and this was the first pano I have ever received! Wow.

I then met with the hygienist and then the dentist.  I thought it was neat that the hygienist was wearing Invisalign trays.  It added to my feeling of “practice what you preach.” Before I left the back of the office, I had my next appointment for some small work that the dentist would do, and of course a follow up hygiene appointment.

The experience was so good, that before I walked out the door, I asked the woman who had seen me through the process; “I guess there was a note on my file that I personally know the CEO and Dental Director, right?”   She laughed and also said “we treat all our patients like this.”

The smiles and teamwork were what I expect from a good organization- one that I fear is not always present in a solo dental office. The reason I believe this, is that there is a higher power than the just the dentist in a DSO supported office. 

I have mentioned often that; an independent dentist is the key part of the team, the quality inspector, team leader and decision maker. Unless they have a desire to try new techniques, they are doing the same dentistry year after year, good or bad.  Luckily for specialists, there are a lot of general dentists that refer out, instead of learning new skills.   I know I am being a little hard here, but I have asked many dentists if what I said is true and they agree.  I will admit that there are many continuing education seminars and training for those who want to stay current, but you have to want to go to those types of CE.

The flip side, and why I believe strong enough to want to go to a DSO supported dentist, is that other dental professionals are helping the dentist to be a “better” dentist.  If the dentist just wants to be the best technician and constantly improve their skills, they can let the rest of “running a practice” to others in the office with reinforcements from the DSO.  I also feel that the DSO is more advanced with technology and software, and here again I admit many general dentists on the cutting edge are also, just a little harder to find.

I feel much better today that I am able to give back to the type of customer that supported my career.  It is also pretty neat to see the operation from the dental chair, and not in the corporate office.

Before I end this article, I want to mention that I am finally trying out clear aligners personally. I could have easily not gotten into them. I have a few teeth that are crowding, and I don’t like that is very hard to floss, aesthetically I don’t think anyone would have noticed.  I am a skeptic, not of the ability of aligners to move teeth, but of the process.  I find that asking someone, especially a teen, to wear them 22 hours a day for a minimum of 4 months and usually much longer, is a challenge.   I am just my third week; I will report back to you when I am finished- no matter when that might be…