© Adrian825 | Dreamstime.com
2006 Rd Htur P01

Aspects of mobile dentistry for the dental hygienist: Thinking like an entrepreneur (Part 2 of 4)

June 1, 2020
In part two of this series on mobile dentistry, RDH magazine and Melissa Turner, BASDH, RDHEP, EFDA, focus on what it takes to think like an entrepreneur in order to help shape the path of a future mobile dental hygienist.

The mobile dentistry movement is one of the most popular up-and-coming trends in the profession. Dental hygienists who are interested in mobile dentistry must learn to think like an entrepreneur in order to achieve their goals. Let’s take a look at how to start.

Editor’s note: In part 1 of this series, RDH magazine and Melissa Turner, BASDH, RDHEP, EFDA, defined mobile dentistry, discussed how dental hygienists can engage in the movement, and then considered what to do in highly regulated or restrictive states. In part 2, we focus on what it takes to think like an entrepreneur in order to help shape the path of a future mobile dental hygienist.

For a long time now, I have opined that 2020 is the year for mobile dentistry. In February, the unified mobile dentistry movement experienced a decisive launch during the inaugural National Mobile Dentistry Conference. Shortly thereafter, the American Mobile Dentistry Alliance was organized to provide the resources and support necessary for those wishing to incorporate mobile services into their practices. And then the COVID-19 pandemic shook communities everywhere—dental conferences were cancelled, travel bans were enacted, and social distancing became the new standard. 

As I write this, dental practices are now beginning to completely close their doors or remain open for emergency treatment only, with many recommending that their employees stay home with (or without) pay. It is at this pivotal and unusual moment in history that mobile dentistry—and its counterpart teledentistry—has never before been more necessary. At this moment, mobile dentistry is heavy on the minds of dental professionals who are brainstorming creative ways for continuity of patient care or who are desperate to find new income streams. 

When I finalized this article in early May, I could only imagine where our nation and the world would be when RDH readers read the article in print. But I have already learned that sometimes it takes fear for us to appreciate the true value of things we often take for granted. For some time, our patients have been asking us to make dental care more convenient for them. I hope that during this unfortunate and unique point in time, and through this series of articles, we will begin to collectively recognize the benefits, value, and potential that mobile dentistry can have on our careers, our practices, and our patients. Let me say this again: 2020 is the year for you (and your employer) to fully embrace the mobile dentistry movement. 

So, as a dental hygienist, what does it mean to “embrace” mobile dentistry, and how do you get started? In part one of this series, we spent time busting a few myths and learned these things:

Providing mobile dentistry is not identical to providing direct access/independent dental hygiene services. In fact, all dental hygienists have the capability to provide mobile services, with or without the collaboration of a supervising dentist.

Mobile dentistry, teledentistry, and direct access hygiene services go hand-in-hand, but it’s important to note that they each have their own set of regulations. These can be found online through your dental and medical regulatory bodies. Keep in mind that third-party payers, whether funded privately or by the state, also have their own specific guidelines.

Teledentistry and mobile dentistry go together like peanut butter and jelly—you can certainly have one without the other, but they are better together. Teledentistry is the technology that enables mobile clinicians to be more mobile and better connected at the same time. 

What comes to mind when you consider the term “mobile dentistry”? Most of us will think of our experiences volunteering with nonprofit and charitable organizations. Some may think of school-based programs or programs that care for aging populations. And still others may think of the newest type of for-profit mobile organizations that are popping up across the nation—those who take dental services into corporate workplaces to treat employees on-site.

It might be easy to think of mobile dentistry as a new concept, but the reality is that mobile health care is the oldest form of care. Remember house calls? Up until the early 1920s, it was standard for physicians and dentists to routinely take their care directly to their patients. With the advent of and subsequent reliance on the automobile, only then did patients have the necessary means to travel to a fixed dental establishment. 

Though the traditional, fixed dental practice model has benefits, a recent shift in consumer mindset has placed convenience as a major driving force in decision-making. Those on the outside of clinical dentistry—our patients—now simply expect us to make dental services more convenient to them, wherever they may be. However, those of us on the inside of dentistry—dental practice owners, dentists, and dental hygienists to name a few—are oftentimes a bit slower to adopt new ways of doing business.

What this means for dental hygienists interested in mobile dentistry is that you will need to think like an entrepreneur to achieve your goals. An entrepreneurial mindset may come easy to some of us, especially those who practice in states that allow hygienists to own their own dental practices. But for those of us who cannot own a practice and who must collaborate with a supervising dentist, these thoughts may seem a bit unusual. Whatever the case, it is absolutely crucial to think like an entrepreneur. 

Imagine this scenario: You’ve been working in a dental office for a few years and have a great relationship with your employer. You are interested in mobile dentistry and know that you’ll need a supervising dentist to authorize direct-access procedures, so you decide to pitch the idea to your employer. In most cases, your employer may never have even considered mobile dentistry or teledentistry before.

If you have already thought like an entrepreneur and prepared ahead of time, you will be able to make a great proposal—perhaps by developing an outline of a delivery model compatible with your current fixed practice model, or maybe by gathering information on how mobile delivery can positively impact the business’s bottom line, or maybe even by collecting case studies of other dental practices that have benefited from adding mobile care to their services provided. Even if your employer doesn’t jump at the opportunity to change the way he/she currently runs the practice, chances are your employer will be impressed enough to continue the conversation at a later date—that is, if you have already thought like an entrepreneur.

As dental hygienists, we are typically someone else’s employees, and thus thinking like an entrepreneur may be an unnatural mindset for us. If this is the case, it might be helpful to do some research and learn how to develop an entrepreneurial spirit within. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Embrace your passions. We often temper our passions. But let yourself keep dreaming big! What do you spend the most time dreaming about every day? Do you want to care for children or special needs communities? Do you simply want a change of pace and long to work outside of the traditional op? Or do you want more autonomy and to be your own boss? Acknowledging your passions without placing limits on them may help you see a clearer picture for the path to your future. 
  • Take time to brainstorm. Set aside time with a pad and paper, turn off your mobile devices, and write down anything that comes to mind. Then study your state practice acts and learn what is possible in your state. Find out the answers to these questions: Are there restrictions on locations or patients you can serve? Are you only able to provide preventive services or can you provide your full scope? A good brainstorming session will build a solid foundation for your future endeavors.
  • Take more risk. Remember that any new initiative involves some degree of risk. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there time and time again. Expect many stumbling blocks but look for wins, no matter how small those wins are. Is your employer uninterested in mobile delivery? Don’t lose heart. You’ve likely at least planted a seed, and perhaps your employer will think differently months from now. Expecting risk, stumbling blocks, and small wins will help keep you motivated along the way.

It has never been easier to provide mobile dentistry, and 2020 is the year for dental professionals to consider incorporating it into their practices. Delivering care to patients and meeting them precisely where they are is effective in times of health and, as evidenced in the COVID-19 pandemic, extremely powerful in times of sickness. 

Thinking like an entrepreneur is a vital step in the pursuit of mobile services. Another great step is to connect with like-minded professionals who can support and collaborate with you as you follow your dreams. One perfect place to do this is at the preconference mobile dentistry workshop at RDH Under One Roof taking place on Thursday, October 8, from 1:00–4:00 p.m. You will encounter firsthand experiences from dental hygienists who currently provide this type of mobile care, and you will learn the steps necessary to initiate, develop, and maintain a successful mobile dentistry organization.

If you have questions about mobile dentistry and/or teledentistry and would like to consult some trusted resources, take a look at the resources section at the end of this article. 


Editor’s note: To read part 1 of this series on mobile dentistry for the dental hygienist, search “aspects of mobile dentistry” on rdhmag.com.

MELISSA TURNER, BASDH, RDHEP, EFDA, is a valued thought leader, dental advisor, and speaker. With extensive experience in both teledentistry and mobile delivery, she is cofounder of the National Mobile Dentistry Conference and the American Mobile Dentistry Alliance. Creator of I Heart Mobile Dentistry, a Facebook networking group for clinicians practicing mobile dentistry, Turner’s passion is to improve the dental experience for patients and providers. Contact her at [email protected].