Experts envision the future

July 10, 2015
The one thing in life that is constant is change - we have heard this many times. Change is often difficult, but to move forward in our life and profession, we must embrace change.


The one thing in life that is constant is change - we have heard this many times. Change is often difficult, but to move forward in our life and profession, we must embrace change. Dental teams, however, have a difficult time with change; too often they are so used to doing things the same way as they've always done them (to moderate success) that the thought sparks fear and frustration.

Marilee Sears, RDH, has developed "The Future of Dentistry Event" to assist teams in improving their practices, better serve their patients, and thrive when change is needed. Marilee is the creator and host of this free, online event to help dental professionals learn to embrace change. Marilee has brought together leading dental consultants and business owners to share their thoughts, ideas, and visions for changes that are or will be occurring in dentistry. These experts discuss strategies that are working in many practices and with many teams right now. Marilee believes that teams and individuals can either be proactive and plan for the future, or be reactive and only change when forced. What type of practice and individual professional are you?

The inaugural event was held in 2014 to overwhelming response. Participants were from all parts of the dental team (e.g., dentists, assistants, hygienists, business team members); dentists and hygienists were the largest groups to register.

Hygienists need to take the lead in understanding the latest developments in dentistry because the hygiene department is the foundation of the dental practice. With "The Future of Dentistry Event," hygienists have convenient access to cutting-edge information that can easily be relayed to team members and patients. Marilee believes that hygienists play a vital role in educating patients and other team members about ways to improve overall dental and systemic health and to influence change.

"The Future of Dentistry Event" consists of a series of interviews that last approximately 30 minutes. Marilee interviews consultants and business owners in a relaxed, conversational environment that encourages understanding of the topics discussed. Previous topics - and the presenters came from all avenues of dentistry - included patient financing and case acceptance, team motivation, a total health approach, sleep apnea, oral cancer, practice marketing, and fraud and embezzlement protection. Two presentations that were specifically directed at hygienists were events by Rachel Wall, founder of Inspired Hygiene, and Chris Gibbs, CEO of Florida Probe. Both interviews focused on how the hygiene department influences the success of the practice and the use of technology in patient education.

Marilee has been a hygienist for over 13 years and enjoys all aspects of clinical practice. About eight years ago, she began hygiene coaching because she recognized the importance of systems, particularly in the hygiene department, that allow for healthier patients and financially robust practices. She wanted to assist other practices and teams in achieving the same successes that she had experienced. In November 2012, her father, a practicing dentist, passed away suddenly. With the assistance of her sister, Jill, also a hygienist, she stepped in and transitioned the practice. Marilee admits that it was the most difficult thing she has had to do, but it helped her understand the pressures and demands that the dentist experiences as a business owner.

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Oral health has emerged as a nationwide concern. With our changing health-care system, we need to explore various avenues to provide effective preventive health services and programs. Collaboration with health-care professionals can facilitate this initiative by expanding dental care access. Dental hygienists in community health-care facilities can work with dental education programs to broaden oral health services. In order to align educational goals and effective patient treatment, constructive assessment tools and formal training are needed to meet our community's oral care demands. This course provides steps to implementing standardized efficient assessment and offers a guide to initiating a collaborative program with local health-care facilities in your community.

During this time of transition, she spoke with many dentists and dental students and kept hearing the same things: "The best days of dentistry are behind us" and "Now is a hard time to be in dentistry." With the experiences of coaching and the practice transition, she didn't agree. Marilee believed that now is actually a fantastic time to be involved in dentistry and dental hygiene, and felt compelled to put together an event that highlights all the opportunities currently available within the dental profession. Thus "The Future of Dentistry Event" was conceived." The Future of Dentistry Event" 2015 took place from April 6-27, 2015, and readers can email Marilee at [email protected] if they would like access to the materials. Hygienists can also listen to previous 2014 interviews by registering at

Dentistry and dental hygiene are a major part of Marilee's interests. She cares deeply about the professions and can become emotional when discussing the effect dental professionals have on their patients' lives. She is a believer in living life to its fullest. She loves to travel and is looking forward to doing more travel outside of the country now that her children are older. She admits that she let her ADHA membership lapse when she was taking care of her father's practice. She would like to see more collaboration between dentists and hygienists and less tension between the two dental professional groups.

Marilee describes herself as passionate, helpful, and hopeful. Her dad had always encouraged her to become a hygienist, and by the time she was a freshman in high school, her decision was made. Her dad was right - hygiene has been a fantastic career, offering her great employers and coworkers. Many patients have become friends; in fact, she met her husband in the dental office! A majority of her time is now spent teaching and coaching, but if she wasn't a hygienist, she could see herself incorporating her love of teaching, connecting with others, and her entrepreneurial drive. Marilee feels her greatest accomplishment in hygiene has happened one patient relationship at a time. Her gift is helping people feel comfortable and taken-care-of. Nothing is more rewarding for her than meeting a patient that is scared or nervous and helping them feel at ease.

If she could have done something differently in the course of her career, she would not have taken everything so personally. In the early years of practice, when she recommended treatment to a patient and they did not follow through or developed periodontal disease, Marilee would take it personally. She put a lot of pressure on herself, as many hygienists often do. This perfectionism and pressure can be draining and burn out a hygienist, but she has learned not to take it to heart, and this mindset has helped.

Marilee enjoys organizing "The Future of Dentistry Event" because in addition to helping hygienists and teams embrace change, she is learning so much about the profession herself. She is amazed at the generosity and kindness of those who work in dentistry who have donated their time and expertise to enlighten others. She intends to "pay it forward" by offering others the education and change commitment they are seeking.

For more information on Marilee or "The Future of Dentistry," contact [email protected]. RDH

Thought for the month:

"Success is about creating benefit for all and enjoying the process. If you focus on this and adopt this definition, success is yours." - Kelly Kim

ANN-MARIE C. DEPALMA, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and the Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries, as well as a continuous member of ADHA. She presents continuing education programs for dental team members on a variety of topics. Ann-Marie is collaborating with several authors on various books for dental hygiene and can be reached at [email protected].