Ya Wanna Eat, Don't Ya?

Feb. 12, 2008
Dental assistants create a window of opportunity to practice success and fulfillment.

By Tina Calloway -- email her here

Daily Goals

Do you ever wonder where your next meal is coming from, especially when your office is not scheduled to goal? Here's a scenario--you and your office teammates are in morning huddle and everyone hears the dreaded, "We are not scheduled to goal, today is a good building day." There are two options: either find a way to make the day work to our benefit, or do not care and give less than what we are worth.

Some offices lack goals, which means the team does not know which area to target to help practice success. If a daily goal is not in place, you cannot hit the bull's eye. In the early years of my dental assisting career, I had a bad attitude when we added treatment for a patient or had to occasionally work through lunch. Then I learned the true numbers it costs to run the practice each day. The famous words my doctor said in his best southern drawl were, "Tina, ya wanna eat don't ya? Well why not start with the patient sitting in your chair?" Of course patient care was my concern, however I did not yet appreciate what it meant to reach a daily goal from the schedule for the benefit of the team. It is very important to keep your goals in mind as a team in order to accomplish them.

Create the Sense of Urgency

During morning huddle, the first step is for each team member to purge their charts, and then communicate any situation coming up, such as a patient who had a treatment plan proposed and has not yet scheduled. There could be many reasons why the patient did not schedule, but as an assistant, you can help create a sense of urgency by educating the patient. For example, Mrs. Smith is coming in today for an emergency appointment because she fractured the distal of No. 19 and it is rough to her tongue. Depending on how well you know the philosophy of your practice, you may already have an idea of what the doctor may recommend. Although an assistant cannot diagnose treatment, this is a golden opportunity to create a sense of urgency when the patient is seated in your chair.

After Mrs. Smith explains her concerns about her broken tooth, the dental assistant can easily use an intraoral camera to show her exactly what is going on at 40 times the magnification. Dental assistants--the use of this tool is our selling power! After you have addressed the concern for tooth No. 19, why not take a couple of images from the lingual, facial, distal and mesial, and a picture of Nos. 18 and 20? Sometimes patients need help remembering what the doctor has recommended due to anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. For example, Mrs. Smith's tooth No. 18 has been diagnosed for an onlay due to a worn down and fractured amalgam that was placed many years ago.

You may say, "Mrs. Smith, the tooth next to the molar that is broken has also been recommended for treatment by the dentist. As you can see, Doctor recommended an onlay due to the size of the cracked silver filling. We can also see the silver is no longer sealing the tooth where the edges are pulling away. This is allowing bacteria to enter and cause a concern for active decay." At this point, say nothing and allow the patient to take it all in. The beauty of our selling power with the intraoral camera is, to quote Dale Carnegie, "Evidence defeats doubt." Allow the patient to speak first. Sometimes as educators we speak too much. Be sure to answer the patient's questions thoroughly.

Quadrant Dentistry vs. Single Unit Dentistry

Quadrant dentistry is an opportunity to let patients know that you value their time. Time is money to most people, and people value their time away from their personal duties. They also value their money. This is an opportunity to say, "Would you like to take care of this in one visit or two? It will take just a few extra minutes this visit to take care of the fractured filling as well as your broken tooth." If there is one thing I have learned, it is to ask your patients what they want. Do not assume that you can read their pocketbook or their desires. Our patients have built a trust with us, and that trust is built on our knowledge of dentistry.

It is always a good idea to brief your doctor that Mrs. Smith would like to proceed with No. 18, as well as No. 19, so that the doctor can step in to confirm the original diagnosis from the treatment plan. The benefits of quadrant dentistry vs. single unit are 1) an optimal result when using the same batch of porcelain and color from the lab, 2) not placing a beautiful new crown to fit the contact of an old broken down filling, 3) saving your patient time and money by not having to schedule two or more appointments, and 4) increasing your productivity and saving the practice the cost of having to set up, break down and decontaminate a room more than once.

Caring about the patient's treatment vs. pushing treatment

"Never once have I felt that I've 'sold' them anything. They've always 'bought.' Instead of trying to give them the impression that I know all the answers." Frank Bettger

Let's face it, no one likes to be sold to and people like to purchase from those they know and trust--especially if the purchase is their idea. I will never forget when I heard, "Tina, I can see you are a saleswoman. I can see it from a mile away." Thinking about this, I decided to change my approach. My coworkers were correct that I'm a salesperson--we all are. We sell dentistry in some form or another, whether we like it or not. We sell optimal dental care to the benefit of our patients' health. But I have to ask, are you selling with sincere appreciation or with an agenda in mind? I never thought, when I came directly out of assisting school, that I would be involved in sales. My career was based on caring for people. I did not take a sales course because I had no intention of becoming a salesperson. Nonetheless, caring for patients and selling optimal care is a huge part of what we do.

I've learned that no one likes to be told what he or she needs. For example: "Mrs. Smith, you need optimal care." Shouldn't Mrs. Smith be the one to decide what she needs in order to value her dental care? Try this approach: "Mrs. Smith, what do you want for your oral health?" By asking this key question, we can get to Mrs. Smith's true desires regarding her care and expectations by being a good listener. Dale Carnegie stated, "See things from the other person's point of view, talk in terms of his or her interests."

Often when we listen, we are in fact trying to figure out what we are going to say next. But, while trying to be artful with our thoughts and words, we are missing one of the major concerns of our patient. I must stress as compassionate dental "sales" assistants, we must allow the other person to speak first, we must listen and think before we speak, and we must not think while our patients are speaking.

When discussing treatment, we may encounter objections from patients. If this is the case, the best way to avoid an argument is to say nothing. Ask why the patient feels this treatment is not necessary. Suppose Mrs. Smith says, "It is not necessary because my tooth does not hurt and it has been like this for years." Our next question could be, "Mrs. Smith, has anyone ever spoken with you about the possible outcome of a tooth damaged to this magnitude?" She may say no, and this gives you the opportunity to inform her of what could happen if this tooth is not cared for. You could explain that she may end up facing a root canal and a full crown, or losing this tooth, a vital body part which aids in her chewing. We must give all the honest facts because patients appreciate and value honesty. Our last question to Mrs. Smith may be, "Mrs. Smith, you explained your concerns and expectations. My question is would you like to keep your teeth for the rest of your life?" In most cases the answer is yes. The power of asking questions will lead patients to answer their own questions, and in turn, sell dentistry to themselves. Thus it becomes their idea to proceed with the optimal treatment.

"I made them give me the answers, largely by asking them questions."--Elliott Hall

Affordable Dentistry

Once we learn what our patients want, we can help them find a way to get it. There are many who use insurance to help finance their oral care, but what happens if this luxury is not available to our patients? In my experience, there are patients who, once they have realized the importance of their care, choose not to have their insurance company dictate the level of care they receive. One successful option we have used in our office is payment up front with a 5 percent bookkeeping courtesy on major treatment. Many patients appreciate that we value and reward prompt payment with a discount. Some patients use their credit card to accumulate, for example, sky miles.

If these options do not work, we offer a patient financing program by Care Credit, where the patient pays for care at his or her comfort level from three months to three years, with six months interest-free. This option is particularly attractive to patients when care is $2,000 or more. People want to be taken care of, and taken care of affordably. By looking into patient financing companies, offices can provide excellent care to their patients, without putting the practice and team at risk of not receiving payment for services rendered.

From One Dental Enthusiast To Another

Dentistry is an amazing science and career choice. Ask any dental nerd who thrills at the sound of a hand piece. We alone are responsible for how far we can advance in our careers. I hope these words and tools help in the action step of your self growth.--Tina Calloway, CDA

Tools of suggestion

The best way for a team to stay fed is:

1. Discuss and determine with your dentists what your daily goal should be to benefit the practice and team.

2. Practice creating the sense of urgency by role playing with teammates or family members.

3. Discuss the benefits of quadrant dentistry with your dentist and teammates. Also, explore how this can enhance the productivity of your practice.

4. Read books or listen to CDs that talk about developing excellent sales skills. One of my favorite books is "How I Raised Myself From Failure To Success In Selling" by Frank Bettger.

5. Take a Dale Carnegie worldwide leadership course dedicated to excellence in communication.

6. Work with a consulting service such as Linda Miles and Associates, Jameson Management, or a consulting service of your choice to enhance the success of your practice.

7. Seek options from Care Credit or other patient financing companies to best serve your patient's care.