Th 0911 Broadon 01

Broaden and build: Productive partnerships

Nov. 1, 2009
The history of successful partnerships proves the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

By Kristine Hodsdon, RDH, BS

The history of successful partnerships proves the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Consider Lewis and Clark, who helped open a vast, uncharted frontier for an ambitious, infant nation 200 years ago. Or the fictional John Galt and Dagny Taggart, whose convictions and values created an independent and advanced community that has yet to be repeated.

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The splendor of good partnerships is that they expand resources, influence, potential, and results. Simply put, good partnerships produce good results, whether they are forged between solo entrepreneurs, corporations, professional associations, providers of services or products, or between any imaginable relationship of clinicians, programs, organizations, or initiatives.

At a 1996 summit sponsored by the Drucker Foundation, leaders of all persuasions agreed that the challenges facing government, business, nonprofit organizations, and society as a whole are too great to be addressed by any one sector. All leaders, to succeed, must build bridges, they said.

The increased importance of oral health to general health and well-being, the international call for action to promote access to oral health care, the workforce challenges, the emerging current alternative practice settings, and the oral health workforce models all offer potential for building effective partnerships with mid-level practitioners.

Consider these:

  • The major message of Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General stated oral health is essential to the general health and well-being of all Americans. The report included, “The dentist-to-population ratio is declining, creating concern as to the capability of the dental workforce to meet the emerging demands of society and provide required services efficiently.”
  • In 2006, the National Rural Health Association found that an estimated 6,000 dentists retire annually, while only 4,000 dental school graduates begin to practice each year.
  • The American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) has created the Advanced Dental Hygiene Practitioner (ADHP) as a mid-level oral health-care provider. ADHP will be educated and licensed to provide both preventive and limited restorative services, similar to a nurse practitioner in medicine.
  • Four states have specific authorization in the practice act law which allows a hygienist to own a dental hygiene practice — Colorado (any hygienist), New Mexico (hygienists in collaborative practice), California (RDHAPs — registered dental hygienists in alternative practice), and Maine (unsupervised practice of dental hygiene).
  • In several other states such as Washington and Oregon where dental hygienists may practice with little or no supervision in various types of settings outside the dental office, dental hygienists do own dental hygiene businesses.
  • In 2008, the Oral Health Practitioner was established in Minnesota state statue.
  • More than 40 countries, including Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom, allow mid-level practitioners to practice oral health.
  • The ADA developed the Community Dental Health Coordinator and the Oral Preventive Assistant to address the access to care issues.

Beginning the process

Before partnering with another individual, business or department, it is crucial to be clear on your ideas and visions. What do you want to achieve, and are you certain you cannot (or do not want to) provide that yourself with current resources and know-how?

Nationally a few corporations have started to acknowledge mid-level oral health practitioners, i.e., dental hygienists, by re-tooling account software applications to allow non dentist or dental practice accounts.

The makings of a strong partnership

The Drucker Foundation partnership summit delineated some of the following principles of good partnership:

Partners must understand not only the values, goals, and constraints of the partnership itself, but also the values, goals, and constraints of the other partners. It’s not enough to ask, “How do we accomplish our agenda?” You must also ask, “How do we help our partners accomplish their agenda?”

Partnerships must translate broad goals into measurable, interim targets and time frames. All partners must be committed to the shared mission and objectives before taking the first step. Goals must be attainable but meaningful, i.e., increased access to oral health.

Different issues require different types of partnerships. Some are appropriately initiated by businesses and entrepreneurs, while others are more appropriately initiated by the social sector (oral health crisis) or government. Openness to the project’s leadership needs is key. Equal partnership is the goal.

Other factors influencing partnership success

Even the best laid plans must be adapted to shifting conditions, altered needs and preferences, what isn’t working, emerging opportunities, and fresh thinking to improve outcomes. Partnerships are no different and clearly evolve in response to successes and partners’ needs. Productive partnerships include:

  • Committed team and program champions
  • Mutual respect, understanding, and trust
  • Collaboration in members’ best interest
  • Ability to compromise
  • Can-do attitude
  • Members sharing a stake in both process and outcome
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Open and frequent communication
  • Sufficient funds, staff, materials and time
  • Review of both disappointments and achievements
  • Encouragement to explore boundaries and grow partnership

What’s the bottom line? Consider building productive hygiene partnerships to see your business grow.

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Kristine Hodsdon, RDH, BS, combines 25 years in dentistry with a sales and management background, emerging positive psychology research, coaching experiences, and well-being certification. She is a clinician, industry consultant, international speaker, and author. Hodsdon has spent more than 18 years facilitating lectures to thousands of dental professionals, as well as working within the industry to maximize initiatives that support optimal oral health. She is the director of the RDH eVillage, an online PennWell Corporation hygiene newsletter, is involved in numerous professional organizations, has authored the book, Demystifying Smiles: Strategies for the Dental Team, and an esthetic chapter in Mosby’s Dental Hygiene: Concepts, Cases and Competencies, 2nd Edition, and continues to actively publish in dental and dental hygiene journals. For more information, visit

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