The great conductors

March 1, 2004
Does it ever seem like each member of the dental team is playing a different piece of music? The dentist is playing Rachmaninoff, while the dental assistant is playing Mozart.

by Anne-Marie C. DePalma

Does it ever seem like each member of the dental team is playing a different piece of music? The dentist is playing Rachmaninoff, while the dental assistant is playing Mozart. The front desk is playing Beethoven, while the financial coordinator is playing Copeland. And then there's the patient, who is whistling Dixie! Who should help everyone play the same tune? The hygienist! Yes, the hygienist, who interacts with everyone in the practice and spends the most time with patients. What goes on (or doesn't go on) in the hygiene operatory affects everyone and everything in the practice. The hygienist is the one who integrates it all — for better or for worse. She/he is the pulse, or beat, of the practice.

Through her programs, Cindy McKane-Wagester, RDH, MBA, shows hygienists how they can become the great conductors of their practices and how their professional lives can crescendo to new heights. She also shows hygienists how to eliminate some of the nonsensical musical scores that may occur in some practices.

Cindy's programs have several titles — "The Master Hygienist," "The Ultimate Hygiene Course," "Looking Beyond the Gums," and "The Pulse of the Practice" are examples. Regardless of the title, the courses have one theme — the hygienist is not just the "cleaning lady."

The hygienist, as defined by Cindy, is someone with excellent clinical, communication, people, and marketing skills. The hygienist observes professional ethics at all times. The hygienist understands not only periodontal issues, but also how periodontal status connects to restorative status and optimum dental and physical health. In addition, the hygienist grasps the concept that dentistry is a business and the hygiene department should function as a semi-autonomous hub of that business. The hygienist understands how to monitor the statistics of the hygiene department and help the practice benefit from the long-term partnership with patients. By doing this, the hygienist helps the entire practice work towards optimum performance. For all of these reasons, the hygienist is the pivotal star of the practice. Cindy's programs emphasize this, which becomes obvious when attending any of her seminars.

Topics include defining the role of the hygienist, restructuring the hygiene department, and promoting the "business" of dentistry. Hygienists are encouraged to explore the value of customer service, as well as methods for improving case acceptance. Cindy's programs also provide a template for creating or restructuring a successful periodontal program and enhancing clinical abilities through new technology.

One of Cindy's goals is to keep good hygienists in dentistry. The profession is plagued by burnout. Many hygienists don't feel appreciated by doctors or patients and believe they have come to the "end of the line." Her programs attempt to rebuild self-esteem and self-confidence. She gives hygienists the tools and strategies to achieve more than they thought possible, including the skills to communicate their value to others.

Cindy's ideals and philosophies come from years of working in the profession. Her ideas come from observing practices both good and mediocre. She graduated from the University of Maryland Dental Hygiene program and worked in private practices and municipal clinics. As a clinical hygienist, she had days when she felt good about her work, and days when she felt lousy. Whenever she felt lousy, she tried to figure out why. It was usually from problems that were not being addressed properly. Staff morale problems, ergonomic problems, chaotic scheduling, and hassles with patients all faced her at some point.

She found that "fix and patch" dentistry was inadequate, and she began creating long-range and long-term solutions. Cindy collected data on how and why hygiene departments are run ineffectively. She found that many practices view their hygiene department as a "money pit," a necessary evil and not much more. Many practices have no clue there is a tremendous resource and potential in the hygiene department. They are unaware that the hygiene department is the educational center and primary customer service hub of the entire practice.

This lack of awareness was so prevalent that Cindy decided to share her thoughts and ideas with others. She established a consulting firm that focuses on these issues and wrote numerous articles on related topics. As her ideas attracted attention, she received invitations to speak at conferences. Her speaking engagements have taken her to Chicago, Nashville, Philadelphia, and many other cities. She has presented at the Profitable Dentist Seminar in Destin, Fla., at AGD meetings, and at RDH's "Under One Roof " conference.

When Cindy began her presentations, she received advice from other speakers. One told her, "Ten percent of your audiences will love you, 10 percent will hate you, and the rest will not remember what you said, but how much fun they had." She has never forgotten this and tries to incorporate fun into all of her programs. She wants everyone to understand her presentations and not to leave in a fog. Her program is constantly evolving to meet the needs of the audiences. Connecting with the audiences is what Cindy loves best about her programs.

Cindy's philosophy has been integrated into a book titled, Dental Hygiene: The Pulse of the Practice, which was published by PennWell Books. The book is being used as a teaching resource, a supplemental student workbook and a teacher's manual. She has written other manuals for the hygiene department and other practice departments and has also produced a DVD series.

Support from numerous movers and shakers within dentistry have encouraged her to expand her program and share her philosophy in other arenas. Her ideas and managerial style have recently earned her a position as a facilitator and client coach with Planned Marketing Associates' "Dental Boot Kamp."

Because she is concerned that dental hygiene is not given proper respect, Cindy wants people to understand that dental hygiene and dentistry are businesses. "We need to understand all of the implications of business practice and apply that to what we do," she said. She hopes hygienists will no longer be undervalued, but that they will be able to conduct the practice orchestra productively and proactively so that everyone will win.

Upcoming courses for Cindy McKane-Wagester

• Maryland Academy of General Dentistry — March 2004, Baltimore Md., "Dental Hygiene, Looking Beyond the Gums"
• Maryland Academy of General Dentistry — April 2004, Annual Meeting, Greenbelt, Md.
• Planned Marketing Associates, Boot Kamp Programs, Kentucky, Florida, and other states throughout the year.
• University of Maryland Dental School Alumni Weekend, May 2004, Baltimore, Md.

To learn more about her programs or other information, go to

Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, BS is a practicing hygienist in a periodontal-implant practice.She is a graduate of the Forsyth School for Dental Hygienists, is active in the Massachusetts Dental Hygienists' Association, and is a Fellow of the Association of Dental Implant Auxilliaries and Practice Management.Ann-Marie has written articles and presents programs on dental implants, TMD, and developmental delays and can be reached at [email protected].