Year in Review

2020 has been a year like no other. While the pandemic grabbed most of the attention, dental group practices none the less continued to grow their businesses and find new ways to solve old industry challenges. The following are some of the highlights from Efficiency in Group Practices interviews this year.

A game changer (January/February)

The first prosthodontic specialty level practice to join Mortenson Dental Partners, Louisville, Kentucky-based Advanced Dental Solutions provides life-changing care to patients who often mistakenly believe their treatment is out of reach. To a large extent, belonging to a dental service organization has made this possible, according to prosthodontist Mark C. Nation, DMD, who heads the practice. In addition to full-mouth reconstruction on teeth and implants, Nation and his team offer grafting procedures to facilitate these treatments, as well as general anesthesia for bigger cases. “A large part of our practice involves helping patients with existing dental implants who require additional restoration, repair or replacements,” he explains.

“Belonging to a dental service organization has helped alleviate the non-clinical tasks generally required to run a dental office,” Dr. Nation continues. “It has freed me up to focus on my patients and facilitate their care at the highest possible level. While I had great experiences as a practice owner in the past, I’ve discovered the lower stress level associated with being affiliated to a DSO – together with the services they provide – have enabled me to improve my well-being and spend more time with my family.” Indeed, while the experience has not impacted his staff’s day-to-day responsibilities, the support Mortenson Dental Partners provides around managing finances and training team members has made life easier for everyone in the office, he adds.

Hiring and retention best practices (January/February)

All practices, from solo offices to large dental service organizations, are bound to encounter challenges around hiring and staff retention. In some geographic areas, for instance, there is a shortage of qualified dental professionals available for hire. Depending on the practice culture or the compensation offered, employees may feel underappreciated. At the same time, each dental model inevitably has a lot to offer new employees. Larger practices and DSOs often can offer employees more working hours. In addition, DSOs usually have the means to provide employees with better compensation packages. On the other hand, clinicians and staff at smaller practices may feel in greater control of their treatment plans, making it attractive to stay for the long-term.

“It’s all about creating the right environment and a sense of unity by making employees feel like they are part of a winning team,” says Steve Desautel, vice president, sales and marketing, Dental Health Products, Inc. (DHPI). “Dental offices that typically have the greatest turnover issues are those where the owner is not overly staff centric, can’t clearly communicate performance targets and goals, makes unrealistic demands and is hard to please.”

Embracing diversity (March/April)

For Mortenson Dental Partners, cultivating a culture of diversity is an ongoing process. “While diversity has always been a mainstay for MDP, we are in the early stages of formulating new protocols,” says Bryan Hildreth, chief human resources officer at MDP. “All of our team members complete diversity training as part of our orientation and are certified annually thereafter. We are beginning to measure and track diversity indicators to help us assess where we stand and identify opportunities for improvement, such as our diversity in senior leadership. We also are exploring new options to attract more diverse applicants through alternative websites and virtual communities, and we are more intentional about utilizing diverse interviewing panels in our recruitment process.”

The DSO makes it a point to:

  • Seek applicants from more diverse sites and partner with professional organizations that cater to underrepresented groups.
  • Create marketing materials that better reflect the group’s diverse team and patients.
  • Expand eligibility for bereavement leave to reflect a broader and more inclusive definition of family.
  • Incorporate many different backgrounds and perspectives into its cross-functional work teams.

That said, changes such as the above require buy-in from leadership, notes Hildreth. “Our leadership team is the linchpin to the ultimate success of our diversity efforts,” he says. “We depend on them to collectively and consistently apply the principles of diversity across the organization.”

As with other operational initiatives, Hildreth believes it’s equally important for the entire organization to embrace the principles handed down by leadership and follow through with best practices. “In the case of diversity, if we fail to properly embrace best practices, we may find ourselves at a competitive disadvantage – not only with respect to other DSOs but also other businesses in the communities we serve.” Indeed, by incorporating a broad spectrum of backgrounds and perspectives, DSOs can more closely understand their patients’ needs and provide better care, he adds.

Hygienists today play a lead role in patient care (May/June)

Many hygienists today are a significant part of the dental team, according to Jennifer Rush, RDH, BSDH, director of dental hygiene, DecisionOne Dental Partners. “At DecisionOne Dental Partners we look at the hygienist not just as a team member, but as a clinician,” she says. “We value the hygienist like we value a doctor. In addition to providing outstanding customer service, our hygienists provide care to their patients; they are taught to look at their patients’ systemic health, not just their oral health.

“Our patients see more of their hygienists than any other healthcare provider,” she continues. As such, they make it a point to educate their patients and form long lasting relationships with them. “For example, we all take blood pressure readings on all our patients, at every visit,” she says. As a hygienist, I am more likely to catch high blood pressure than their regular physician is. It’s a great feeling to know I am directly involved in improving my patients’ overall life.”

Rush credits advances in technology for helping hygienists expand their role in recent years. For that reason, hygienists must stay current on the latest and greatest products in order to provide the best possible care, she adds. “Hygienists must constantly grow in their profession,” she points out. “As a primary healthcare provider, hygienists must keep current on new technology, together with doctors,” she explains. As she discovered after joining DecisionOne Dental Partners, the closer in touch she is with new services and technology, the better able she is to develop her skills and care for her patients.

DSOs continue to present new opportunities for hygienists (May/June)

In Andrea Kowalczyk’s experience, hygienists working in a DSO setting have career-building opportunities that those in the private sector sometimes lack. “DSOs often have access to resources and new product education, which a smaller practice may not have,” says Kowalczyk, RDH, BS, lead talent acquisition partner for a leading DSO. “Some DSOs use proprietary software, which has been created especially for them and often is more robust to software available to private offices.

“Within some of our groups, hygiene committees have been created that include clinical hygienists who treat patients with new products and therapies, and then evaluate them for future use,” Kowalczyk continues. “It’s a great way to be involved.”

Furthermore, DSOs emphasize infection control throughout the organization, she notes. “Many of our groups employ quality assurance officers who ensure the entire dental team complies with OSHA guidelines,” she says. “Since those guidelines are always evolving, we rely on these officers to keep us abreast of important changes. Our hygiene trainers and mentors, as well as other professionals, ensure all of our hygienists follow clinical guidelines in order to provide great and safe care.”

Smile Magic (July/August)

Emmet Scott, CEO and co-founder of National Dental Partners™ and Smile Magic Dentistry, and the newly elected president of the American Dental Service Organizations (ADSO) said he’s tried simplifying things during challenging times with a guiding principle. He calls it his North Star, and it’s kept him on course, even amid the changing marketplace and a global pandemic.

Scott asks himself one question – What does the customer want?

“If I want to know what the future is going to hold, I look to my customers, namely their lives, needs, and wants,” Scott said.

Efficiency: Speaking on behalf of DSOs across the nation, has the pandemic made DSO offerings more valuable to the independent dental office?

Scott:Yes. I think this was already starting to happen. Even dentists who were kind of wary on DSOs are seeing that these DSOs are willing to provide more capital to them if they want to exit or if they’re looking for a partnership. That’s interesting to them.

They have teams that can help them navigate all this complexity. All great athletes, even if they look like they’re alone, have huge teams.

This complexity, having a team, network, and support system, I think everyone’s saying, “Yes, at this level you do need a team. You do need support.”

That leads me into how we evolved and became what we are today, National Dental Partners, which happened before we knew there was going to be a global pandemic. That said, the state of our country has shown us and participating (and interested) members that there has never been a better time for partnerships and collaboration like this in our industry.

PPE demand has turned the supply chain upside down (July/August)

Editor’s note: Billy Harris, CEO of Sri Trang USA, Inc., spoke with Efficiency in Group Practice Publisher Scott Adams on the history of the glove business as it relates to public health scares, how demand spiked during COVID-19, the challenges of bringing manufacturing of gloves to the United States, and more.

Yes, there will be higher demand, because more people across all industries are going to glove, gown, and mask. Some will be more short-term. For instance, some of the inquiries that Sri Trang received over the past few weeks are mostly coming from industry. “They’re trying to get their employees back to work, whether it be in a factory or a restaurant.”

Another example was the cruise ship industry. When it was shut down during COVID, those companies buying gloves for cruise ships found themselves sitting on idle inventory. “Well, that idle inventory was only idle until somebody figured out that, ‘Oh, there’s some idle inventory, let’s go buy it because we can use it over here in other parts of the market.’” Anybody that was in the food service business saw a decline for a short period of time. But their glove sales and mask sales remained because they started selling it to customers who were not in their traditional wheelhouse.

The dental market did the same thing, Harris said. For seven to eight weeks, they went from 100% utilization in dentistry down to maybe 15%. It was only the dentist and maybe one other person in the office during that period of time. The dental supply people were sitting on inventories and having inventories coming in, so they started selling gloves, masks, gowns and hand sanitizer to everybody. They even went to the market to try to get more. Some of the dental distribution business is now trying to figure out how to leverage that long-term in healthcare and the medical side, not just the dental side, Harris said. So, unless you were specializing in cancer treatments and things of that nature, you saw no decline. But the general practitioner certainly saw a big decline.

There’s going to be a change in the supply chain, Harris said. The market’s going to look very different, and the demand will probably jump from 70 billion to maybe 90 billion when it all starts to settle out, “because we’re all going to be doing more cleaning, deep cleaning, things of that nature.”

Tarek Aly, chief operating officer at OrthoDent, on building business expertise while practicing (September/October)

“When you are practicing dentistry, you are completely focused on the tactical aspects of dentistry. You are providing the ultimate quality of clinical care for your patients. However, you don’t dedicate enough time and attention to the business aspect, which is also serving patients, by making sure that you provide top quality of care, you have less waiting time, you’re efficient and effective, you have happy, satisfied team members, and returning patients with a positive impact. That in itself is difficult because you are functioning with two minds. You have the dentist’s mind, and you have the business mind. And that is definitely hard. In the beginning you are handling everything. You’re doing all these things. But as you grow, you have the ability to break down some of these functions and give them to a specialist, who has the formal education, knowledge and the experience to tackle one piece at a time. It is definitely challenging, but, as you scale, it becomes easier.”

Location, location, location (September/October)

Dr. Matt Kathan and the leadership of Timber Dental say that they try to think of their business as being “retail.” This has meant going after a narrowly defined target population and investing a lot of resources into getting and maintaining visibility with that population.

The practice offers general dentistry to all patients, but the practice has rejected the mindset of trying to be all things to all people. The leadership team worked to create a “patient avatar” and focus its efforts on trying to cater to and draw in that population. For Timber Dental, that target population is millennials, with most of the practice’s patients being in the 30-45 age range.

Timber Dental’s focus on approaching dentistry as a retail business can be seen simply by looking at the practice’s four locations around Portland. All of the locations are within 2 miles of another Timber Dental office. All locations are on street corners and highly visible. The downtown location even has a 30-ft marquee sign to draw even attention to the practice.