© Gpointstudio | Dreamstime.com
Dreamstime M 148809442

5 steps to approaching your dentist employer about clinical improvements

Feb. 26, 2020
Dr. Laura Mach provides tips for improving the outcomes of conversations with your dentist employer.

Have you ever been in a situation at work where you suggest treatment for a patient, and then the doctor suggests something vastly different? Maybe it looked something like this: You told your dentist employer that you were concerned about your patient’s gingival pocketing. You mentioned that the pockets were 5 mm and bleeding. The dentist responded by telling you she was not concerned. This was directly after you had told her the bleeding was, indeed, a problem because scaling the patient’s teeth was like working blind due to all the blood every time you so much as looked at a papilla. You were left feeling disrespected and discredited in front of the patient.

What this situation needs is some clarifying communication. Do you and your dentist agree on the definitions of periodontal disease and when/how to intervene? You have the option of waiting until he or she pulls you aside for a meeting but, honestly, if it hasn’t happened yet, you might be waiting a long time. So this is your opportunity to initiate some collaboration! Listed below are some practical steps to improve the outcomes of conversations with your dentist employer.

1. Understand the perspective of your dentist

Most of the time, dentists are very grateful for their hygienists. I know, I know ... sometimes it might not feel like it! However, bear with me for a minute while I explain. We are busy and we can’t do it all! We need someone to do this work that must be done by skilled, compassionate hands. Here’s the thing: every time we come into your treatment room, we are juggling things that you don’t see. We must keep a happy face for the sake of our patients, but we likely are also worrying about other matters. We dentists are not taught in dental school how to run a business, how to have employees and equipment loans and be a manager when our hands are so busy working on patients all the time. So when you approach us for a chat about something, if we don’t respond the way you were hoping, please understand that our minds are full. We honestly do want to hear good ideas from you.

2. Prepare before you approach

Take a moment before you approach the doctor to clarify to yourself why you want to align diagnosis and treatment philosophies. This must be done from a mindset of confidence, not defensiveness. Explain to the doctor that you want to align your clinical perspective to their philosophy while implementing the latest scientific information. Be ready to provide specific cases for review. For instance, if an area looked like there was interproximal decay, but the doctor decided not to treat, review the films together, discuss the patient’s risks factors, and work together to understand each other’s perspectives.

3. Listen before you talk

Every human on the planet has the same favorite subject: themselves. Offering to listen before you ask to be heard is a very effective communication tool used by the greatest leaders in the world. Listening first does not put you in a lower position. On the contrary, it lifts you both up! You can start your conversation with words such as, “Doctor, would you please take a moment to describe where you stand with your process for determining periodontal care? Tell me about your decision points and how you have come to your current practice.” Focus on listening while the doctor is talking, not on rehearsing your next speech. The best thing you can do after this is restate what she or he said.

4. The secret to getting the doctor to listen

After you have listened and restated your doctor’s position, I suggest finding common ground in a sentence or two. “I, too, want to see healthy results for our patients. It’s great that we both agree that bleeding 5’s and 6’s should not be ignored.” Next, ask permission to give some suggestions. Asking for permission does not put yourself down; you do it because once a person gives permission to hear feedback, he or she is much more open to listening to what you have to say. So this might sound like, “Now that we have agreed on those points, may I have permission to make a few suggestions about ways I can see that we could improve?” Most doctors will say yes. 

5. Be clear and use science

At this point, you have gotten your willing ear. With science and confidence, present your suggestions. Always put these types of suggestions in terms of benefit to the patients and the practice. “Doctor, I believe that if we suggest SRP and a more frequent recall to our heavy bleeders, our patients will be healthier and our hygiene schedule will be busier too.” Once you have given your suggestion, ask the doctor how she or he feels about your suggestion. Be ready again to listen! 

The rest is up to you

You will find this method works any time you are trying to generate change. It can improve communication between yourself and the doctor, but it also can improve any relationship that you want to flow better.

Laura Mach, DDS, is in private practice dentistry in Iowa. She is a certified life coach through the Life Coach School. You can learn more from her by following her podcast, Feeling Good: a Podcast for Dentists, or by going to her website at TheLifeCoachForBusyDentists.com. You can also email her at [email protected].