President's Message: from Jean

March 1, 2004
This month, Woman Dentist Journal features high-tech dentistry.

This month, Woman Dentist Journal features high-tech dentistry. To be honest, I couldn't wait to see this edition. OK, let me come clean. I am a high-tech junkie; I admit it. I have nobody to blame but myself, and I readily take responsibility for having an office jam-packed with high-tech toys of every description.

You see, I practice dentistry because I really love dentistry. If I didn't have all these toys, I don't think I'd still be here. I'd be lying on the beach in Florida working on a full-blown case of basal cell carcinoma. It's really my patients and my toys that keep me not just working in dentistry, but loving what I do. And who could ask for anything more?

I have another confession to make. I don't work for money. Don't get me wrong — I work hard every day, usually putting in 10 hours at the chair, four days a week. But I have been very fortunate to have a husband who has provided for our family and who has asked of me only that I not lose money. Not having to worry about providing for my family is a real luxury. And I realize that.

Early in my career I listened to a popular speaker on the circuit, Omer Reed, whose philosophy was that everyone should practice as though they have a wealthy spouse. Because, you know what? When you practice like that, you not only do make money, you usually make more than your colleagues. Patients don't feel pressured because you don't sell dentistry. Patients who see dollar signs in your eyes aren't going to buy, and you aren't going to be happy trying to push treatment that won't be accepted.

Instead, how much more pleasant it is to take your patients on a tour of their mouths via an intraoral camera so they can co-diagnose their problems. All of a sudden, instead of being a salesman, you become a dentist showing them the problems they have and how you can help them. If there is one high-tech tool every office needs, it is a good intraoral camera. If you don't have one, run — don't walk — to your dealer and get one. An interesting aside, our intraoral camera was down for almost six months this year because of technical problems from our computer "guru" messing up the program on our Schick computer. and having video card incompatibility problems. The bottom line was a loss of about $50,000, because we had no intraoral camera. I had always appreciated my camera before, but now my accountant can tell you I have the proof in dollars and cents that intraoral cameras do bring in revenue.

So how do you decide what high-tech stuff you really need and what you can afford? First of all, you need to look at ROI, return on investment. By how much money would a potential investment increase your bottom line? This is not always easy to calculate, but it must always be in the back of your mind. Sometimes the most expensive equipment can bring in the most return. Our Biolase is an example of that. With a ticket price of around $50,000, most dentists couldn't imagine that you could actually make money, but our bottom line increased over $100,000 the first year we got it.

The next thing is to determine if you can afford it. This is a little easier to calculate, and your accountant can help. Personally, my criteria is whether I can afford to pay cash for it. Basically, I am cheap. I hate to pay more than I have to, and I hate to pay interest.

The next criteria is whether it will make me more productive so that I can do dentistry not just faster, but better so that the quality of my dentistry is at least equal and hopefully better than without it. An example of that is my Parallel-A-Prep, which is fantastic for creating preps so parallel that undercuts are eliminated and bridges from the lab just fall into place. It means less remakes, less chair time, and more profit.

The last and most important criteria is whether something helps patients either understand better what they need or makes their treatment more comfortable. An example of the former is the DIAGNOdent. We refer to it as a laser scanner, which is kind of like a bar code reader in the supermarket that gives a digital readout of incipient caries. The patient can hear the volume go up as the caries get deeper, thus understanding that those teeth will need treatment. Again, there is no hard sell, only patient co-diagnosing and turning a need into a want.

An example of the latter is the Wand. We all think we give painless shots, but until you've tried it, you don't know what painless is. Sure, it takes a little longer to administer. And sure, it costs more than the standard needle, but the return is more satisfied patients who will refer their friends. One referral will pay for an entire year's supply of Wand materials.

OK, my final confession. Money is not what makes me tick, but given the choice between being a rich dentist or a poor dentist, I've got to tell you it's a lot more fun being a rich one. It allows me to travel, to attend conferences in all kinds of exciting places, and to really enjoy what I'm doing. It allows me to have a totally fee-for-service practice free of the hassles from insurance and third-party payers. It allows me to do charity work of my own choosing — not enriching the coffers of some insurance executive, but enriching my life and the lives of my patients and friends.

Enjoy this issue of Woman Dentist Journal, everyone. If you see something that will really enhance your practice, go for it!