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10 dumb things that smart dentists do

Feb. 1, 2023
Have you done any of these dumb things in your practice? Chances are you have. Here's some advice for avoiding these mistakes in the future.

Dentists are smart. We have to be! After all, we achieved great academic success in college, sweated out four years of dental school, did advanced training, and were then indelicately thrown out into the real world. Yes, we’re smart, but even smart people do dumb things.

In my experience of owning my own practice and over three decades of helping thousands of colleagues succeed in theirs, I’ve seen lots of dumb things and have done many dumb things myself. So, let’s get started, and give some practical advice along the way with “10 dumb things smart dentists do!”

No. 1: Focusing on new patients while ignoring existing ones

Seventy percent of the time, when a dentist contacts us, they scream, “We need more new patients!” Just like you, we love new patients! But our practice data analysis typically shows that the real problems  are broken recall systems, no true reactivation protocol, and more patients leaving through the back door than are coming in the front. Existing patients who have slipped through the cracks provide the best opportunities if you know how to mine them. 

No. 2: Putting unqualified help at the front desk

Speaking of new patients, all of the marketing, referral outreach, positive reviews, and reputational awareness in the world won’t do much good if the person who answers your phones doesn’t have the skills to get a potential new patient onto the schedule. On our podcast, The Dental Practice Fixers, we do three mystery shopper calls every week, and the results are scary. Most dentists are amazed when they learn how frequently a potential new patient on the phone is not even offered an appointment.

You might also be interested in: Lose the lectures: 8 ways you can really engage your patients

No. 3: Thinking "buy it, and they will come"

Technology is fantastic, and today’s high-end dental equipment can significantly increase diagnostic abilities and treatment quality. But way too frequently we see naïve dentists purchase a bill of goods, believing that expensive gadgets will increase their practice revenues, only to find it just increases their debt and stress levels. The upshot: know what you're getting into before making that kind of purchase.

No. 4: Selling dentistry

Dentistry can’t be sold, no matter how many overly aggressive techniques and retorts one learns. Cultivating an atmosphere of caring, trust, and confidence is what gets patients to say “yes.” When it comes to treatment acceptance, it’s better to play the long game, ensuring that when a patient is ready, you are the one they will trust.

No. 5: Forgetting the basics

When they’re frustrated with their revenue streams, dentists often lose focus and think that esoteric treatments, satellite offices, or investing in their cousin’s brewpub are the answers. For most dentists, a well-run single-location office that excels at the basics (such as endo/core/crown) can bring the highest profits, lowest stress, and most practice enjoyment.

No. 6: Not calibrating their practice

If a patient were to ask the doctor and some team members the same question, would they get the same answer? Probably not. Make a list of your patient FAQs, brainstorm the best answers at a team meeting, write them down, and then practice until your office team is calibrated. 

No 7: Overcomplicating patient finances

A patient who owes you money is an unhappy patient, and oftentimes patients who don’t understand their financial arrangements are prone to delay treatment or not show. Keep it simple! Require payment in full before or on the day of treatment. Accept cash, check, credit cards, or third-party financing. 

When discussing third-party financing such as CareCredit, the best presentation takes five seconds. Just look the patient straight in the eye and say something like, “We have a great option for you. It’s 12 months interest-free, which would be just $200 per month. Would you like to do that?” Then just be quiet and wait for the “yes.” 

No. 8: Not using specialized professionals

It pays to have the best people on your personal board of directors. Having the right accountant, attorney, financial advisor, lease negotiator, web designer, SEO specialist, and more can make your life easier and save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long haul. So, why work with someone who doesn’t specialize in working with dentists? Your brother-in-law may be a great lawyer, and your nephew could be a whiz with computers, but professionals who work exclusively with dentists and understand the nuances and complexities of the dental world are usually the best fit.

No. 9: Living the dental lifestyle

Just because you’re a dentist doesn’t mean you deserve a Mercedes-Benz, a boat, the latest pair of $500 Nikes, and two weeks in Bora Bora (wherever that is). But for some reason, many people think that they are entitled to a certain lifestyle because their name starts with Doctor. Don’t get me wrong; it’s great to enjoy your life in any way you see fit—full disclosure, I own 22 guitars and have visited 56 countries. But you should never spend money you don't have. Work with a financial professional to develop a plan based on your needs so that things such as a retirement fund, education for your kids, paying off debt, and more are taken care of. Then do whatever you want with the leftover money while knowing you are not sacrificing your future. (As an added insight, it’s really true that material things do not make you happy, but that’s a topic for a different article.) 

No. 10: Having a negative happiness equation

Way too many dentists don't love their work, which means they are drudging through the week in order to earn enough money to enjoy the weekend. Essentially, they are putting up with misery Monday through Friday hoping they can buy some fun away from the office. That’s a negative happiness equation, and it’s one of the saddest things in dentistry. If you find yourself constantly proclaiming TGIF! or you have a case of the Sunday night blues, there’s a good chance your happiness equation is in the red. 

Look, dentistry can be tough, and every day is not all rainbows and unicorns. But you spend a huge portion of your life in the office, so you had better enjoy it. Much of this begins with the people who surround you—your team! Negativity, backstabbing, and gossip are dangerous and pervasive and need to be addressed. This often starts with the doctor. Do you pleasantly greet each team member every morning and thank them every night? Do you compliment a good effort, especially in front of patients? Are the golden words “please” and “thank you” frequently heard in your office, along with lots of laughter? 

Whatever the cause, if your happiness equation is in negative territory, the time to address it is now!

So, there you have it, 10 dumb things that smart dentists do. If you saw a little bit of yourself in this, the smartest thing of all would be to recognize that and work toward positive solutions.

Editor's note: Originally posted in 2021 and updated regularly

About the Author

Richard H. Madow, DDS

Cofounder of the Madow Center for Dental Practice Success, RICHARD H. MADOW, DDS, has been helping his colleagues achieve success and happiness in their practices for over 30 years. Having been named a “Leader In Dental Consulting” for many years running, his teaching and coaching has reached more than 100,000 dentists and team members across the world. For more information, check madow.com or email him at [email protected].

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