by Anthony S. Feck, DMD
Within the first 10 minutes of speaking to the hundreds of dentists at each Oral Sedation Dentistry Seminar, I tell the story of how I came to be on stage presenting to thousands of dentists every year. I tell the story in an effort to open up the minds of the dental professionals in the audience to the potential of the three days we are about to spend together. After all, my story isn’t that much different than many of theirs ... or yours.
How my definition of success evolved
I recall asking one of my dental school professors in the spring of 1983 what he thought it would take for me to be successful. His reply was, “Tony, take good care of your patients and you will enjoy success.” I liked his answer because I knew I could do that. It fit my definition of success at that time, which was having enough patients to be busy doing dentistry all day.
It never occurred to me to do the math for how I was going to pay off my student loans, nor did I ever fully consider future economics. I was confident that if I had a full schedule of patients each day, I would have all the financial resources necessary (whatever that meant).
So I did just that. I graduated, passed the boards, established a practice, and took good care of my patients. And sure enough, my definition of success was fulfilled. Within a short period of time, there were more and more patients and my practice grew. More patients also meant more employees, more equipment, and more bills.
We outgrew our facility and it was time to find more space. Over the next 10 years I would outgrow my space two more times. Success, defined as a full schedule, was accompanied by more work, more stress, and yes, more gross income – but not more financial security. Something had to change.
I took courses, read all that I could on business management, and hired a practice-management consultant. Not surprisingly, the business got better. I was able to grow the practice and make a better living. I began funding my retirement plan. My definition of success had evolved from being busy to being busy and profitable.
Trouble in Camelot
But not all was well in Camelot.
Two events caused my definition of success to shift once again. Both were unexpected and changed my professional and personal life irreversibly.
The first event was a seemingly innocuous little gesture that betrayed a change in my attitude. I caught myself looking at my watch one afternoon – not to check if I was on schedule, but to check how much longer I had to work that day. That’s not so unusual if I’m not feeling well or am unusually tired. But I couldn’t use either of those excuses that day. Then I realized that it was happening every day. What was worse, it was happening earlier and earlier during each day. I was losing my passion for dentistry – I was burning out!
My definition of success needed to evolve once again because my current success was killing me.
The second event occurred in a moment, but had been building up for years since I decided to participate as a “preferred” provider for Delta Dental.This choice became even more important when one of the largest Delta Dental employers in the country, Toyota, opened a manufacturing plant nearby, producing the best selling automobile in America, the Toyota Camry.
Insidiously, the Delta Dental portion of my patient base had grown to 35 percent and took up 50 percent of my average daily schedule. It was keeping me and my team very busy, but resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in negative adjustments each month.
I recall the day it all came to a head like it was yesterday. I walked into my office, looked at my schedule, and for the first time saw Delta patients and non-Delta patients. In other words, I saw them not as patients, but for what their reimbursement potential was for the practice. The nonDelta patients were not only more profitable, but they were paying for my PPO patients’ care.
That was the day I decided, “In order for me to give everyone my best, everyone should compensate me for giving my best.” Delta would have to be eliminated from the practice, along with the other alphabet PPOs. Easy decision, right? No! It scared me to death.
The solution started with a serendipitous encounter with my colleague and friend, Dr. Michael Silverman. I first met Dr. Silverman through the late Walter Hailey’s Dental Boot Kamp, where he was one of the lead instructors.
Dr. Silverman not only had all the patients he needed to satisfy his goals (busyness and high profitability), but the ingredient I was missing – professional enrichment. Dentistry was organized play to him, not work. He did the type of dentistry he enjoyed the most, with patients he cared about, in the quantities he wanted, at the level of income he desired.
His practice reminded me of a quote I once read by Christopher Morley, “There is only one success – to be able to spend your life in your own way.” My definition of practice success had changed once more. Dentistry needed to be professionally and personally rewarding.
The solution to replacing hundreds of Delta patients and to enjoying dentistry more would intersect at the same point – sedation dentistry!
Given my circumstances, I needed access to a large pool of patients who weren’t motivated by third-party discounts or reimbursement. I also needed patients who desired the type of comprehensive dentistry I had been trained to provide and enjoy. I wanted to see fewer patients, work fewer days, and feel like I was making more of a difference in the lives of those patients I did see. In addition, I wanted my income to go up. Sedation dentistry widened the gap between my overhead and production, providing me just that – more profit.
Enter sedation dentistry
That’s where sedation dentistry, as taught by the Dental Organization for Conscious Sedation (DOCS), entered the picture. The techniques taught are incredibly safe. The track record of safety is unparalleled in dentistry and is effective with both mildly anxious and highly fearful patients. It also allows large amounts of dentistry to be accomplished in relatively short periods of time, making it an attractive option for the time-challenged patient as well.
As the universal law of compensation dictates, you cannot help others without helping yourself, resulting in professional enrichment for both the doctor and the team.
Let’s skip to the end of the story. I no longer participate in any PPOs. I have a cash practice. I work two days per week seeing fewer patients and doing more dentistry than I used to provide in two full weeks. Sedation appointments are nearly always in excess of $10,000 in production, often exceeding $15,000, and occasionally they eclipse $20,000. As a result, my net income has increased significantly every year since adding sedation dentistry to my practice, and I again enjoy going to the office every day.
I still look at my watch, but now it’s to marvel at how fast the day is flying by. Most importantly, I am making a bigger difference in the lives of my patients than ever before. Dentistry is rewarding again. The rest of my business week is spent working one-on-one with dentists to help them accomplish their definition of success with my consulting company, Sunrise Dental Solutions.
Your story – your solution
If you relate to any part of my story, I invite you to revisit your definition of success and investigate the role oral sedation dentistry can play in transforming your practice.
Sedation dentistry is rapidly becoming the standard of care. It may be used as a tool to add an associate, slow down your practice, start a practice from scratch, or simply respond to the market-driven need for it. The public is becoming aware that there are better solutions.
Of course, there’s a lot to learn to make it happen.
The first step is to make the decision to add this invaluable tool to your arsenal of practice services. The return on your investment will be many times above and beyond the investment in time and equipment needed to get started.
The next step is to procure the necessary training for you and your team. After that, you must get the word out that you provide this service. You will have more prospective patients than you could ever imagine who are just waiting for you to help them (consider adding one or two more phone lines).
Finally, set aside one morning in your schedule each week for sedation (more or less time depending on your practice needs).
Thousands of your colleagues have implemented sedation dentistry in their practices to one degree or another over the last decade. Perhaps it is time for your definition of success to evolve to one that includes helping patients through sedation ... and the inevitable rewards to you that accompany it!
Dr. Anthony S. Feck is a nationally recognized sedation and cosmetic dentist, mentor, author, and educator. He resides in Lexington, Ky., and has been in private practice since 1983. Dr. Feck is the co-founder of Sunrise Dental Solutions (www.SunriseDentalSolutions.com), a consulting firm that helps manage dental practices. He serves as the Dean of Faculty for the Dental Organization for Conscious Sedation (www.DOCSeducation.com). He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].