The secret to success in dentistry

Jan. 1, 2008
Success in dentistry depends on the ability to properly manage both the clinical and practice management aspects of your practice.

by Louis Malcmacher, DDS, MAGD

Success in dentistry depends on the ability to properly manage both the clinical and practice management aspects of your practice. This synthesis is crucial to your success, yet it’s amazing to me that many dentists completely lose sight of it. Most dentists make the mistake of focusing only on one of these aspects while ignoring or minimizing the other.

I see so many dentists spend an incredible amount of time and money improving their clinical skills — which is always important and necessary — but these highly trained dentists come back to their offices with the same practice management problems they left with. They’re now able to offer incredible dentistry to patients, but there are no takers. Patients don’t respond only to clinical skills. In fact, most patients cannot differentiate between a dentist who has taken 1,000 hours of continuing education in the past year and a dentist who has taken only 20. If you don’t equally advance your practice management skills along with your clinical training, your dental practice will not grow.

I have seen dentists make the opposite mistake as well. They will invest time and money to improve their practice management skills of motivating patients to treatment, marketing to bring in new patients, and case presentation, but will not improve their clinical skills. You can invest in trying to get hoards of new patients, but if you do not have the clinical skills to perform esthetic treatment or complex restorative and implant treatment, your practice will not grow and not break out to the next level.

I see both of these mistakes frequently as I consult with dental offices around the country. It is this constant balance of clinical and practice management skills that you need to hone and improve that will dramatically enhance your ability to diagnose and treat patients while at the same time motivating and leading patients to optimal dental health. Add to this the ability to know what patients want from a dental office and what procedures they desire, and a dental practice that is underproducing will reach its maximum potential.

Every decision that you make on a clinical product, technique, or piece of equipment has direct practice management ramifications on things like patient satisfaction, efficiency, and overhead control. Similarly, every practice management decision will have direct clinical applications as well.

Let me give you two short examples, one from the clinical side and one from the practice management side. Polishing composite can be a frustrating and time-consuming procedure for many dentists. I am constantly asked at my lectures what are the best composite polishers out there. Usually what they mean is, “What can I use that is really fast and really effective because I don’t want to waste a lot of time polishing composite resins because my schedule is getting backed up?” If you don’t polish composite resins, the patients will complain that the area is rough, and doesn’t feel right, they are dissatisfied when they smile, and when their teeth dry a little bit, they will be able to see the margin between the composite and the tooth. You and I have heard all these complaints.

This is a perfect example where something as simple as a good composite polishing system can have direct practice management benefits. One of the best new composite polishing systems is Jazz Supreme by SS White. These polishers have been designed to create an ultra high gloss polish on all types of composites, including nanofilled, microfilled, macrofilled, hybrid, and even flowables. Jazz Supreme is a superior polishing system that allows you to create a beautifully reflective gloss in one easy step, thus maximizing chair time by eliminating the need to use the more cumbersome two- to three-step polishers that have become standard in the dental industry today. One-step esthetic composite polishing is accomplished through a proprietary combination of diamond particles infused within a unique synthetic rubber matrix.

How many times do your patients complain about a rough surface on a newly seated crown or crown you have adjusted in the mouth? Jazz P3S by SS White is designed especially for polishing our 21st century ceramics. Jazz P3S is a pure diamond polisher that creates a high luster polish, thus eliminating the need for additional glaze firing. The practice management implications are more satisfied patients and fewer second and third appointments to smooth these restorations.

Now let’s go to the practice management side of your practice. Everybody wants to get new patients. What may surprise you is that new patients call your office all the time. One of the biggest secrets in dentistry to get more new patients in your practice every month is to just answer the phone correctly. People call your front desk all day long. If they are on hold for too long, if their questions are not answered correctly, or if they are not asked to make an appointment properly, they will find a new dentist because that is what they are trying to do. You can do all the marketing in the world and get your phone ringing off the hook, but if the person up front answers the phone like most dental offices do — which is wrong! — you are turning away more new patients than you can imagine.

You need to train your front desk to answer the phone properly. The best way I have found to do this is through Jay Geier’s The Scheduling Institute. Don’t know if you need help in this area? The Scheduling Institute will test your front desk for free. Go to and receive by e-mail an audio clip of someone who will call your front desk posing as a new patient, and listen to how your people answer the phone. Now what is amazing to me when I play these calls for dentists is that they think that the front desk has done a fairly good job. When I point out simple things like not asking the patient his or her name, lack of transition in the phone call, and not handling a “shopper” patient correctly, dentists finally start getting the idea.

Like anything else in your office and in dentistry, you need to get some education and training to become highly skilled. Answering the phone correctly and scheduling new patients is one of the most important skills everyone in your office should learn, yet we just hire people, sit them down, and tell them to answer the phone. Most of what we think is the right way to answer the phone is not. The proof of the pudding is how many more patients get scheduled as new patients when you finally learn the right way.

By the way, how do we as dentists know the right way to answer the phone? This is not even our field. We have never been trained in it and what we think is right is only what we hear when we call every other dental office. Take the test and you will be quite surprised. What we learned from The Scheduling Institute is six distinct parts to a phone call. When done successfully, more new patients get scheduled without any more marketing or advertising. More new patients obviously mean more production and more demand in your office for elective esthetic procedures.

It is this constant balance of clinical and practice management skills that you need to hone and improve that will dramatically enhance your ability to diagnose and treat patients while at the same time motivating and leading patients to optimal dental health.

The constant mix of clinical and practice management systems is essential to every office. The most common mistake is trying to isolate instead of synthesize these two all encompassing aspects of your practice. The dentists I teach and consult with learn how to look at their practices differently and make smarter purchasing and hiring decisions based on both clinical applications and practice management needs. The result is a happier, more stress-free and productive environment for the whole dental team — and that is when you really reach success in dentistry.

Dr. Louis Malcmacher is a practicing general dentist in Bay Village, Ohio, and an internationally known lecturer, author, and dental consultant. He works closely with dental manufacturers as a clinical researcher in developing new products and techniques. His group dental practice has maintained a 45 percent overhead since 1988. Contact Dr. Malcmacher at (440) 892-1810 or via e-mail at [email protected]. You can see his lecture schedule at, where you can also sign up for Dr. Malcmacher’s monthly practice-management teleconferences and his free monthly e-newsletter.

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