Aug. 1, 2004
The beginning of the end of my misery came in 2001. I was an amalgam-placing, endo-by-hand-filing dentist with an antiquated computer system that was not user-friendly...

Bradley Gray, DDS

The beginning of the end of my misery came in 2001. I was an amalgam-placing, endo-by-hand-filing dentist with an antiquated computer system that was not user-friendly and made scheduling difficult. I wanted to quit dentistry. I was burnt out.

Something had to change. And it did! My practice production grew from $740,000 in 2000 to $1.7 million in 2003 with less manpower and working fewer days. How did this happen? Key technological advances were added to my practice that not only helped me provide a higher standard of care, but shifted my way of viewing things such as equipment, technology, and being open to new ideas.

I sold my practice in January 2001 to a group that was pretty gung-ho about the cutting-edge of technology — Heartland Dental Care. I had hoped to tolerate some of the new ideas long enough to see my daughter graduate from college five years down the road. In less than six months, I experienced a whole new world of dentistry I didn't even know existed. Heartland Dental Care helped expose me to new equipment, technologies, and materials that fundamentally changed how I practiced dentistry.

First, a new computer system that was user-friendly and easy to use was implemented into the practice. It was phenomenal! I was a little embarrassed thinking back on how many little things slipped through the cracks using my old system. The reporting features were unbelievable, such as unscheduled treatment, referral tracking, insurance aging, etc.

In using this new computer system, my patients now got the care they needed. We could go back into the system, find out who needed treatment but did not have an appointment scheduled. Those patients could then be contacted and an appointment scheduled for them. In the older system, the reporting mechanisms were not available to inquire about who didn't schedule for treatment unless you went patient-by-patient.

Referral tracking and insurance aging features also helped our practice monitor where referrals were coming from and understand the balance of our receivables. We learned from the administrative team at Heartland Dental Care how to monitor and work our accounts receivable effectively. What an impact this made on cash flow!

A luxury I never felt I could have as an owner was the opportunity to learn about new technologies or materials — either because I chose to ignore them, or felt I couldn't spare the time. Through my affiliation with Heartland Dental Care, I learned about so many new clinical technologies and materials and efficient operational systems in a very short amount of time. One example is bonding techniques. I had attended some CE courses to learn about new materials and techniques that work better than what I had known in the past. So, one day, I decided to just stop doing amalgams. In the past, I had a great fear of posterior composites, but learning about the new materials helped me to practice dentistry in a new way that was exciting and fun — and more of what patients were wanting.

Another is rotary endo. I hated endo. I know a lot of dentists who hate endo. It was stressful for me to locate the canals, and twisting the files was hard on my hands. I was at a crossroad — either refer out all endo, or change what I was doing. I learned how to use the rotary system and started becoming more comfortable with it. I limited my case selection at first, bicuspids and molars on kids because the canals are easy to access. Now, I do almost all of my own endo, routinely treat molars, and sometimes third molars. This is a big change.

The biggest change for me was the DIAGNOdent. This equipment was amazing and it fit my more conservative method of practicing dentistry. Prior to DIAGNOdent, I had the "watching syndrome," meaning I would just watch the questionable areas because I wanted to be a conservative dentist. I was hesitant at first to implement this tool, and was humbled by my experiences testing it. I would get higher readings, open them up — and find caries.

Before, I would never have diagnosed caries present in those locations. After all, I had been practicing dentistry for so long, I felt I could recognize when caries was present. Today, it makes me feel so much better knowing that I am being more proactive with my patients and diagnosing caries much sooner. This keeps the restorations smaller and preserves more of the healthy tooth. For kids, too, the DIAGNOdent is great because we can catch caries earlier and have smaller restorations, many times without using anesthetic. This helps create a positive dental experience for the child — and parent!

Multimedia also has played a huge role in our practice success. We have found that the multimedia in our treatment rooms, in conjunction with digital photography, helps with treatment acceptance. The chairside monitors show CAESY patient-education material to help inform the patients. We also take digital photographs of the condition(s) inside the patient's mouth; for example, pictures of calculus, tissue redness, and failed restorations. We put those pictures up on the screen, talk about the patient's condition, and recommend treatment. It has been a very powerful tool for us.

The chairside monitors also enable us to show educational information about cosmetic procedures that are now available. We take digital photographs of all our new patients, close-up smile pictures, and full-face photographs. When the patients see their smiles on the screen, they oftentimes express interest in a smile design.

If patients want to see what their smiles might look like after a smile design, we send our digital photographs electronically to our friends at Keller Laboratories for digital imaging. They create the ultimate smile image and send it back to us for the patient to see and take home. We do more cosmetic dentistry now than ever before.

In summary, new equipment, technology, and materials have fundamentally changed the way I practice dentistry. I have less stress and more fun. I provide better care to my patients and give them more of what they want. What was it worth to my practice over a short period of time? One million dollars.

I have a renewed passion for dentistry. I ended my misery, worry, and suffering by selling my practice and pre-funding my retirement. I opened my mind to new possibilities by working with a group, and embraced the technology, ideas, help, and support that Heartland Dental Care offered.

Instead of working until the age of 55, I hope to continue working until I am 65.

Dr. Bradley Gray has practiced in Westfield, Ind., for more than 22 years. He is a graduate of Indiana University School of Dentistry. Dr. Gray joined the Heartland Dental Care family in 2001. Heartland Dental Care is a collection of more than 125 hometown dental practices and delivers lifetime dental care to their patients. You may reach Dr. Gray at (317) 896-5009, or e-mail [email protected].

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