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Things got a bit hot between some dentists and hygienists as practices prepared to reopen for general dentistry services.

Three well-known hygiene industry leaders talked with Patient Prism CEO Amol Nirgudkar to discuss the breakdown in communication, how to repair and rebuild trust between dental team members, and some creative solutions for restarting production quickly.

In this video, hear what Rachel Wall, RDH, BS (founder of Inspired Hygiene), Josey Sewell, RDH (Vice President of Education at Dental Intelligence), and Heidi Arndt, RDH (COO of Strive Dental Management) have to say about thoughtful communication, striking the right balance between hygienists who are ready to return to work and those who are nervous, and working together to meet the challenges caused by COVID-19.



Communicate Better, Faster, and More Often

Leadership starts with communication with team members. Business leaders – including dentists – typically need to communicate better, faster, and more often than they might assume.

“We’re seeing that those relationships that were really strong prior to COVID, most of them have remained that way and the teams have been able to push through this and work together. Those that were fractured or had some tension before, well, this has amplified that,” said Rachel Wall.

“Sometimes doctors are shutting down their communication because they don’t have the answers and they’re worried that will decrease their team’s confidence in them,” explained Josey Sewell. “As leaders, we have to define reality. You have to be genuine and authentic. But we also have to give the balance of hope.”

“It’s giving the team permission to think like a doctor, right?” added Wall. “It’s giving the team permission to provide input in a positive manner, it’s giving them permission to be part of planning the reopening. The team has to feel confident and prepared and safe in order for the patients to feel that way, too.”

Strive Dental Management, like most DSOs and dental practices, laid off staff members. That brought different challenges, including processing complex emotions.

“We laid off around 120 people on one day,” said Heidi Arndt. “For myself and the rest of the leadership team, we went through a mourning process. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Once we go to the other side of it, then we opened up the communication lines with our team. The practices where we have a lot of leadership and the team members felt that bond with our organization are the ones that are back with us. The level of determination of these team members is amazing. They’re navigating something nobody has been through before. So, they are depending on each other to make it through the day.”

In addition to communicating with team members, it’s important to communicate with patients, too.

“We call the patients for pre-screening, and the patients really like that personal touch from us. It makes them feel safe right away,” said Arndt.

“I know a couple of practices that were completely silent for a few weeks and patients were wondering if they were even going to open again. That lack of communication is really hurting those practices as they reopen.”


How do you Restart Hygiene Production?

Just as closing down non-emergency dental services required a mindset shift, so does reopening the practice.

“The dentist knows their business needs, right?” said Josey Sewell. “They’ve had to make payroll, they’ve had to pay bills, they’ve had to deal with all sorts of things, so they have a full picture that other team members may not have.”

The first step to reopening is to figure out how to make up for the production that was lost, especially when there may be fewer patients, fewer team members, and higher costs.

“Have everyone write down everything they’re worried about or need to solve on a piece of paper or a whiteboard,” recommended Sewell. “Then prioritize the top three. Start with number one, and work through it.”

Practices are coming up with creative solutions including:

  • Being more intentional about the schedule
  • Identifying current patients with unfinished treatment plans
  • Focusing on higher production per visit
  • Performing more same-day dentistry, which conserves PPE and is more convenient for patients
  • Hire or appoint somebody to manage PPE, dental dams, and other inventory


Addressing Nervous Team Members

When it comes to staffing, the key is to have thoughtful conversations.

“Each team member who was laid off had the opportunity to come back, and some were not ready,” said Arndt. “The way I’ve approached it is to say: let us know when you’re ready, and we hope to have a spot for you. However, we need to take care of the needs of our patients and of our practice now.”

“It’s important to stay true to our clinical standards,” said Wall. “When we’re going through tough times, we have to ask why are we here and what are we doing to take care of our patients. You want to convey that you’re still providing the same high level of care, just maybe your patients can’t see you quite as well because you’re wearing more PPE.”

Unlike other types of workplaces, dental practices are used to following high standards for infection control and have executed CDC and OSHA guidelines to mitigate the risks for decades.

All three leaders recommended hygienists and other team members connect with colleagues in other practices who have already started seeing patients. That helps them find out exactly what it’s like to go back to work so they can make an informed decision.


For more interviews with experts, training resources, and guides, visit Academy.PatientPrism.com.

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