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10 min readHow to Break the Cycle of Single-Tooth Dentistry

Carrie Webber

Practicing single-tooth dentistry is exhausting.

Being a dentist is everything you thought it would be—and simultaneously nothing like you imagined. If you could have spent as many years learning marketing and business administration as you did dentistry, then you’d be set, right? Your practice would be blossoming. You’d be expanding. Your goals would be met (and you’d have to make new goals, of course, because you’re an achiever).

However, you didn’t spend years learning how to create systems and implement them and market your practice to your ideal patient. 

So instead of feeling like the accomplished, knowledgeable doctor you are, you’re left scratching your head. You’re feeling like a hamster on a wheel, putting in much effort and gaining no ground. And you’re not sure how to change that.

Recognizing Single-tooth Dentistry

We have visited the topic before along with tips on how to maximize your time. If you’re struggling with work-life balance, then understanding single-tooth dentistry and restructuring your processes to avoid it is the foundation for a thriving practice that won’t have you overtired, stressed out, and burnt out. 

So what is single-tooth dentistry? It’s piece-meal dentistry, and it is characterized by a low case acceptance rate and repeat urgent visits by your patients. Sure, there will always be a few who only come to see you when they are in pain, but your overall case acceptance rate should be high enough to fill your schedule. 

Most practices can double their production by nurturing the patients in their practice who have diagnosed, incomplete dentistry needs. That means on average, most practices leave $75,000 or more of diagnosed and incomplete treatment on the table.

Breaking the Cycle

How do you figure out where to begin to change from single-tooth dentistry to a practice built on comprehensive case acceptance? How do you turn a no into a yes?

By clearing the way for your patient to say yes. It should be an easy decision. How do you do that? Through your systems.

It’s time to evaluate your systems, and it’s time to set a goal.

We put systems in place to not only make our daily processes simple for us to follow, but we also use systems to clear the way for the patient to say yes to treatment. Are your systems working as well as they could be? If you have a low case acceptance rate, the answer is no.

So grab a piece of paper, and we’ll work on this right now. Let’s start with a SMART goal. What is a SMART goal? It is a specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based goal. Choose a specific goal such as:

Objective: By the end of the final quarter of the year, 60% of all cases presented will result in treatment acceptance. 

Is that goal measurable? Absolutely. Is it attainable? Most likely, no, not in your current predicament. However, it can be with some changes, and we’ll get to this in just a moment. Is that goal relevant? Yes, it speaks directly to the foundation of your practice. Is it time-based? Yes, you have until the end of the last quarter of the year to meet that goal.

But you can’t measure your progress if you aren’t tracking the numbers. 

Tracking Case Acceptance Rates

Are you tracking your numbers? If the answer is no, then we’ll work on that next. If you said yes, pat yourself on the back for being on the right track already. 

The first step is to decide who will be responsible for tracking case acceptance numbers. Once you know that, you can develop a system with the team member who will be doing the tracking. 

It’s simple: Take note of every consultation or case presented. Then take note of how many case presentations result in acceptance. Total your numbers monthly. You can prepare monthly averages, quarterly totals, and more from these numbers. 

It would help if you also tracked how much revenue each case could bring to the practice. Knowing the total dollar amount that isn’t being realized is good motivation.

But wait, you got into dentistry to help people, not get rich, right? So why does it have to be about the revenue generated? 

You can’t help anyone if you can’t pay your bills. Moreover, you can help people in a more impactful way if your practice’s financial state is healthy. It means giving your team member that much deserved raise. It means being able to take time off to volunteer your services in a third-world country. A positive revenue flow will give you more flexibility to choose how to help others.  

Now that you’re tracking the numbers, it’s time to look at how you can increase the case acceptance rate.

It’s time for that systems evaluation.

Evaluating Your Systems

Several systems within your practice that can either support or disrupt your ability to present a case and hear a yes to the proposed treatment. Those systems are:

  1. Your practice communication system
  2. Your new patient onboarding system
  3. Your treatment plans
  4. Your case presentations

Each is connected, and the success of one system affects the success of the other systems. 

Communication Systems

Effective communication is critical at every stage of patient care for both the patient and the dental team. From your patient’s ease in making an appointment—more and more patient communication software products have an online scheduling form so patients can make an appointment anytime before, during, or after business hours. Such a system may be worth investigating for your practice.

It also may be time to investigate how courteous you and your team are on the phone and beyond—every interaction with a patient must start with clear, courteous communication. If your patient has to wait on hold for 12 minutes every time they have a question, they’ll most likely want to avoid procedures that could result in more phone calls.  

So evaluate your patient communication practices by tracking information such as hold times and the number of calls and emails you receive from patients. You might discover you need another person to answer phones. Ask your patients about their experience and listen to what they have to say. If you’re receiving complaints about poor communication, take those complaints to heart and figure out what needs to change within your communications process.

Equally as imperative is the communication between you and your team. No one is a mind reader, so you must communicate your thoughts and intentions with one another so you’re on the same page. It will make working as a team more natural, and the patients will feel the ease as well.

Onboarding New Patients

Getting to know your new patients while gathering their information is vital to case acceptance rates. If your new patient feels hassled, neglected, or less than welcome, then the relationship is off to a bad start. 

You’re building—or destroying—trust with a patient every time that person walks through the door, picks up the phone to call you, visits your website, receives a new patient packet in the mail, or interacts with you or your team in any environment. Make the path to becoming a new patient seamless and as enjoyable as possible.

Take a look at your new patient information forms. Look at these forms from your patient’s perspective. If the forms are especially lengthy, consider having the hygienist or dental assistant fill in the appropriate information as the appointment begins. Your patient will feel heard and important which is a great way to begin building trust.

Designing Treatment Plans

Are you taking a comprehensive approach? Any new patient visit should include photos and full-mouth radiographs. Focus on creating a big picture so you can present that more easily to your patient. 

If digital and intraoral photography hasn’t been a part of your process for new patient visits, then now is the time to start. For those who are current patients, make it a point to include photography at their next regularly scheduled hygiene appointment. And repeat this process once a year for every patient.

As you take a look at radiographs and photos, you’re already looking for current and potential issues. While you consider the best plan of care for your patient, take their goals, preferences, personality, and habits into account. Is your patient often face-to-face with others for their work? Someone in sales or retail will especially benefit from a beautiful smile. Perhaps it would be appropriate to offer cosmetic solutions tactfully. 

Maybe your patient is someone who is at risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, or a laundry list of other illnesses exacerbated by inflammation that can result in poor healing down the road. It might be time to discuss periodontal therapy more intentionally to the patients that need it in your practice today.

You are a skilled diagnostician. Make your diagnosis, but don’t forget to plan for your patient’s long-term health and correlate it with their goals, professional and personal needs, hygiene habits, and all the things you know about your patient. 

Preparing, Planning, and Presenting Treatment Recommendations

Cost, time, the perceived need for treatment, and fear are the top reasons patients defer treatment, according to the American Dental Association. So your first step in planning your case presentation is to educate your patient. Teaching is the path to helping your patients overcome the obstacles standing between them and treatment.

What system do you currently have in place to educate your patient? If your answer is none, then this needs to change immediately. Education is imperative to reducing a patient’s fear, increasing their understanding of the need for treatment, helping your patient to decide to prioritize treatment. 

This is where your team’s ability to communicate well can shine. Patient education should start as soon as the appointment begins. If your patients meet with a hygienist or dental assistant for photos, necessary radiographs, and professional cleanings, then your hygienist or dental assistant should begin the education process. That includes explaining the reasons for taking photos and full-mouth radiographs. It includes your team explaining the long-term benefits of a proactive approach. 

Develop a general script or outline of information for the most common points of education for each member of the team. Focus on sharing relevant information that builds on itself. This will help the patient to develop a deeper understanding of the potential issues with their oral health, how to avoid those issues, and how much time and money it will save them by investing in their oral health now instead of later when there are issues or when the problems have become much worse. 

Remember the other reason people defer treatment: Fear. Take the time to address every question or concern. Validate what your patient is telling you by listening thoroughly and acknowledging their fear or concerns. Continue to educate patiently. Commit the time necessary to work through your patient’s worry and find solutions to the care they want or need.

Put yourself in your patient’s shoes for a moment. Then clear the way for the patient to say yes to treatment. 

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