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5 Steps for Leading Your Practice

By default, most dentists are the leaders of their respective dental practices: if your name is on the door, well, the buck stops with you.

Having said that, many of these same dentists are uncertain about exactly what that role entails. What can they do to provide the best leadership for their staff? Many of the best qualities of a leader are common sense: following the Golden Rule, for example. But even the subtler things matter … which is why we’ve compiled this easy-to-read list of five leadership tips for your dental practice.

  1. Delegate, delegate, delegate. Being a leader does not mean doing the work yourself. If you feel the need to go in behind your people and finish tasks they should be doing, you either don’t have the right people, or you don’t have faith in them to do their jobs. Your job is to be the DENTIST–in dental practices, 3/4 or more of total income should be generated by the dentist. The more you let your people do their jobs, the more time you have with patients … and that helps drive your success.
  1. Make the hard choices. This is a follow-up to the first suggestion. What if you discover you DON’T have the best person for a position? Do you let that person go? Find him or her another place in your practice? Just let it go and hope it works itself out? Effective leaders learn to make firm decisions, quickly and confidently. This decisive manner sends a strong, positive message to team members and makes them feel that things are under control. While we’re on the subject, feel free to encourage your managers to make decisions themselves in their areas of responsibility. 
  1. Be ready and willing to adapt. The ability to make decisions sometimes means stepping out of your comfort zone. Our culture is ever evolving, and technological breakthroughs change the way we operate, sometimes seemingly on a daily basis: flexibility and adaptability are keys to survival. As business conditions change–in the dental field, in your local market, and even right in your practice–wise leaders know when to move away from the status quo and seek out new strategies for success. 
  1. Spell out your expectations. From running the office to making the morning coffee: no matter what the job is, the person (or people) doing should understand what’s expected–and the most efficient way of doing it. Sometimes that’s as simple as walking through the process or bringing it up at a staff meeting. Other situations may call for online training videos or off-site continuing education courses. Be willing to provide whatever’s necessary.
  1. Show, don’t tell. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” There is wisdom in that advice, and it’s just as relevant for your practice as it is for your community. Leaders should strive to become the epitome of the type of employees they hope to attract. They may not say it, but your people are watching you: everything you do–even if it’s just saying “Good morning”–has a strong influence on the behavior of your staff. Rather than simply telling people what you expect, the best practice leaders demonstrate it every day.

Even dentists with no formal business training can go a long way toward becoming more effective leaders if they take the five steps discussed here. By inspiring their staff members with a clear vision, empowering them with responsibilities and targets, and exhibiting the right qualities day by day and over time, dentists can lead their practices to great success.

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How Revenue Leakage Is Hurting Your Practice

From a financial perspective, these are tough times for dental practices. Sure, you may be seeing a greater number of patients, but at the same time, the amount insurance actually reimburses seems to get lower every year, while expenses continue to skyrocket. Adding insult to injury, dentists are also expected to keep up with continually evolving compliance issues and mountains of paperwork to get the reimbursements they are entitled to.

There is still hope, however: even with these rising pressures, there are almost always ways to save money in your practice. Think of it in terms of revenue leaks: common areas of waste and inefficiency that could be draining thousands of dollars from your business. These leaks need to be plugged to ensure the sustainability of your practice while you focus on patient care.

Some typical areas of leakage:

Downcoding

Many dentists can be overly cautious in the area of coding, often using a lower billing code in case they get audited: better safe than sorry. According to studies, this so-called downcoding can cost you tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue each year.

Undercoding a procedure is like a mechanic charging $500 for $1,000 worth of services. Practitioners claim to do this so as not to attract the scrutiny of insurance company auditors, but the practice could actually backfire: undercoding itself can also trigger an audit. Insurers and the government look at any suspicious payments, which means both underpayments and overpayments.

To plug this leak, dentists should bill at the appropriate level while keeping comprehensive and accurate documentation to support each submission. Always include the patient’s name and relevant medical history, reason for the visit, your diagnosis or assessment, and action plans. That sounds like a lot of work, but using electronic health records can simplify this process while simultaneously guarding against downcoding; an EHR system can also be used during an audit to show that the coding was correct.

Inefficient Billing

Billing can seem like a pain, especially for “smaller” amounts. The fact is, however, that it doesn’t take many small invoices to equal one large invoice. If you’re not diligent about billing patients and collecting outstanding balances, you could be leaking thousands every year.

The best way to plug this leak is to have established accounts receivable procedures so every person on your staff knows how things are supposed to work. Having procedures in place not only ensures that everything runs in a streamlined, consistent manner, it can also protect you against unintentional legal violations and keep you up-to-date on exactly how much money is owed to you–an important piece of information when making financial decisions.

Chargebacks

Most dentists these days accept credit cards. It seems like a great way to get payment at the time of service, without having to worry about bounced checks. But hold on: just because a transaction has cleared doesn’t mean you for certain have the funds. Patients can file a chargeback against you for up to six months after the payment.

Why would patients do this? Perhaps they were unhappy with the service. Perhaps they felt like you didn’t solve their problem. Or–in a frighteningly increasing number of cases–they may have just discovered that by calling the bank and complaining, they may receive something for free. Industry insiders term this “friendly fraud.”

It isn’t very friendly for you, however: not only can the transaction amount be transferred back to the patient’s account, both the cardholder’s bank and your own bank may hit you with fines or administration fees. If you use a third-party card processor, you may get fees from them, as well.

To plug this leak, go over all documentation associated with your credit card processing. Make sure you are adhering to their mandates (which often change, unfortunately). Then make sure your entire staff understands the importance of making each patient touch point a positive experience: a patient who feels slighted by the receptionist is every bit as likely to file a chargeback as one who feels uncared for by the dentist.

Finally, again, thorough records of each visit are crucial: with the proper records, you may even be able to challenge a chargeback and win. Having said that…such cases are time-consuming and hard to win…and what’s worse, you’ll still have to pay any fines or fees. Prevention is a much better plan here.

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It’s 2019: Does Your Practice Have a Business Continuity Plan?

Last year was one of the deadliest and costliest on record in terms of natural disasters. From the deadliest wildfire in California’s history to the worst hurricane to hit the East Coast since 1969, 2018 brought more than its share of trouble to the US…and put more than one small business OUT of business.

A dental practice is, at its heart, a small business…and one doesn’t own a small business: it owns you. No matter how many staff members you may have, the buck stops with you…and the sustainability of the business is on your shoulders. That’s why a business continuity plan is crucial for every practice. Since we’re at the start of a new year, this is a great time to take a look at your plan…or create one, if you haven’t yet.

Why your practice needs a business continuity plan

Business continuity planning is a preemptive strike, a fallback course in the event disaster recovery becomes necessary. Your plan should take into account the basic item your practice will need to function, should a disruptive (and seldom anticipated) event occur. We’re talking about anything from a simple extended power outage to a data breach to a full-blown hurricane or out-of-control wildfire like we saw last year.

In a recent post, Forbes Technology Council member Monica Eaton-Cardone put it very succinctly: “While you can’t stop nature from disrupting your business, you can minimize the impact with good planning and preparation.”

There are also other types of disasters, such as an accident that takes you out of commission, or a crisis that seriously hits your reputation. Of course, you’ll want to do all you can to mitigate your risk, but taking the time to plan for “what-if” can help minimize business interruption costs, get you back up and running as quickly as possible, and help keep vendors, staff, and patients informed.

How at-risk is your practice?

First off, of course, it’s important to actually have a plan. If you’ve never bothered to put something down in writing, now is the time.

The first step to building your practice’s business continuity plan (BCP) is to assess the potential impact that various disaster scenarios could create. Try to imagine the most viable potential emergencies, then cross-reference that against the likelihood and impact of each event in terms of personnel, assets, finances, or personal danger.

The goal here is to set priorities. Looking at the “big picture” can help you develop plans for major disasters while also helping prepare for minor events such a power outage; it also lets you see how to divide your planning resources.

Developing your plan

Once you have a list of potential emergencies and their likely impact, take it a step further by creating strategies and documenting procedures to maintain services, recover any lost assets, and get your practice back to making money, as quickly as possible.

One part of this process would be creating a list of what actually needs to happen, and in what order. In other words, it’s important to know what to do, but it’s equally important to know what to do first. A few areas to address might include:

  1. Personal safety and safety of staff
  2. Checklists for assessing damage to assets (vehicles, buildings, equipment, etc.)
  3. Prevention of further destruction
  4. Checklists of forms and contacts for insurance and legal purposes
  5. Replacing lost paperwork
  6. Incident-specific response checklists

Once you have a detailed response plan, it’s time to make sure your people know what to expect and what their individual roles are. Gather your staff together and go over plans for various emergency situations. This gives you a controlled setting in which you can hopefully identify gaps in those plans and come up with ways to improve them.

One other area to consider: if trouble-causing event hit your entire community, you might also want to think about providing emergency services to locals who might have been affected

Is your BCP ready?

We often toss around the maxim, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” The reality, of course, typically falls in between those extremes. But a practice with a well thought-out contingency plan has a better understanding of the potential dangers and knows what critical actions are necessary to recover quickly and to minimize business interruption.

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Why Your Practice Should Take Credit Cards

Simply put, there aren’t very many dentists out there that don’t take plastic anymore. The biggest argument against them is the fee schedule, but that is becoming less and less of an issue, for one main reason: collections.

According to one survey, more than 40 percent of a typical practice’s receivables are owed by patients as direct payments. The average collection time is drawn out over 48 days, and the average annual patient out-of-pocket cost–roughly $650 per year as of 2014–is expected to increase as more employers switch to managed-care plans and health insurance companies tighten reimbursements for dental care.

It typically takes 30 to 45 days for an insurance claim to be settled. Add a few days for patient bills to be mailed and another 30 to 60 days for patients to send in their payment, and you’re looking at having the bulk of your receivables on the books for 60 to 90 days.

Oh, and you’re losing interest income on the outstanding amount, as well as the in-house costs involved in sending out bills, making follow-up calls, repeat billings. It’s a colossal pain in the keister.

Ah, say the credit card holdouts, but so is taking credit cards! Nice try. Modern technology has made accepting major cards easier than ever. There are just a few things that you will have to take care of first:

The Merchant Account

There are two commonly used ways of accepting credit card payments: through your own merchant account or via a payment gateway account provided by a third-party merchant. An internet merchant account–usually obtainable through your current bank–allows you to process credit cards by effectively extending you a line of credit that is used to cover the costs of transactions until funds are officially placed in your account.

The Gateway

You’ll also possibly need a payment gateway account. Gateways are online credit card processors that already has the clearance to connect your customers’ credit card accounts to your internet merchant account for the transferring of funds. The payment gateway interacts with the card issuer’s bank to authorize the credit card in real time when a purchase is made on a website. That means you get paid and the customer gets your product or service, even if the bank is closed at the time of the transaction.

Then There’s PayPal

PayPal is what is considered an electronic wallet, and it may be an even better option than credit cards. The service allows individuals or businesses to easily and securely transfer funds online. According to their site, PayPal has more than 87 million active accounts in 190 markets and 24 currencies around the world.

There are a number of good reasons to use PayPal:

  • * Easy to setup and use.
  • * Global name recognition.
  • * You won’t need a merchant account.
  • * Customers don’t have to have a PayPal account to pay you.
  • * Built-in invoicing tools.
  • * Lower fees than many merchant accounts.
  • * Easily integrated with popular shopping cart systems.

Still, PayPal isn’t the perfect solution for every small business. There are stiff fines for chargebacks, and you’re more susceptible to account suspension.

That can seem a bit daunting, but the point is, you have several options. Spend a little time investigating all the pros and cons of you using any of these methods … and compare them with the pros and cons of not taking electronic payments at all. In the end, it will most likely be mandatory, so why not go ahead and bite the bullet?

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5 New Year’s Resolutions to Make for Your Dental Practice

Don’t look now, but the holidays are here again. If you’re like most practices you’re probably still in the midst of that last-minute “I’ve got to get my teeth cleaned before Christmas pictures!” madness. Then will come the slowdown that lasts into the new year, before things start picking up again.

That lull is the perfect time to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions–for yourself and for your practice. If you’ve had difficulty in the past making practical resolutions that result in actual solutions, we’ve created a list of practical New Year’s resolutions for your office–ones you should find easier to keep, because it’s based on harmful behaviors you should STOP doing.

  1. Stop Trying to Do It All Yourself . Look, you have staff for a reason: trust them to do their job. If you feel like you have to follow along behind them to make sure everything is done correctly, you either need new staff or a new attitude. And while we’re on the subject, develop the habit of thanking your employees. Workers that feel appreciated are more likely to be happier, more loyal, and better team players. Catch people doing the right thing and praise them immediately. Tell them specifically what they did right, and encourage the behavior. Then watch your best employees perform even better.
  2. Stop Continually Worrying about Money . You can’t give patients your full attention while you’re obsessed with finances. Look at last year’s receipts, and establish an operating budget that works. An efficient practice should be able to run at 20-25% staff costs; anything higher probably means you have either too many employees or too many openings in your schedule. You may need to make some hard choices, staff-wise, but being able to operate efficiently can take away a lot of stress. It also helps to share the burden: once you’ve established a budget, make sure every member of your team knows they are accountable for helping to keep on-budget.
  3. Stop Being Controlled by Your Schedule . Your appointment calendar is the cornerstone of your success. The schedule needs to be full and productive, but unfortunately, that is a dynamic process: with just a few phone calls, a perfect day can suddenly become overbooked, a balanced week can fall completely apart. When that happens, your people need to know there’s no such phrase as “That’s not my job!” Empress upon ALL staff members that keeping the schedule as full and balanced as possible is everyone’s responsibility. There’s no room for prima donnas here: from the scheduling of appointments to timely reminders to the critical follow-up communications, your entire team must be fully committed to the maintaining the flow of the office.
  4. Stop Underselling Your Hygienists . Hygienists provide specific personalized, care that is highly important, both to your patients and to your practice: don’t be afraid to bill for what they do. Not only will this help your budget, it can provide a sense of validation for your staff. One thing to consider is how you invoice. For example, stop calling hygiene treatments a “cleaning” when you know there is so much more to the service. Feel free to itemize the process on the bill so that patients understand what all they’re getting. And in the same vein, stop calling the people who come to as “clients”: law firms and insurance agencies have clients. You’re providing specialized medical (dental) care for patients.
  5. Stop Letting Patients Off the Hook . How are you letting patients slide? Take a look at your accounts receivable. There should be no accounts outstanding for more than 90 days: the 90-day mark is when banks consider accounts to be uncollectable. If a patient has made no effort to pay you in 3 months, he or she has no intention of paying at all. Do your best to avoid bounced checks and/or chargebacks–even if that means insisting on a different form of payment from some patients. No one is saying you have to be mean or inconsiderate, and of course special cases will arise; even then, however, you are not out of line to require a repayment plan. Remember, in the end, it doesn’t matter how much you bill–only how much you collect.

These are just some starter suggestions, of course. The more efficiently your practice runs, the healthier your bottom line will long, putting you in a better position to achieve sustainable long-term growth.

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How Learning to Say Yes Can Help Build Your Practice

Are you a “Yes” person?

Believe it or not, many of the most successful dentists are. Of course, when we talk about being a Yes Person, we’re definitely not talking about being a toady, someone who tries to curry favor by thoughtlessly agreeing with anything that’s said.

No, we’re talking about those leaders who are willing to say Yes to challenges. Your attitude towards life plays a huge role in determining both your personal fulfillment and your ultimate success. Being a naysayer not only alienates you from the people around you, it can undermine everything you do.

It can even affect your health: Researchers have found that having a sense of optimism—characterized by enthusiasm, hopefulness, engagement, and a sense of purpose—can be linked to a measurably reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.

Knowledge Is Only a Part

Before you became a dentist, you had to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to provide proper dental care. Knowledge is important, of course, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle: for long-term success, you’ll need more than what can learn in a classroom or lab. Fulfillment only comes through growth … and growth requires a specific attitude–a “yes” attitude, if you will.

A Yes Person is the one who routinely goes the extra mile for the benefit of others. Yes Persons are confident, committed, and open to new experiences. This gives them an advantage, both personally and professionally. When you view patients as opportunities to make a positive difference in  the world, you start to realize how relevant even the most menial tasks can be.

It All Comes Down to People

It’s a cruel irony that the more ways we have to communicate, the less we actually feel like anyone is listening. Television, billboards, web pages, social media … we’re bombarded with input on a moment-by-moment basis. We learn to tune it out in self-defense … but tuning out tends to leave us feeling isolated, unimportant, and unreal.

Folks have always sought a sympathetic ear from medical professionals, but now more than ever, patients want to be treated like people. They want to be heard. They come to you in trust, looking for both empathy and a solution.

The person who is sick or in pain (or worse, has a child or loved one in pain), that person wants relief right now; they’re not looking for an appointment in two weeks. Anyone–current patient or first-time caller–who comes to you with severe dental pain should hear the same response: “We’ll fit you in today.” When existing patients feel taken care of, they’ll talk you up to others; going out of your way for a new patient in need could earn you a customer for life.

Your Team Deserves Your Best

Developing a “Yes” mindset doesn’t apply just to patients: it should also extend to your team. Be approachable. Be reasonable. Be fair. Become the leader your people will turn to for encouragement and insight.

Your willingness to go above and beyond for everyone is one of the best ways to build trust with you team. They’ll feel more valuable, and will typically contribute more to the overall practice. Seeing you doing more than the minimum for both patients and employees will encourage them to do the same. Remember, saying yes is contagious, and helps encourage your staff to develop an open, positive, and mentally flexible attitude.

The Way to Truly Thrive

Becoming a Yes Person opens you up to recognizing opportunities and taking on new challenges. Sure, taking some chances can seem intimidating, but saying no–letting that intimidation dictate your choices–is the first step towards stagnation.

Entrepreneur and motivational speaker Gary Cardone is fond of saying that “Failure is not an option!” To take that one step further, the fear of failing isn’t really an option, either: by not moving outside of your comfort zone for fear of making a mistake, you’ve failed before you even start

Will you make mistakes along the way? Sure–that’s part of growth. But to truly experience success–to truly thrive–developing a Yes Person attitude is essential. And it can all start with one simple step:

Just Say Yes.

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Should Dentists Accept Bitcoin?

Particularly if you’re running your own practice, you’re always on the lookout for a way to work more efficiently and provide better service. Whether it’s lowering prices, trying out new technologies or methods, or bumping your advertising, it’s a constant challenge to provide the highest level of care and still turn a profit. So it’s hard to just ignore it when some new idea comes along that has all the marking of a potential goldmine.

Like Bitcoin.

Most people don’t understand cryptocurrencies or how they work: they just know they hear and read it about people making millions on minimal investments, and it sounds too good to be true. In terms of being a miraculous investment opportunity, that’s probably true … but that doesn’t mean cryptocurrency is out of the picture for small businesses. Many are saying that cryptocurrencies are the payment method of the future, and you’d be ahead of the game if you started accepting it now.

But is cryptocurrency a good bet for your practice right now? There are several logistical things to consider before you jump into cryptocurrency; in this post we’ll take a look at some of them.

What Is Cryptocurrency?

Digital currencies are a way to cut the middleman out of a payment transaction. Rather than store your money with an organization like a bank for safekeeping, it exists only in the ether, accessible through an encryption only you have the key to. Cryptocurrency is decentralized by design: no central bank or government regulates or backs it. Buyers transfer funds directly to sellers, without any third party involved that processes the payments.

Everyday people can’t wrap their heads around the idea that the bitcoins themselves don’t physically exist and have no intrinsic value; the only reason cryptocurrency is worth anything is because the value belongs to you and you alone, according to the public ledger. Anyone can look at the ledger and validate this, and if anyone tries to use your cryptocurrency, pretty much everyone will know about it immediately.

Is This for Me?

Thinking about accepting crypto at your practice? Here are a few benefits to think about:

  • It’s cheaper. The lack of a middleman means reduced transaction fees. Accepting credit card payments means fees of 25 cents a swipe plus a percentage of the transaction total–with crypto, that’s not a thing.
  • You’re protected. Crypto’s transactions, like cash, are final. That means there are no fraudulent chargebacks, because no third party can reverse charges.
  • It’s global. For most dentists, this isn’t a factor. If, however, you represent products or sell research online, cryptocurrencies can open up international buyers–without having to deal in currency conversions.
  • Customers. Accepting cryptocurrency offers means customers have an additional way to pay–one with an extra layer of data protection.

But Why Not?

There are a few reasons to wait on accepting cryptocurrencies, as well:

  • It’s technical. Accepting cryptocurrency is an information-dense process with a high learning curve. You’ll need to choose a processor and set up a digital wallet on an established digital currency exchange … if your eyes are glazing over just reading that, you might need help with this part.
  • It’s still inconsistent. While we’re not seeing the massive value swings of a year ago, cryptocurrencies are still extremely volatile. You’ll need to transfer crypto into a more stable currency on a regular basis.
  • It’s safer-kinda. Cryptocurrency can help eliminate cyberthreats like stolen credit card numbers, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally secure. While companies are working to put more safeguards in place, as yet there is no way to completely stop cybercriminals–and unlike established currencies, cryptocurrencies are not backed or insured.

Like everything else, there are pros and cons with accepting cryptocurrencies. While crypto–and its underlying technology, blockchain–will almost certainly play an increasing role in our financial future, right now taking crypto payments could be more trouble than it’s worth. One suggestion: float the idea past your current patients. If you get excited responses at the prospect, go ahead and look deeper into it. If you’re only met with blank stares, however … maybe it would be better to hold off a year.

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4 Tips for Dealing with the Patients Who Fear You

You’d be hard-pressed to find a dentist working today who has ever had a patient leap into the chair, too excited to sit still: “I’ve been waiting for this all month, doc! Get to it!”

The reality is, no matter how much good dentists do, very few patients actually enjoy a “trip to chair.” An estimated seventy to seventy-five percent of adults in the US experience some amount of fear when it comes to having a relative stranger poke around in their mouths with noisy instruments. Of that percentage, about five to ten percent of exhibit a fear strong enough fear to be labeled a dental phobia.

This is problematic, of course: people who are deeply afraid of going to the dentist probably won’t. And as you would surmise, people who fear dentists typically have worse dental health than those who don’t–and not just because they avoid the dentist: logic would dictate that a fear of dental visits would incentivize folks to take extra good care of their teeth at home, but it usually doesn’t work like that. In some cases, the phobia has more to do with fear of having ANYthing done to one’s teeth, including self-brushing. That, naturally, leads to cavities, when require even more attention to the teeth, and the cycle can feed on itself.

Clearing the Air(way)

As it turns out, there are actually biological reasons that explain the desire to keep dentists out of our mouths. To start with, the mouth is a particularly vulnerable part of our body: getting all up in the mouth’s personal space tends to threaten some very basic needs, including having open air passages. And if that area is already in pain, things can feel exponentially worse.

Then there’s the upside-down-and-out-of-control factor: once you’ve tilted that chair back far enough to access the mouth, your patient is feeling almost upside down. Plus, you’ve put the patient in a situation where he or she can hardly talk or respond. That can create a lot of anxiety for some people. As one researcher states, “We have deep biological survival mechanisms. Fear and avoidance are also naturally triggered when we experience pain.”

Learning Not to Dread the Drill

As a dentist, there are few steps you can take to help combat odontophobia in patients:

  1. Be professional. Remind patients that you do this for a living, you keep up with the latest advances and training, and that you treat hundreds of patients–many who also suffer from fear.
  2. Request reviews. Ask patients who are comfortable with you for a short recommendation or social media review. Large groups like AARP suggest that all members check online review sites before trying a new merchant–the same holds true for a new dentist.
  3. Offer “consultations.” If a patient understands that you aren’t going to do anything but check out the situation, he or she might feel secure with an exploratory initial visit.
  4. Provide a fail-safe. Create a signal–something as simple as holding up two fingers–that means you will immediately pause what you are doing. This can give the patient a sense of control.

Obviously, none of these steps can cure odontophobia, but they can help in the short term. Over the long term, education is our best bet. As patients learn more advances in pain-free dentistry, they will hopefully accept that they have nothing to fear. In the meantime, taking patients’ fears seriously and professionally creates a win-win situation for both you and your patient.

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Is Green Tea Good for Teeth?

Green teeth are the last thing you want to see in a patient’s mouth. Green TEA, on the other hand, might have some positive implications.

Green tea has been one of the most popular beverages in China, Japan, and other Asian cultures for over 4,000 years. Ancient Asian medical practices taught that consuming green tea could heal wounds and cure diseases, and more recent scientific research is beginning to corroborate that by homing in on the potential health benefits of drinking green tea in areas such as weight loss and cancer prevention.

Another study from the British Journal of Nutrition suggests green tea might even help lower blood pressure. Frustrated by the inconclusive link in similar previous studies, researchers analyzed 25 randomized controlled trials and made some concrete discoveries: After 12 weeks of regular tea consumption, blood pressure was consistently lower.

Go Green for a Healthier Mouth

Not to be outdone, researchers from the American Academy of Periodontology have uncovered yet another benefit of regularly drinking green: A study published in the Journal of Periodontology reported that routine green tea consumption may also help drinkers maintain healthy teeth and gums.

Periodontal disease–chronic inflammation affecting the gums, bone, and other tissues supporting the teeth–has been connected with the progression of other diseases such as diabetes and stroke. By interacting with the patient’s inflammatory response to the periodontal bacteria, researchers say, green tea may actually help promote periodontal health, and–along with regular oral hygiene–help stem further disease growth.

Green tea’s health benefits develop in part from the presence of the antioxidant catechin, since prior research has established antioxidants’ ability to reduce inflammation in the body. Other plant chemicals known as flavonoids help explain why tea drinkers seem less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease. Short-term studies have demonstrated a link between drinking tea and an improvement in vascular reactivity: basically, green tea can help govern the body’s reaction to stress. There’s even research that suggests that regular consumption may lower LDL cholesterol levels.

While most teas offer a certain amount of benefit, green tea is the mother lode. Both black and green teas come from the same plant; the difference occurs after the leaves have been harvested. To make black tea, the leaves are crushed and allowed to oxidize before they are dried; the leaves that go into green tea are not. This oxidation process decreases those flavonoids we just mentioned, although not to a huge degree.

The Caveat

All of us have that one patient who is constantly looking for a silver bullet: some magical cure-all that will effortlessly fix every problem. If a patient comes in touting the miracle of green tea, take it with a grain of salt: some doctors do recommend drinking tea … but only if you enjoy it. While there are no currently-known downsides to drinking one or two cups of tea a day, it isn’t really medicinal, per se. That means those green-tea-extract supplements promising a concentrated dose of flavonoids have little to no value. And since drinking too much of certain teas can cause kidney damage (like kidney stones), downing seven or eight cups a day strictly for health reasons is long shot, at best.

Of course, all scientific studies are not created equal: one recent report suggests that listeners may literally “hear” your smile over the phone, which is a great advertising benefit but hardly an exact science. But any time we can tell a patient that a comfort-habit is fine–and may in fact be healthy–we score a win.

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Why Dentists Should Refer to Specialists

Specialties exist for a reason: nobody can do everything … let alone do everything well.

It’s a concept that makes sense, but is sometimes hard to convey to patients … and sometimes to dentists themselves. The general feeling here is that a dentist is a dentist, right? And since more than a few people are uncomfortable with our profession as a whole, asking patients to leave someone they at least marginally trust and have work done by a total stranger … well, that can be disarming, to say the least.

You’ve been through school, so you understand: even basic dentistry is complicated, which is why it warrants dental specialists. Patients, on the other hand, can be prone to getting upset that their dentist can’t do everything “in house.” That is understandable: the person will have to set up an appointment, fill out more paperwork, drive to a strange office so a stranger can perform a procedure on a patient that probably doesn’t want to have done in the first place. It’s a huge pain … then the person will have to come back to your office for more work.

It is the rare practitioner who has not had a patient ask, “Can’t you just do it?” And the answer is always complicated: Yes, technically, I probably could, you say. I have enough medical knowledge that I could most likely extract that tooth with a minimum of damage. But technically, a plastic surgeon has that much medical training, as well. So does a proctologist. If you want to get down to brass tacks, so does a veterinarian … is THAT who you want pulling your teeth?

When you refer your patient to a specialist, you’re putting that patient’s health in the best hands possible. You’re effectively say that the patient’s well-being is more important to you than the patient’s convenience.

Still, it’s easy to convince yourself you’re doing the patient a favor by performing work yourself. If you think about it, there are plenty of (admittedly shallow) reasons to do so: it’s usually more convenient for you, too. Plus, you’re losing out on potential income by referring. It might seem tempting, but you only have to screw things up once to realize it’s not worth it for you.

More money? Sure. But since we generally bill by the job, not the time, you have to ask how much time you’ll waste doing what a specialist has specific training and experience doing. Your patient might see it as cost-effective, but your accountant won’t. And that is assuming everything goes right the first time: it’s really hard to save money when you have to re-do work because you’re operating in unfamiliar territory.

It’s reasonable to presume that patients come to you because they trust you to do high-quality work. By the same token, it only makes sense to send them to the specialists that you trust. After all, you don’t want problems coming back to fall in your lap.

Consider this: you probably don’t want to hire someone that claims to be great at everything. That goes far beyond just a dental practice, as this article points out. But if you think about any general dentists you’ve met who claim to be good at everything … would you trust them in your practice?

It’s theoretically possible to be a master in all aspects of dentistry, of course. But dentistry itself is a specialty of medicine, and there are subspecialties within the field. Most general dentists provide high quality work on the most common procedures, and that’s really what is expected. Oral surgeons, periodontists, endodontists and more offer advanced training and additional years of schooling to become experts in their area. And a smart dentist knows, when the specialist can do a better job handling your needs, it’s time to refer.