'Never be afraid of change': 12 pieces of advice for dentistry's future leaders

Twelve dental leaders recently connected with Becker's to give their advice for dentistry's future leaders.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Karandeep Brar, DMD. Founding Executive Director and CEO of Bright Choice Dental (Allentown, Pa.): The future of dentistry is very exciting. However, it is rapidly changing due to the economics of the world. I believe the next generation of dental leaders should attempt to find opportunities as partners with emerging DSOs. The primary reason being that the biggest opportunities for growth in the future will require efficiency and having an abundance of resources. I am seeing DSOs struggle with cash flow due to not adapting to the times efficiently and due to a poor understanding of the dental industry. The times of just buying offices and consolidating are long gone. In order to excel in the future, you need a much more precise and strategic approach and have a strong understanding of patient-clinician dynamics. Learning these efficiencies and strategies requires experience in the industry and understanding the dynamics of growth and scale. These are areas that the new generation of dental leaders don't understand yet. However, with the correct environment of collaboration, they can find themselves in an excellent position for growth.

Zerita Buchanan, DDS. Owner of Dental Dreams (Lithonia, Ga.): There are a few pieces of advice I'd like to give to the next generation of dental leaders:

1) It's called the "practice of dentistry" because that's exactly what you're doing, practicing your skill set daily so you can perfect it. Be patient with yourself as you learn new techniques and procedures. Give yourself grace when you have a clinical failure. Each failure is an opportunity to learn something you didn't know before. Repeated failure is a sign to slow down and seek guidance from your mentors and peers. 

2) Never speak poorly of or degrade your dental colleagues to patients. Life can humble you quickly, and you should always talk with a colleague directly before you make assumptions. 

3) Don't focus on competition; focus on opportunity. Every human walking this planet will have a set of primary and permanent dentition; there are more than enough patients to go around. Furthermore, comparison is the thief of joy. Never compare your practice or career to your colleagues. We each measure success differently. Instead of comparing yourself to the next dentist, take time to explore what makes you happy and brings you peace.

4) The best way to keep your patients happy is to treat them with kindness and respect. Recognize that it is a privilege that your patients trust you enough to allow you to provide them with dental care. When patients feel valued, they will refer new clients to you. 

5) Maintain your sanity by taking time off. Rest is essential, and you're a better dentist when you've had time away from the office to recharge.

Dave Ferguson, DDS. Founder of Celebrate Dental & Braces (San Antonio): Focus on investing in yourself with continuing education. You spend eight years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a license and then you think it's time to earn money. It's actually time to learn how to make money, and that's not something that you generally come out of school with the skills to do. Take continuing education. Focus on adding one clinical skill each year. Only focus on that one skill (wisdom teeth, endodontics, orthodontics, implants, etc.) for the entire year. 

Find a business mentor, not a job. If you get a job that has you do the same thing all day every day then you spent eight years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to be a cog in somebody else's wheel. Continue to invest by sacrificing time and money to find the best mentors. That is not always the job that gives the biggest signing bonus. Chase money early and you'll be chasing money for a long time. Chase mentors and continuing education early and the money will come as a result.

Lai Ferrell. COO and Chief Marketing Officer at Higginbotham Family Dental (Jonesboro, Ark.): For the next generation of dental leaders, my advice would be to never be afraid of change. Always audit and evaluate the state of your practice or practices and recognize when it is just simply coasting and requires change, even if costs are involved, to grow and improve for patients as well as growing revenue. People's expectations, demands and needs are changing, so you must adjust with those changes to stay successful and ahead of the competition.

Micaela Gibbs, DDS. Chief Dental Officer and Associate Professor at UT Health San Antonio: As an educator, clinical dentist and chief dental officer, I think that new graduates should be open to innovative practice models and be adaptive to change. The more efficiently we can deliver quality care, the more patients we can impact.

Lee Harris, DDS. Dentist at Harris Dental Solutions (Los Angeles): Dental education is sorely lacking regarding the incorporation of business knowledge especially with regard to dental insurance, profit and loss statements, management of dental expenses, human resources management, and the three key aspects of dental practice management: production, collections and marketing. From my perspective, when I encounter dentists purchasing their first dental practice, many of these core principles are not at all clear. Additionally, business leaders need to focus on organizational skills and knowledge of business systems, especially in our extremely complicated digital world. More emphasis in business education would be my real concern for the next generation of dental leaders. 

Steve Higginbotham. CEO of Smile America Partners: Be open to new ideas and innovative ways of delivering care. You already know that dental decay and oral health care disease are huge problems, especially among children in underserved communities. By mobilizing, embracing a more public health approach and bringing care to [those who need it], providers can improve outcomes typically driven by the social determinants of health. Providers and dental leaders who are willing to be flexible and open-minded to innovation can make a big impact on the health of these vulnerable children. It would be great to see more young dentists get involved with an in-school dental program full or part time to help combat the oral health care issues in our country today. Don't assume the only path is through a traditional practice environment. Portable in-school dental programs are often overlooked paid opportunities to truly give back while making a lifelong positive impact on patients, families and communities.

Kyle Hollis, DMD. Chief Clinical Officer at SGA Dental Partners (Richmond Hill, Ga.): Stay up to date with industry and technological trends. The industry is evolving rapidly and in order to be successful, you must be responsive and adaptive to this change. Focus on patient-centered care. Patients are the heart of any and all dental practices. Lastly, cultivate a strong culture and strong team so that you may work together to foster a positive work environment.

Holli Perez. Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer at DirectDental: Learn and implement everything you can about leadership. There is going to be a shortage of applicants in the dental field for many more years. The dentists that can develop loyalty and buy-in from their employees are going to yield much more success in their practice than dentists who are suffering from constant turnover.  

Leah Sigler. President of The TeleDentists: COVID-19 crushed the healthcare industry, including dental. If we don't improve our industry while we rebuild it, it's our own fault. Dental leaders need to be transformational, propelling the dental industry into a new paradigm of delivering oral healthcare. Leaders must seize this unprecedented moment in time, post-pandemic, to ensure that oral health becomes reconnected to the rest of the body in healthcare policies and programs. Optimizing new technologies, like teledentistry, dentists can now deliver virtual dental care to increase access for patients and improve patient outcomes. It's an exciting time for dentistry, and I look forward to seeing leaders embrace the chance to make the dental industry better.

Johanna Tesoniero, DDS. COO of Cano Dental (Miami) and COO of Onsite Dental: I would advise the next generation of dental leaders to always remember that our biggest treasure will always lie on people. As such, people should always remain our main focus as a profession; the people we serve as patients, the people we work with, the people we mentor — we must always listen to them, advocate for them and understand the deep impact we have on their lives. We can become easily distracted by new technology, new findings, an ever-changing world, but we must always keep that top of mind.

Elliot Zibel. CEO and Co-founder of Select Dental Management: 

  • High retention of team members and patients increases your odds of success.
  • Measure employee engagement and take action to address areas of weakness.
  • Have a clear mission, vision and values that you and your team fully commit to and live by.
  • Have clear definitions of what success looks like and how you measure it.
  • Get good at prioritization. There are many opportunities to grow and improve, but if you take on too many, you won’t be able to execute well on any.
  • Always focus on continuing personal and professional growth and improvement.
  • Create accountability by having job descriptions, measurements of success by position and goals for team members.
  • Only one person can be accountable for a specific task or function.  
  • Establish a safe environment where employees are encouraged to voice their opinions.
  • Align incentives for team members with your desired outcomes.
  • Be intellectually honest about your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Develop a strong leadership team that has complementary skill sets.
  • Understand the long-term goals of your team members and create plans to help them accomplish them.
  • Celebrate your wins and have fun with your team!

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