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09.29.05 Issue #186  
Tackling Overhead Takes More than the Usual "Routine"

Sally McKenzie, CEO
The McKenzie Company

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It will weigh you down, wear you out, and pull you under. Many practices feel burdened by overhead, and managing it goes well beyond bargain hunting or purchasing supplies in bulk.

Dental teams often become preoccupied with reducing expenses, and understandably so since costs have an obvious and direct impact on overhead. However, curbing overhead lies not just in reducing the money going out, but in increasing the dollars coming in as well – specifically through production. I’m not suggesting that you work harder or cram more patients into your day. However, I am suggesting that you look carefully at how you are handling the day-to-day “routine.”

How many “routine” prophies, how many routine procedures, how many routine checkups are scheduled for today? One, two, three, probably many more? Dental teams become complacent and trap themselves in the routine mindset. They are going through the motions. The patient comes in, gets their routine cleaning, leaves, and you check another routine appointment off the list. The dental appointment becomes as ordinary and mundane as the routine oil change.

Dental teams often take it for granted that patients are aware of the dental opportunities available or will raise questions if they have them. They simply assume that if patients were interested in certain procedures they would ask, consequently teams take the “if they don’t ask, we don’t tell approach.” Yet patients are just as likely to make certain assumptions about the doctor and the practice. For example, if the team doesn’t educate the patient on services offered, such as whitening, veneers, or implants the patient simply assumes that either they’re not offered at this practice, or the doctor doesn’t believe the patient is a good candidate for the procedure, or, worse yet, the doctor thinks the patient can’t afford it.

Take the following steps and get out of the money losing “routine”.

  • Ask the patient how they feel about their smile. If you don’t regularly ask patients about their oral health goals, you are denying them treatment opportunities.
  • Ask several broad questions and listen to the responses. For example, “How do you feel about your smile?” “How well can you chew with your partial?” “How would you like it if your teeth were straight?” “Have you ever thought you would like to have a brighter smile?” “How do you feel about the spaces between your teeth?” And so on … 
  • Use the questions to better understand the value your patient places on oral healthcare and how they perceive their individual oral health condition.
  • Encourage the patient to talk.
  • Use the “Trident Rate Your Smile” brochure. If you are not comfortable asking patients specifically how they feel about their smile, instruct your front desk team to hand patients the Trident Rate Your Smile brochure when they check in. This is an excellent and tremendously simple tool to get the patient thinking about their oral health and the appearance of their smile before you ever utter a word.
  • Educate the patient about treatments that are offered in the practice. Provide patients with professionally written and designed materials that educate them about services and procedures. Many of these are readily available through the American Dental Association.

How are your patients supposed to know what you can do if you don’t tell them? How are you supposed to know what treatments your patients are interested in if you don’t ask? Stop assuming and start educating. Take more time to create a new routine for your patients, and you’ll likely spend less time sweating your overhead numbers.

If you have any question or comments, please email Sally McKenzie at

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Dec. 1 Cincinnati, OH Cincinnati Dental Society 513-984-3443 Breakdown Sally McKenzie

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