I didn’t realize what had happened to me until I had hit rock bottom. I couldn’t do it anymore. I hated my practice. I regretted dentistry. I was so afraid of getting sued, getting a bad review, or disappointing someone. Nothing I did felt right. I was totally burnt out.
At that point, I only had two options available to me. I cut my losses, leave dentistry, and work off my educational and practice debt in some other job – maybe in a cubicle situation – maybe I could go to law school so I could be the one suing. Or, I could get to the roots of my burnout, deal with the causes, and turn this mess around into something good. Thankfully, I chose the second option.
It took years but during the long climb back to enjoying dentistry, I learned a lot about burnout, what causes it, and how to avoid it. I recently pulled this hard-won wisdom into my book, The Stress-Free Dentist: Overcome Burnout and Start Loving Dentistry Again. I don’t want any other dentist to have to go through what I did. But if they are, then I have a few encouraging words for you because trust me I’ve been there and back. YOU CAN DO THIS.
You can stop burnout before it stops you, and this book is chock full of information on how to do that. Once you’ve gotten past the stress and burnout, you can finally be engaged at work, at home, and actually, be happy with your profession.
There are many reasons why dentists get burned out.
Some of the big ones are:
- The overwhelming amount of debt or overhead
- Lack of HR and business training
- The day-to-day exhausting nature of the profession
It’s important to remember to not give in to the false belief that dentistry is just a stressful profession and there is nothing you can do, or that this is the profession you chose and you’ll have to deal with the stress until you retire. No. That is no way to live and that mentality is unsustainable for a 40-year career.
There are concrete steps you can take to relieve pressure in these areas. For instance, one way to conquer this false belief is to invest in yourself, learn to deliver a new treatment or technology, and introduce it into your practice. Adding these new modalities, especially high-value services, such as guided Implantology (implant dentistry), 3-D printing, impression-less digital scanners, clear aligners, and/or sleep apnea and airway treatments can create what I call the three R’s: Return on fun, Re-energize your staff, and practice, and Reinvent yourself.
This is the fifth part of a 5-part series. For this installment, we’ll focus on clear aligners.
I learned 0.0% of orthodontics or clear aligners from the minimal training during my four years of dental school. The only thing I remember officially learning was how to write up a form and refer to the orthodontist. It was unfortunate but that’s what I left with. So the thought of adding clear aligners to my practice at the age of 46 was like planning to have a magical unicorn fly me for my daily commute to my private office. I didn’t think it was realistic or possible.
Fear of something new
I always thought of anything orthodontic as this different species of animal. It felt so different from my typical day to day general and implant dentistry treatment. So it was no surprise that adding clear aligners created a fear of the dreaded “unknown.”
This feeling of fear is a normal response. Fear is there to keep us safe, especially when you add something you didn’t have any formal training for.
There’s the fear of failing or the thought “what if a case didn’t track or go according to plan?”
It can also be overwhelming to think about the investment in time to get yourself educated, get the staff on board, and prepare a plan to navigate orthodontic insurance coverage,
Get educated. Start your first clear aligner cases with staff and/or their families. Then progress with some easy going patients that you know will be un-intimidating to work on. As with any new treatment, tempering expectations is very important. Have that conversation multiple times before the treatment starts.
Not a back breaker
As we all know, clinical restorative dentistry can be both mentally and physically exhausting. I’ve been practicing for almost twenty years and I am constantly thinking about reducing pain in my back, neck, eyes, wrists etc. Adding clear aligners can be a great alternative to the daily grind of general dentistry. It’s also nice to provide a treatment without having to administer local anesthesia which can be one of the most stressful parts of the patient experience and being a dentist. Less physical pain and stress = happier dentist = longer career.
Relationship with the orthodontist
The local orthodontist is literally right next door to my office. He’s excellent and I consider him to be a good friend. But I had a conversation with him explaining how his flow of referrals and practice revenue shouldn’t be affected by me adding adult clear aligners. In fact, his adult cases actually may go up due to our internal marketing and increasing clear aligner and orthodontic awareness. There will also be a lot of patients out of my comfort zone that I’ll still refer over to him.
In fact, most of the cases I am targeting weren’t previously on my radar regarding clear aligners, unless the patient asked me. Such as your classic lower anterior crowding or some minor upper diastemas. For other more complex adult situations, I would ask how they felt about their smile but it just wasn’t in my wheelhouse to even have the conversation with adult patients and ortho unless the patient pursued it. My idea of orthodontics used to be purely focused on kids and making sure I didn’t drop the ball in the timing of their referral to the orthodontist.
All you have to do is ask
You’ve probably heard the comment to not judge a book by its cover. When it comes to straighter teeth, it is so true.
This is how I start a conversation.
“Are you happy with your smile or have you ever thought about straightening these teeth? I offer the clear aligners here now. I can quickly scan your teeth and send it to the lab and in a day or two, they will send back an animation of how your teeth will move based on their algorithm.”
Some say yes and some say no. At least you are planting the seed for a possible future case.
Also, for peace of mind, I only ask patients with excellent periodontal condition and without any TMD issues.
I simply put a “Got straight teeth” sign in the waiting room, along with some brochures and posters scattered around the office. I also recommend keeping a model of what clear aligners look like, so a patient can physically see and touch them.
Ask the clear aligner company you plan on using about how they can help with marketing, both internally and externally. Most patients have heard of “clear aligners” and a lot of them are looking at their teeth, due to the work from home paradigm shift. People are looking at their teeth all day during their zoom office meetings.
The best marketing, however, will come from your staff, your family, or even yourself.
Got clear aligners in your office? If not, you should.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Eric Block is a full-time practicing dentist in Acton, Massachusetts, husband, and father of two kids.
He is on a mission to help dental professionals across the country overcome burnout and anxiety.
He authored his first book titled “The stress-free dentist: Overcome burnout and start loving dentistry again.”
He is the founder and CEO of the marketplace website called DealsforDentists.com, which helps dentists save time and money by helping them find new customer offers from companies across the industry.
He also interviews dentists and vendors on the Deals for Dentists Podcast and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.