Should you have a dental professional on staff?

February 23, 2010 | web exclusive Should you have a dental professional on staff? Having a dentist or dental assistants on staff may be just what you need to help break

February 23, 2010 |

web exclusive

Should you have a dental professional on staff?

Having a dentist or dental assistants on staff may be just what you need to help break the lab tech/dentist communication barrier.

by Renee Knight, Senior Editor


Colleen Bixler has been there.

She worked as a dental assistant for 13 years, even managed a practice and taught courses. Today, she works in a dental lab. She communicates with dentists and dental assistants about cases and addresses any problems that come up. She worked in a dental practice before, so she understands the frustrations on the other end of the phone and really can relate to the clients when they call with questions or concerns. She connects with them in a way a dental technician really can’t, and serves as an advocate for both dentists and dental assistants.

Bixler is one of six dental assistants who works for Maverick Dental Laboratories. They also have a dentist on staff who has a similar function-to serve as a liaison between the lab technician and the dentist.

“I can emphasize greatly with the different issues they are having in a practice,” Bixler said. “For example, if Mrs. Jones is going on a cruise and the dental assistant is getting pressure to complete a case, I can go through the steps to get that done and ensure the doctor and patient are happy with the case. They can go directly to me without being passed on to anybody else. I can handle them from start to finish.”

Adding a dentist or dental assistants to your team not only can help you improve communication with your clients, it saves you time and, if you hire the right dentist, may even attract more customers to your lab.

They appreciate it
Daxton Grubb, President of R-dent Dental Laboratory, recently hired retired dentist Dr. Bob Hewitt. Grubb’s clients see this as an investment in them rather than new equipment designed to bring the lab more money. They appreciate the addition to the staff and the effort it shows the lab is making to provide them with high-quality work. Beyond that, they respect Dr. Hewitt’s insights and experience. They’re comfortable talking with him about problems, and him being there brings them peace of mind because they know their cases are in good hands.

“It really helps our client relations,” Maverick Dental co-owner Joe Fey said of the dentist and dental assistants they have on staff. “It helps to talk to somebody who’s not just making a case from a model. Given their specific experience they can empathize with our clients regarding some of the more challenging dynamics involved with certain patients.”

Improving communication
One of the biggest problems between lab technicians and dentists is communication. When you get an impression that just isn’t right, it’s often difficult to communicate this to the dentist and get him to change his techniques for improved outcomes next time, Grubb said. And it’s especially difficult when the dentist won’t return your calls, something Grubb and Fey both said can be a problem. Having a dentist on staff helps with that, which means you can turn cases around faster because you aren’t stuck waiting for two or three days for the answers you need to move on.

“I’m the owner and I can call some of my customers and they won’t call me back,” Grubb said. “There’s something about when he says this is Dr. Hewitt calling that gets them on the phone immediately.”

Dentists also respect other dentists, Bixler said, and so having one on your side only can help when it comes to getting everything you need to do your job. If that impression didn’t come in the way it was supposed to, your client may be more likely to address the problem (rather than telling you to make it work) if he or she hears it from another dentist.

“Doctors value the opinions of other experienced doctors,” Bixler said. “If an impression doesn’t look right, they respect that doctor’s opinion and his ability to tell him something will or will not work. It’s not just coming from a technician, it’s coming from a doctor who can give opinions and expertise in regards to that.”

More options
Adding dental assistants to your staff gives you more talented applicants to choose from, Maverick Dental co-owners Fey and Larry Albensi said, which is important to them because there just aren’t that many dental technicians in their area any more.

And dental assistants are interested in making the switch from a dental practice to a dental lab.

“Many assistants express an interest in what we do in the lab and inquire about job openings as a technician or in sales," Fey said. "They’re very good with materials and some are just looking for a change. They also want to use their dental knowledge. It’s not a far reach for them to work in a lab.”

Another benefit? You don’t have to get dental assistants up to speed on dental terminology, Albensi said. They already know the industry and how to communicate with the people in it. Training becomes much easier because there isn’t the learning curve you would have if you just hired a customer service rep. They know what they’re talking about, which is something dentists and dental assistants who call in will appreciate.

It saves you time
At Maverick Dental one of the dentist’s main roles is to field calls from customers or to make calls to practices when the technicians have questions, Albensi said. The dentist, as well as Bixler and the other assistants, serve as advocates. They are the ones who can help push cases through or offer advice that comes from years of experience working in a dental practice. And while they're answering questions and consulting with clients technicians can remain focused on their production.  

“By having the doctor field a lot of calls, it frees up the master technician to work on cases,” Albensi said. “The doctor can do case planning and the things the master technician would normally have to do. It saves a lot of time.”

Other roles
While helping with communication and fielding questions about cases are key roles for staff dentists or dental assistants to take on, that’s not all they can do. Dr. Hewitt also teaches seminars and is working on presentations for upcoming events. He serves as another perspective in the lab and helps the technicians look at things in a different way. As R-dent shifts from a high-production lab to a lab that focuses more on providing high quality work and completing difficult cases, those insights have been key. Having Dr. Hewitt on staff has helped them improve the quality of their work, which means more money and more of those difficult cases for the lab.

Dental assistants also can fill many roles that go beyond customer service. Grubb has a dental assistant who oversees his CAD/CAM department. At Maverick Dental assistants work in account management and quality control.

You can market it
Adding a dentist to your staff is a big deal, and if you decide to make this move, it is something you should let your clients know about. Not only does Grubb talk about his on-staff dentist to potential clients, he also has Dr. Hewitt out in the community teaching seminars and letting people know he’s part of the R-dent team.

“It’s the first thing I mention when I market to a dentist,” Grubb said. “I think it’s (having a dentist on staff) one of the most powerful things you can do if you’re looking for a marketing competitive advantage.”

It can’t be just any one
If you’ve decided to add a dentist to your staff, not just anyone will do, Grubb said. You have to find someone who wants to do this for the right reasons, and those reasons don’t include money. Dr. Hewitt works part time, and even helped out for free before he was hired. He’s a retired dentist with a real passion for teaching and helping others, and that’s the kind of person you should look for when it’s time to hire.

You should also make sure the dentist you’re adding to your staff is well known and respected. If your clients have never heard of that new dentist who just joined your staff, they may not trust him or her right away. Name recognition is important, and also plays a huge role in marketing the fact that you have a dentist on staff.

The benefits
Adding a dentist or dental assistant to your staff can lead to many positives for your lab, from improved communication, to saved time to more clients. But it also leads to improved cases, better outcomes for patients and dentists who feel like you’ve really made an investment in them. They appreciate having an advocate, that go-to person they can come to if they need to push something through of if they need special accommodations. Knowing that keeps them happy and likely will keep them coming to you with their cases.

Renee Knight is a senior editor for DLP. Contact her at


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