People Management: A Vital Skill for a Successful Dental Practice

Today’s dental practices are fast-paced and often stressful, with a seemingly endless list of conflicting tasks that must be accomplished. It can be tough to find time to build relationships in between all of the other pressures of running your practice. Yet relationships are critical to your success.

The best dental practices not only provide excellent care, but foster thriving relationships between the dentist and the team, the dentist and the patients, and the patients and the team. Here is what you need to know.

Talk to Your Team

Research shows that beyond money, staff members in every industry seek a sense of connectedness, autonomy to make decisions, ongoing growth and development, and the feeling that they are making a difference. Foster these intangibles by holding regular staff meetings, seeking feedback, and acting on the information you are given. Help your team members feel like stakeholders in the practice, and they will become far more personally invested in it.

Lead by Example

Model the behaviors you want to see. Never ask your staff to do anything you would not do yourself. Work hard to get to the bottom of team member conflicts in a way that makes everyone involved feel valued. Share your passion for dentistry and your dedication to helping others. Show your team your vision for the practice and ask for their help in achieving it.

Be Tough but Fair with Problem Patients

Every dental practice has that one patient who insists on a very early or very late appointment to accommodate her schedule, and then fails to show up without so much as a phone call. It is always best to give a warning the first time, explaining that you know things happen but next time you will have to bill for the appointment. If the patient makes a habit of no-call, no-shows, send a bill with a courteous but firm explanation.

Pay Attention to Agitated Patients

Unfortunately, some people are aggressive in their daily lives. Even more manage to be polite most of the time but may turn combative when under stress. Keep an eye out for situations that could turn aggressive, such as:

– Patients who owe significant balances
– Patients who tend to skip appointments
– Patients with alcohol or drug addictions
– Patients who cannot be helped right away
– Patients who are especially fearful or in a great deal of pain

Certainly, not everyone who falls into one of these categories will become combative, and it is important to give people the benefit of the doubt. Still, making sure that you and your team are up to date on the latest de-escalation techniques, and using a team approach to potentially volatile situations, can help your staff and other patients feel more comfortable, and can help you provide needed care to agitated patients.

Warning signs that a patient is about to lose his cool include, but are not limited to:

– Tense body language
– Changes in speech volume
– Behavioral changes such as fidgeting or suddenly becoming very quiet

De-escalation techniques include, but are not limited to:

– Empathizing
– Active listening
– Allowing the patient to finish speaking
– Calmly addressing the stated concerns

People management may not be your natural strong suit, but learning basic skills can help boost your dental practice to the next level. The goal is to foster trust, support, and communication between all stakeholders in your practice: the dentist, the staff, and the patients.

If you are interested in learning how to take your dental practice to the next level, please contact Ascent Dental Solutions today at (800) 983-4126 to learn how Dr. Coughlin can help.

Selling a Dental Practice to a Corporate Buyer

If you are selling your dental practice, it is important to be aware that not all buyers are individual dentists. Corporate buyers are becoming more and more common. The two categories of corporate buyers are dental management organizations (DMOs), and small group networks (SGNs). The main differences are that DMOs are large, owning from 30 to several hundred dental practices, and that DMOs have virtually unlimited resources. SGNs are small, typically owning less than 20 dental practices, and are limited in their available investment capital.

Assessing the Offer

Regardless of which type of corporate buyer has put an offer on the table, it is important to carefully assess the offer. Fortunately, there are 5 simple steps to help you decide whether the offer is right for you.

Know your value: You cannot accurately assess the offer that is made unless you understand the valuation of your practice. There are numerous ways to perform this valuation, and there are many complex factors that can affect the value. Therefore, a professional valuation is always advised.

The buyer may make an offer that is significantly higher or lower than your valuation. If this happens, it is important to learn why. Get professional advice if you are considering an offer outside your valuation range to be sure you are getting a fair deal.

Understand the buyer: You probably already know that you need to investigate the financial strength of any prospective buyer. For a corporate buyer, this should include asking your accountant to review the company’s earnings expectations, financial statements, and tax returns. Also check references and reviews, with an eye toward developing an informed picture of the company’s track record of purchases and sales.

In addition, it is important to understand the buyer’s goals. Corporate buyers want to acquire the existing patient base and grow the practice’s profitability. They generally want to retain the current owner as a manager, which may or may not interest you. They also have an existing transition process focused on cutting costs and maximizing revenue. Your economic goals become tied to the corporation’s.

Know the payment structure: Regardless of who buys your practice, financing will likely be involved. With a corporate buyer, though, the structure may be highly complex. For example, a portion of the purchase price may be contingent on your ability to hit certain goals and objectives over a predetermined number of years. In addition, you may receive a portion of the purchase price as equity in the company rather than cash. You may even be required to purchase additional equity.

Know the risks: Signing a contract with a corporate buyer involves a great deal of risk. You do not know the corporate buyer that well, and there is no recourse for equity stakeholders if the company goes belly up. However, if you are willing and able to assume the risk, are willing to work hard to hit goals and objectives, and feel confident in the purchasing entity, you could make a strong return on your investment.

Because corporate purchase agreements are highly complicated and involve high levels of risk, it is vital to seek professional advice. Only you, your financial advisors, and your dental business advisor can determine whether a corporate buyer makes sense for you.

Ascent Dental Solutions is a full-service agency dedicated to helping dentists build their practices and map out their careers. It is the brainchild of Dr. Kevin Coughlin, who earned his doctorate at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and currently serves as a faculty member there. While Dr. Coughlin continues to practice dentistry as the principal owner of the 14-location Baystate Dental PC, he has a strong passion for helping fellow dentists maximize their success. If you are interested in learning how to take your dental practice to the next level, please contact Ascent Dental Solutions today at (800) 983-4126 to learn how Dr. Coughlin can help.

Keys to Selling a Dental Practice for the Maximum Price

Dental practice valuation is a highly complex blend of art and science. Ultimately, though, any practice is worth whatever a buyer is willing to pay for it. If you want to maximize the selling price, there are a few things you can do to make your practice more attractive to potential buyers.

Accounts Receivable

The majority of dentists are happy with an accounts receivable cycle as long as 45 days. Still, if yours is significantly lower, it can prove that your practice has a healthy cash flow. Upgrading your revenue management technology and procedures can help.


While the real estate idea of “location, location, location” does not fully apply when selling a dental practice, there is no denying that location matters to prospective buyers. In particular, buyers are interested in the demographics and population trends of the area, as those affect the patient base. For example, a buyer interested in complex restorations would likely prefer an affluent area with an older demographic, while someone who specializes in pediatric dentistry will want to be in a neighborhood with lots of young families.

You don’t need to move your practice in order to sell it, but you will get the best price by focusing on buyers whose primary interests match the demographics of the area. Of course, if your practice attracts patients who are willing to travel a long way for your services, that can be a selling point on its own.

Practice Philosophy

Everyone has a different philosophy and approach to treatment, and you certainly don’t need to change yours. However, if you are looking for the maximum selling price, you should be sure to discuss these topics early on with each potential buyer. Every buyer is hoping for a strong, existing patient base, as well as to focus on the areas of dentistry that most interest him or her. It might be that a buyer can see a new direction for your practice in the form of additional services or new technology, but if your approaches are wildly different, some of your existing patients might leave after the sale. Buyers are aware of this risk, and will likely not offer top dollar for practices that do not naturally mesh with their ideas.

Intangible Assets

Dental practices generally have a wide variety of tangible assets, such as equipment and furniture, but intangible assets can add tremendous value to the practice. Brand equity and intellectual property are typically the most important. Brand equity includes, but is not limited to, such factors as reputation, perception of service, and loyalty from both patients and employees. Protecting the brand can be a very important element in the sales process, and a top brand can bring a significantly higher price.

Intellectual property includes anything that you developed that is unique to your practice, such as codified policies and procedures, treatment methodologies, and ways of managing the business side of your practice. The more successful your practice is, the more your unique intellectual property is likely to be worth at the time of sale.

Technology Considerations

It would seem obvious that sophisticated dental technology automatically raises the selling price of a dental practice, but this is rarely the case. At the time of sale, technology is really only worth the demonstrated financial impact that it has on the practice. In other words, you may get a premium for a piece of technology that demonstrably improved processes and, in turn, revenue. But simply running out right before the sale to buy new software will not get you much return on your investment.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, there is a plethora of dental technology on the market, and most dentists like to equip their offices with the technologies they like best. Second, used equipment has a very low cash value. Finally, the buyer may be entirely unfamiliar with that shiny new program you installed, and unimpressed with your claims of what the salesperson told you it could do. Being able to point to results is key.

Ultimately, the best way to obtain the maximum price for your dental practice is to start long before you are ready to sell. Build the best practice you can, constantly refine and improve your processes, and create a strong brand. When you are ready to sell, focus on buyers who are looking for what you have to sell, and whose philosophies mesh well with your own.

Ascent Dental Solutions is a full-service agency dedicated to helping dentists build their practices and map out their careers. It is the brainchild of Dr. Kevin Coughlin, who earned his doctorate at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and currently serves as a faculty member there. While Dr. Coughlin continues to practice dentistry as the principal owner of the 14-location Baystate Dental PC, he has a strong passion for helping fellow dentists maximize their success. If you are interested in learning how to take your dental practice to the next level, please contact Ascent Dental Solutions today at (800) 983-4126 to learn how Dr. Coughlin can help.

Why Continuing Education is Critical to Your Success in Dentistry

Every state requires dentists to comply with mandatory continuing education requirements. In addition, there are a wide range of optional continuing education courses available to dentists across the nation. If you are a practicing dentist, though, you might wonder why. After all, you are using your clinical skills every day, so you certainly aren’t rusty. Yet even beyond the need to comply with regulations, continuing education is vital for all dentists. Here’s a look at why continuing education is critical to your success in dentistry.

Emergency Care

Maintaining current CPR certification is mandatory in most states. Many also require continuing education credits in topics such as infection control, blood borne pathogens, and HIV/AIDS. Some require dentists to have regular training in ethics, professional responsibility, and recognizing the signs of abuse.

All of these are topics that the average dentist does not frequently confront. You probably have sterilization and infection control procedures in place that work well for your day to day operations. You likely face few situations that require you to perform CPR or make complex ethical decisions. Yet when you suddenly find yourself in an unusual scenario, you need to have sharp, recently practiced skills that you can rely on.

Innovative Technology

Technology continues to develop at lightning speed, and there is no way that the average busy dentist could keep up with all of the new possibilities. Continuing education courses that focus on technology sum up your new options and present them in a way that is fast and easy to digest. You will receive enough information that you can then easily research any new tools that catch your eye.

New Clinical Skills

The field of dentistry is also transforming rapidly, partly due to innovations in technology. Dentists today have more options than ever before for treating different dental diseases. Continuing education courses give you an overview of new techniques and methodologies, some of which could revolutionize the care you are able to provide.

Changing Business Landscape

“Disruption” is the new buzzword in business, as companies attempt to turn old ways of doing business on their ear. As new disruptors enter the marketplace, service providers such as dentists must stay on their toes. Agility, streamlining, and the ability to pivot as needed are key skills that any business owner must learn. Attending continuing education classes focused on the business side of your practice ensures that you stay aware of the changing landscape and are prepared to take on new disruptions as they occur.

Continuing education requirements can feel like just one more thing on your never-ending to do list. Yet these classes are the best insurance your dental practice can have against the ramifications of a rapidly changing field. When looking for continuing education courses, try to select a range of topics that address emergency care, technology, clinical skills, and business knowledge. Your success will be worth the hassle.

Ascent Dental Solutions is a full-service agency dedicated to helping dentists build their practices and map out their careers. It is the brainchild of Dr. Kevin Coughlin, who earned his doctorate at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and currently serves as a faculty member there. While Dr. Coughlin continues to practice dentistry as the principal owner of the 14-location Baystate Dental PC, he has a strong passion for helping fellow dentists maximize their success. If you are interested in learning how to take your dental practice to the next level, please contact Ascent Dental Solutions today at (800) 983-4126 to learn how Dr. Coughlin can help.

How you brand your practice is crucial to its success

How you brand your business is key to how you’ll be perceived by existing clients and those looking for a new dentist.

How do I know this? Because I used to be bad at it!

I’ve learned, of course, and have leaned on the wisdom and services of branding and marketing professionals ever since.

But back in 1983, I made a blunder. Although I was marketing in many mediums at the time, I thought a humorous TV spot might be a useful strategy.

The commercial featured an absurd image of a dentist brandishing a carpenter’s drill about to start work on someone’s choppers. The idea was to apply a comedic twist to people’s fear of the dentist’s drill.

It didn’t work. Let me put it another way: people hated it!

So there I was, a successful dentist and I almost lost it due to a sixty second commercial.

The way you present yourself online, in print through marketing of any kind, is very important.

You want to consider the type of audience you have and the customer base you want to have. Look at the reviews you’re getting online to see what people are saying. Do a close review of your competitors and see why they’re getting their business to the level it’s at or even getting more business than you are. And use marketing and use the internet and social media and design to get your business to where you want it to be.

The lesson here is that you are an expert at dentistry and there are other professionals skilled at making you shine in the marketplace.

Pro-tip: if your marketing consultant suggests the carpenter’s drill idea, find another one!

Your website is only as good as your SEO

If you’re a dentist then you probably have a website. It might even be an awesome site. But here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter how much blood, sweat and money you’ve sunk into, if prospective clients can’t easily find your site then it’s not really doing you any good.

So how do you get them there? Try typing ‘dental office’ into Google right now along with your town or city and see what comes up. Is your website there or is it someone else’s?

To ensure your site is near the top of the Google search rankings (the goal in local search is #1), you need to work on your SEO. Search Engine Optimization is the method web experts use to make sites appear at the top of search results and get your business found by potential patients.

Given the number of practices competing for new customers local search is becoming a big deal and it’s only a matter of time before every practice starts to optimize their sites for maximum exposure.

I recently spoke to a guy named Mike Pederson about it. Mike is the CEO of Dental Boost, a cutting-edge dental SEO company for both solo and group practices.

He told me it all comes down to coming up with the right ‘buyer-intent’ keyphrases that people use on Google to find dental practices.

Typically, most dental practice’s keyword phrases number about 20. Mike Pedersen’s company has developed around 500 such phrases. However it’s about more than numbers. The better your phrases and search terms are, the more chance your practice has of rising up through the rankings.

Of course if that’s all it took then everyone’s practice would be at the top of the searches! There’s more and you should look into a company like Mike’s to give you some guidance. .

So is it worth it? Every penny!

Outside of word-of-mouth, web searches are the best way for people to find a new dentist.

Although a good marketing campaign also helps, making sure your business name is tops in web searches is a basic necessity, the digital equivalent of having a lighted sign in front of your practice.

Should You Hire a Dental Practice Consultant?

Most dentists enter the practice because they have a passion for the work, not out of a burning desire to be a CEO. Yet building and growing your dental practice requires you to be a top-notch business owner, capable of running everything from marketing to human resources, and from bookkeeping to daily operations. You certainly do not need to perform all of these tasks yourself, but you do need enough understanding of each process to tell whether it is working well or needs adjustment. As insurance reimbursements go down and expenses rise, it is more important than ever before to run a streamlined practice that drives profits without compromising the quality of care.

A dental practice consultant can be the solution. While you are understandably attached to certain ways of thinking and managing your practice, a consultant provides an outside perspective.  He or she can take an objective look at the business side of your practice and help you see things in a new way. With a consultant by your side, you are truly poised to take your practice to the next level.

However, hiring a consultant is not for everyone. If you are considering taking this step, it is important to understand some basic truths about what to expect.

Consultants Are Not Miracle Workers

A good consultant will challenge your assumptions and help you see your practice in a new way. However, the hard work of implementing changes will fall on you. In the short run, while you are developing new systems and processes, your workload may skyrocket. Your consultant will likely give you lots of homework to complete between meetings, and you may wonder why you brought this person in at all. Remember that it is the consultant’s job to assess your practice and make suggestions, but your job to bring those ideas to life. In the long run, though, your practice will thrive. Just keep your long-term goals in mind.

Change Begins with You

If your dental practice is struggling, it is easy to blame external factors. Your location is terrible, your staff is lazy, you can’t afford a fancy new machine, or a myriad of other excuses. While some of these may be objectively true, they are symptoms of the problem, not the root cause. As the business owner, you and you alone are ultimately responsible for the practice’s success. Bringing in a consultant is a sign of strength and good decision-making—you are admitting where you need help, and hiring someone with the specific skills and knowledge to fix those areas. Take a deep breath and trust the process, remaining open-minded to ideas that might at first strike you as strange.

Clinical Skill Is Important, But Not Sufficient

Many dentists with struggling practices try to educate themselves into success. Post-doctoral training, clinical workshops in cutting-edge techniques, adding in-house dental labs…all of these things help you to become an objectively better dentist, but have little to no effect on growing your practice. Remember, your patients are not trained in dentistry. Although the digital generation has more general knowledge about various treatment options than its predecessors, few patients are really able to judge whether one dentist’s clinical skills are better than another’s.

Continuing education is always an excellent idea, but to truly take your practice to the next level, you need to switch gears to focus on the business management side. Sometimes it’s as simple as going back to basics: Do you accept the insurances that are most common in your area? Are your wait times reasonable? Do you offer online appointment scheduling? Do you have extended or Saturday hours? Your consultant will analyze all of the little details that could be hurting your business.

Avoid One Size Fits All Solutions

Be wary of dental consultants who want to sell you their practice management “system.” Implementing systematic processes is an excellent thing, but they must be tailored to your practice. Every dental practice has a different patient base and different staff members, all with their own unique needs and desires. Local norms and conventions vary widely, as do individual offices. Look for a consultant that will make the effort to analyze your practice and make recommendations that are tailored to your needs, rather than plugging you into an existing system.

In today’s economy, dentists must run smooth, streamlined practices that provide top-quality care at minimal cost. To achieve this, it is vital to ensure that the business side of the practice is fully optimized. As most dentists are not business experts, bringing in outside help can be the solution. However, a dental consultant is not right for every practice. The points above can help you decide whether it is the right choice for you.

Ascent Dental Solutions is dedicated to helping dentists build their practices. If you are interested in learning how to take your dental practice to the next level, please contact us today at (800) 983-4126.

Dental implants growth tied to technology advancements

Although pioneering techniques have always been a part of dentistry, I must admit it’s been fascinating to watch how one in particular has evolved throughout my career.

I’m talking about dental implants. When I did my first implant back in 1983, it took three hours to get a single tooth in place. Back then the process included drilling into the bone to test for bone quality and quantity. The theory was that good bone density meant a good prognosis for a successful implant.

Since then I’ve done thousands of implants and the process has developed quite a bit.

Today, using cone beam technology we can plan the surgery in great detail. The cone beam allows us to check for quality and quantity of bone, height and width of bone without any invasive drilling.

Putting the technological advances in the procedure aside, it’s hard to overestimate how important an advance like implants are to the quality of life of patients. Even a patient with no teeth can have them all replaced.

It used to be a very time consuming and expensive process for a fully edentulous patient. Prior to cone beam technology, patients would wait weeks for treatment prep and planning to be completed. The prep has been since dramatically compressed over the years, resulting in a quicker and much less expensive procedure.

There are some companies such as Implant Concierge that are rather handy for dentists in that they handle all the post cone-beam scan work and create a plan for the dentist to work from. These are online processes that eliminate office work in terms of merging, segmenting and thresholding for the procedure.

What I like about such companies is how they allow dentists to integrate implant work easily into their practice without  stand-alone software, and the learning curve that it involved for everyone in the practice.

Outsourcing this type of work is a good strategy to increase your service offerings without impacting your current business. And because it expands the scope of your practice, it is good for client retention, referrals and your bottom line.  

So if you feel your practice is not growing as fast as it should, consider all the options.

Dentistry plays key role in sleep medicine

Feeling a little sleepy today? That’s okay, maybe you had a rough night. Not a big deal.

But what if you’re feeling sleepy a lot? Days or weeks at a time? You may be becoming dangerous.

Put another way, you may have a sleep disorder, putting you among the tens of millions who suffer with one. The dangerous part? It seems 20 percent of all motor vehicle accidents are associated with untreated sleep disorders. Do you remember the Challenger accident and the Three Mile Island danger? Both are connected with sleep disorder issues.

How does this relate to dentistry? First of all, the American Association of Sleep Medicine is considered the governing body. It provides the guidelines and the standard of care for dentists and physicians to follow in order to provide the public with the highest level of education and treatment options related to chronic, severe problems of sleep deprivation.

Most people consider going to a dentist for snoring only when their partner becomes disturbed and irritated. It’s a situation that is both uncomfortable and embarrassing for both parties.

So what can a dentist do to turn this problem into a profit center? Here are the proper process and procedures to provide excellent care in sleep medicine. Follow them and you will be able to increase your profitability by expanding your practices service offerings.

  • Get certified! Patients seek out dentists who have either a certification, designation or a minimum of 25 hours of training in the appropriate sleep medicine courses.
  • Learn to make the referral! A proper diagnosis requires the patient to get a polysomnogram (PSG), a level one sleep study done in a hospital setting where the individual stays overnight. Their eye movement, muscle movement and cardiac evaluation is constantly monitored along with their blood pressure, their inspiration, and expiration. A combination of all these factors will determine whether the correct diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea is present or not.

Now for the solution. Most think a CPAP unit is the logical solution. You put on a mask when you sleep and it solves the problem, right? Well, maybe. As many as 80 to 85 percent of people are unable to tolerate the CPAP. Users can find it constricture, claustrophobic and ironically, find it difficult to sleep with it on. It’s also a bit pricey at about $2,000.

A good alternative is a Intraoral or Mandibular Advancement Device.These devices keep the lower jaw in place and stops snoring just as well as a CPAP machine.

Over 90 percent of all sleep apnea or obstructive sleep apnea is caused by occlusion of the oral cavity or back of the throat by the tongue. By bringing the lower jaw or mandible forward, the tongue is advanced forward and the airway is open.

We’ve been providing intraoral appliances for sleep disorders for many years now and it is amazing to me how much better patients say they feel. Whether is be a intraoral appliance or a CPAP unit, your practice can benefit greatly simply by offering the service.

So are your patients sleeping well? Are they snoring? Maybe these are two questions you should be asking at every checkup from now on.

Formula for a great dental practice: S.P.E.C.I.A.L.

I have one word to help you build a great practice.

It’s special. Well actually, it’s S-P-E-C-I-A-L, bold letters and period too.

It’s no ordinary special. It’s a special special.

Confused? Sure you are. Let me explain.

The letter S stands for scheduling.

Having firm control of your schedule is essential to delivering great service. The single biggest mistake I see in many practices - including the 14 I own - are issues about either being scheduled too lightly or too heavily.

The second letter is P for Production.

It’s about understanding net production and what you’re writing off with insurance companies, government plans and such. In the end, it’s critical to have a profitable end-of-day and end-of-month bottom line.

E is for Education. Training, education and communication should never end. It starts with a morning meeting, continues with a pickup in the afternoon and the day should end with a meeting. This ongoing training and education should be built on proven successful processes and procedures.

C is about Collection. If the dollars are not collected for procedures done, your practice will fail. You have to ensure you have enough profit to expand and improve your staff and business. Collection is the gasoline for the engine, and you must understand that the goal is to collect 100 percent of what’s owed to you.

I stands for Insurance. You, your team, your managed service organization and especially your front desk personnel must clearly understand the differences between insurance plans because different plans have different reimbursements.

A stands for Accounts Receivable. I use the rule of 45 days meaning that if your net production is,45 days, your accounts receivable should ensure payments are made within 45 days.

So if your net production is $100,000 a month, then your accounts receivable should be approximately $150,000. If the accounts receivable are in excess of that, your policies and procedures are not working or they’re not being implemented.

Lastly, L stands for Liability. My personal opinion is there is no better way to reduce your liability than having written treatment plans that are signed and agreed to by your patients. Failure to get signed treatment plans that clearly state risks, benefits, options, and costs is a mistake that will cost you time, money, stress and aggravation.

So that is S-P-E-C-I-A-L. I can assure you it will be special to you if you follow each letter, day after day.

If you want to learn how to be special and more, don’t hesitate to contact me at or at