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No one could have predicted what this year would have in store as the world celebrated the beginning of a new decade 12 months ago. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the personal and professional lives of millions of people, including dental practice owners who are still adapting and learning to navigate their way through the various challenges that have threatened the safety and well-being of their patients, staff and dental practices.
Reflecting on their experiences over the last few months, CDA members Faith Barreyro, DMD, Cynthia Brattesani, DDS, and Zoe Huang, DDS, share what they’ve learned as practice owners who are leading their dental teams through the pandemic.
Having a strong team dynamic begins with a trustworthy leader who is able to keep staff safe, cohesive and productive. The pandemic has highlighted the need for practice owners to be honest, empathetic and able to take a nonbinary approach to problem-solving.
For Dr. Barreyro, who owns Diamond Dental Studio in San Diego, being a trustworthy leader meant prioritizing the health of patients and staff, setting up proper COVID-19 protocols and maintaining a safe environment.
“As a new practice owner, I had the challenge of gaining the trust of my team members as well as my patients during COVID,” Barreyro said. “We’ve all shown patience and understanding toward each other during this time because we recognize that we’re all in this together.”
Barreyo is achieving her goal of maintaining a safe dental practice by implementing various COVID-19 safety procedures, including conducting daily staff screenings, enforcing social distancing by asking patients to wait in the car until their appointment and checking their temperatures.
“Leadership skills in the best times can be challenging and in the worst times — daunting,” said Dr. Brattesani. “During the pandemic, we had the opportunity to pause, reflect and then launch skills within us we thought we never had.”
Like many practice owners, Brattesani redirected her time and efforts to ensuring her San Francisco private practice would be a safe space for patients and staff amid the pandemic. She implemented new safety protocols, invested in the latest dental technologies and continues to train staff on how to best care for patients.
As the pandemic continues to shape the future of the dental profession, she believes it’s important to acknowledge the good that has come out of the crisis.
"Patients trust us, and their health is now more important to them. Dedicated team members now remain with us for authentic reasons and the clinical culture is now safer,” she said. “No one said this was easy but, in the end, it is what makes us professionals.”
Effectively managing a dental team during a pandemic is no easy task, but it can be an achievable goal when employees have a positive work culture to thrive in. A healthy work environment was the key to success for Dr. Huang, who said the challenge of getting back to practice during the pandemic weighed her down with fear and anxiety.
“I felt an overwhelming amount of love and support from my team as we worked together to safely reopen the practice,” Huang said. “My staff puts their heart into their work without first considering their own benefits or needs and I’m overwhelmed by the contribution and sacrifices they have made.”
Huang runs a private practice in Dublin that specializes in general dentistry and orthodontics. As a practice owner, she said that “having a team that embraces the same vision and works toward the same goal makes every team member feel happier, healthier and more purposeful.”
Huang also said that facilitating a culture that helps the dental team understand the business aspect of dentistry has been critical. Educating staff on business needs can make it easier for employers to implement changes and communicate with employees on why certain decisions were necessary to support the vitality of the practice.
The stress of the pandemic has revealed itself in a variety of physical ailments, including cracked teeth. Since resuming preventive care, 49% of dentists have reported an increase in patients with both fractured teeth and signs of bruxism.
With dentists being one of the first health professionals to identify signs of stress and anxiety in patients, Huang says her team is looking for ways to incorporate more wellness initiatives into her dental practice to encourage patients and staff to live a healthier lifestyle.
“Some patients mentioned that our office was the first public place they had been to since shelter-in-place,” she said. “In our conversations with our patients, I realized that it’s more imperative than ever to understand proper self-care and stick to healthy daily routines, healthy eating, ergonomics, healthy emotions and mental health.”
Huang is also making sure to focus on her own wellness during the present time and says she’s grateful for the opportunity to pause and reconsider the priorities of her life and the meaning of work.
“I’ve honestly never felt happier as a practicing dentist,” she said. “I have the support of a wonderful team that brings their ideas and their hearts to the practice, who support one another and genuinely care for our patients.”
Kerry K. Carney, DDS
Journal Editor in Chief