2020 has been a unique year, one that will remain stamped on our collective memories. The pandemic has brought with it challenges and blessings. As we wrap up the year, it is the blessings I wish to focus on.
Over the Thanksgiving break, I took up a challenge to post daily #GiveThanks posts on social media. This exercise was a wonderful way to share and receive positivity. Some of the blessings I posted about were my family and friends; audio books which enable me to listen to fascinating stories, learn new skills and expand my mind during my daily commute; my expansive spice collection which allows me to cook anything and everything from Thai, Creole, to Filipino and German; and smiles that brighten my day at work and at home. Being grateful and expressing thanks are effective ways to push back negativity. It is not possible to be hateful and grateful at the same time. Often it is the little things in life that bring us the most joy.
Service is another way to be blessed with positivity. Thanksgiving week I was blessed as I served alongside my 13-year old son, who is working on becoming an Eagle Scout, as he conducted a neighborhood food drive to benefit the Round Rock Area Serving Center. With the help of friends, Owen was able to reach all 850 homes in our neighborhood by placing a flier and collection bag on each front door. Having planted the “seeds” the Monday before Thanksgiving, we went back the Saturday after Thanksgiving to collect the “harvest”. We were unprepared for the generous response with almost 3,500 lbs. of food being donated and flooding our garage floor. Many neighbors expressed thanks for the opportunity to give. The pandemic has made it harder for us to give service yet we all need as much help and positivity as we can get during these challenging times.
In November, during an all-day team meeting, the Council Oak Perio team identified five key values that exemplify our team culture. One of our values is “Positive Energy”, which is expressed in the following statement:
Positivity is a decision we make out of respect to each other.
This holiday season I am grateful for my professional colleagues who have weathered the COVID storm with me. Your advice and support have been invaluable. I am grateful to our referring offices who have continued to trust us to care for their patients. I am grateful for my team who has a positive influence on each other and on me. I am grateful for the pandemic, it is helped me refocus and brought my team together. We are stronger now than ever.
Wishing you all a positive and happy holiday season.
Chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, diabetes, and lung disease kill over 1 million Americans every year. Obesity was a contributing factor in over 520,000 American deaths. Rheumatoid arthritis affects 40 million Americans. Thirty million American men live with erectile dysfunction. Sixty-five million Americans have periodontal disease. Is there a link with all these conditions? Yes. The answer is chronic inflammation.
For the last 20 years, dentists have tried to demonstrate a causative link between periodontal disease and these chronic inflammatory diseases. This is another classic example of which came first: the chicken or the egg? While the answer to that question doesn’t really matter, there is no doubt that chronic inflammation is a significant issue in the healthcare world. We can do our part as dental professionals in addressing this issue by improving the evaluation and treatment of periodontal disease and educating patients on diet and lifestyle choices that can reduce their overall state of inflammation.
Earlier in my career, I viewed the health history questionnaire as an instrument to identify surgical risk. This was shortsighted. I now view the health history questionnaire as an opportunity to reinforce how important a patient’s health is to me. In order to accomplish this, I redesigned our health history questionnaire to facilitate a dialogue about health. For example, if an obese patient with diabetes is referred to our practice for an implant placement, I now have a discussion about how important diet and exercise are to their health. These conversations can be uncomfortable at first. We weren’t trained in dental school on how to have these conversations but they are so rewarding. As a result of health-based discussions with my patients, I have seen patients reduce the number of cigarettes they consume each day or quit smoking altogether. Others have now taken ownership of their diabetes and hypertension.
Patients who come to our practice seeking an implant are also motivated by a discussion about their health. As patients lose more teeth, masticatory function diminishes and patients have to look for foods that are easy to chew, like processed carbohydrates. By maintaining a greater number of teeth, patients are able to chew fresh fruits and vegetables and reduce their dependence on processed foods.
One of the challenges of having health-based discussions with our patients can be determining what type of diet we should recommend. Mounting research indicates that a diet rich in plant-based, whole foods can reduce chronic inflammation and improve long-term health 1 . Counseling patients to increase the amount of plant-based, whole foods in their diet while also decreasing their intake of sugar, processed foods and animal products will lead them in the right direction. Just like my patients, I too want to live a healthy, happy life. I also want to be authentic as I counsel my patients on their road to health. For these reasons, I personally converted to a plant-based, whole-food diet three years ago.
We all have patients in our practices who struggle with systemic health issues. As dental health professionals, we can do more than just treat their periodontal disease. We can also counsel our patients in their diet and lifestyle choices in order to address the source of chronic inflammation and help them move toward a healthier, happier life.
Recently, my youngest son, 7-year-old Zack, begged his mom to teach him how to solve a Rubik’s Cube. About two years ago, his older brother had learned to solve the cube. Elliott is now 10 but, as an 8-year-old with dyslexia, solving a Rubik’s Cube seemed unrealistic. He could not even read the instructions his mom printed out for him. To help, she showed him some instructional videos on YouTube and then left him to it. Elliott is a very determined soul. After about a month, along with a great deal of frustration, practice, and focus, Elliott was able to solve the cube. Two years later, Elliott now turns his 3x3x3 Rubik’s Cube like a pro and can easily solve it in less than two minutes.
Having watched his brother, Zack thought he could easily do the same. When it took more than 10 minutes over the winter break for Zack to learn the first algorithm, he quickly became frustrated and moved on to something else. In the process of trying to teach Zack, my wife got hooked. She didn’t think she had time to learn how to solve a Rubik’s Cube but was surprised to find that if she just memorized a set of algorithms it was very possible and a little addictive. Over the break, she could be found sneaking around with a Rubik’s Cube in her pocket so she could practice any chance she could.
Watching my family’s experience with a Rubik’s Cube has provided me with five insightful practice management lessons.
Lesson 1: The success of your practice is directly proportional to your team’s ability to solve problems.
With less than 15 turns, anyone can scramble a Rubik’s Cube. It takes no skill to create chaos. Meanwhile, there are few people who can solve a Rubik’s Cube. It is entirely possible to learn how to do so in under two minutes provided you have a good dose of determination along with the right training and practice. In the hands of an untrained, unwilling individual, that same cube will never get solved.
Every day in our dental practices we face issues large and small, whether it be streamlining the new patient-intake process or finishing the day on time. Solving each of these problems one by one is like learning each algorithm to solve a Rubik’s Cube. In his book Traction, Gino Wickman states: “Your ability to succeed is in direct proportion to your ability to solve your problems. The better you are at solving problems, the more successful you become.”
Think of your practice as a series of problems to be solved. The faster you and your team become at solving those problems, the sooner you will create order, predictability, and success in your practice.
Lesson 2: There are many ways to solve the same problem. Seek help when needed!
The original 3x3x3 Rubik’s Cube has 43 quintillion combinations. To put things into perspective, that’s 43 with 18 zeros after it. This means that, if you had as many standard sized Rubik’s Cubes as there are permutations, you could cover the Earth’s surface 275 times. The good news is that print and video instructions are readily available if you want to learn how to solve the cube.
Likewise, there are many ways to manage a dental practice. If we consider each detail in the process from patient intake to the new patient exam, through to treatment and follow-up care, there could be as many different solutions as there are permutations of a Rubik’s Cube. Instead of floundering on your own, seek help when needed. Get involved in a Spear study club, find a mentor or enlist the help of a practice consultant. There is no reason to do it the hard way. Others have gone before you and there are many resources available to help you succeed.
Lesson 3: Thou shalt know thy destination.
The end goal of solving a Rubik’s Cube is very clear: solve each side with each side being a single color. If this goal was unclear, one could spend a lifetime mindlessly spinning the cube and endlessly creating new permutations.
For our teams, it’s critical that we communicate our vision clearly and concisely so that they know where we are headed. Without that vision, our daily work can become as unsatisfying as spinning a Rubik’s Cube without ever solving it. It is human nature to want to grow, learn and achieve. Give your team the opportunity to do so!
Lesson 4: A Growth, Can-do Mindset is Essential.
Watching Elliott, Zack and my wife Penny learn how to solve a Rubik’s Cube revealed very different mindsets. Despite his dyslexia, Elliott believed that he could learn to solve a Rubik’s Cube and had enough grit and determination to do so. Zack, on the other hand, quickly gave up once the problem appeared to be too hard and required too much effort.
We are all capable of far more than we give ourselves credit for but we have to be prepared to do the hard work that produces growth.
Lesson 5: Take risks when necessary.
The way my wife is learning to solve a Rubik’s Cube is to first solve one side of the cube, along with the adjacent edges of that side, then systematically solving the middle layer. As she moves the edge pieces into position for the middle layer, there is a temporary “scrambling” of the first side before returning the pieces back into position. To an observer, it may appear that she is taking a risk and creating “chaos,” but there is a plan in place and “order” is soon restored.
Likewise, in our practices and in our lives, it will be necessary to take risks in order to reach our goals. This will require us to feel uncomfortable and chaotic as we move the current way of doing things out of the way to bring in a new and better approach. The cost of not taking any risks is living with the status quo. This idea was expressed by John F. Kennedy who said, “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.”
I challenge you to consider and apply these five lessons learned from the Rubik’s Cube as you grow and lead your dental practice. I wish you well on your journey!