One orthodontic/pediatric dentistry practice shares how there are more positives than negatives to be found in this experience

By Rosemary Bray

General Colin Powell addressed our 2000 AAO meeting in a powerful opening session. Sitting in the front, I was mesmerized. I wrote down something he said that has stuck with me and certainly applies today:

“If you’re not riding the wave of change, you may find yourself beneath it.”

There have been many many changes in orthodontics over the years, but look back only to March and see how much change has occurred in your practice, your physical office, your patient care delivery, your communication, and in you yourselves.

Recently I was working with Styrt & Associates, an orthodontic/pediatric dentistry practice based in San Diego, Calif, and I was struck by their experience. I realized they had so much to say and share about what this pandemic has meant to their lives and work. I realized that they could better express what this pandemic has meant for the orthodontic practice and team than anything I could say. So, I started with a simple question:

How has the pandemic changed your work lives?

Their words were full of positivity more than negativity or regret for the profound change they have experienced. And their experiences showed that if a team is flexible, they will come out on top. As I like to say, “Flexible people never get bent out of shape.”

I hope you find the same joy I did in hearing from them and take comfort in the fact that what you are experiencing is being experienced by others in this profession.

Here is what Team Styrt had to say:

I now have a real “attitude of gratitude,” and find I focus much more on important things. I see how happy my team is to see each other and be together. They’re not afraid. We’re very careful. Our patients are glad to be here and see our efforts to protect them. Best thing for me? I lost no team members during this trying time. They all happily came back. —Paul Styrt, DMD, MPH, MS, orthodontist

Being a professional, I wonder daily how will dentistry fare through this? How will many stay afloat and keep up with all the information and changes coming at us every day? My biggest concern? Can I give the best care and advice to my patients and families? —Kristy L. Hayes, DMD, pediatric dentist

Some of our patients were scared to come back and I know we must reassure them by telling and showing them all we have learned and done to protect them—and ourselves. I am so much more [aware] of how careful I have to be and how easy it can be to spread the virus.  Most important thing I learned? Patients really watch us work now.  Everything we do is important. —Mackenzie, clinical specialist

I am so grateful to have both my job and my health. I love that our patients are well and so happy to be here to see us. That put our practice stats up and we’re really busy. I do want the kids back in school. So many of them are home alone when mom and dad are at work now. Many parents don’t know the teaching technology and had to hire tutors to help their kids. The saddest thing for me??  Both of my parents got the Covid virus, and my stepdad died from it. I know the seriousness of this pandemic. —Colette, clinical specialist

Have to admit, I sure don’t like wearing this PPE, especially the times when it is not needed. I now have a wider perspective on how I see just about everything and am more mindful and sensitive to what others might be going through. I am so sorry I can’t hug my teammates and my patients when I want to. I do love hearing patients tell me how they are happy being with their family more. The greatest change for me?  I‘ve had to learn how to smile with my eyes. —Dina, clinical specialist

Now, we’re so good at educating our patients on the phone, in  emails/texts, and verbally once here on what to expect. I’m blessed to have my grown daughter home and she has dinner ready for me when I get home from work. All my family time has become far better. A positive is that our doctor has become more brief and concise with our time-eater patients/parents. Our team came back willingly without complaint, keeping our morale up and numbers healthy. With no more spending on vacations or trips to Disneyland, parents now spend money on smiles! Biggest thing I learned? I see the impact this pandemic has had on others outside of ortho. We are so lucky. —Patty, practice administrator/treatment coordinator

I sure am more in tune with the flow, number of appointments, people in the reception now. It’s so important! We find people can cancel more easily and at the last minute because “they don’t feel well.” We know our patients value the appointments they keep more and the time doctor spends with them. Best thing I see? I now feel more important and valued here watching the patients and our schedule closely. —Michelle, scheduling coordinator

It did not make me fear losing my job or being financially hurt by the virus. I stayed confident, and was able to still do my work solo through it all. Sure, scheduling is now harder. We had to hire another person, and the pedo part of our practice was impacted, especially by our 6-month recall schedule. But like I bet others have told you today, I am so grateful to be here to take care of it all! —Elizabeth, financial/insurance specialist

Hey, I have a job! I have more family time. My kids are healthy and are back into school now and happy to be there. Our team all wanted to come back as soon as we could, and we are so grateful to have our jobs. Doctor didn’t have to pick and choose who he wanted back. He took all of us back  We were already a great team—that stayed the same. What sticks out to me? Sure, I hate that I can’t go out to places or watch sports events, but  the positives far outweigh the negatives that this virus brought on. —Alex, clinical coordinator specialist

What a way to get more quality and quantity of time with my family! Now I am so much more appreciative of life and nature and the friendships I have. Sad I can’t be with people more and have to wear this mask around my patients who want to see my smile. Biggest change I see here? When I’m chairside, I’ve always asked my patients how they are doing, but now more often, they ask about me! —Gina, treatment coordinator

I need to be kind to patients as they are anxious and worried and want to be told about the enhancements made and cleanliness guaranteed to them at each appointment. Consistency is critical and talking to them about how we are glad they are here is my job. But, I’m really in the customer service business more than anything.  —Cat, health concierge, the newest employee hired 6 weeks prior to welcome patients, take temperatures, and guide them through their visit. OP

Rosemary Bray spent 30 years employed as a team member herself and now over 21 years as a consultant and speaker in Ortho and Dentistry. She has travelled the world in the name of teeth and is honored to be the 2021 recipient of the prestigious AAO Outstanding Service Award to be presented at the AAO in Boston next year.