Can your associates grow your dental practice?


Paradoxically, many, many dentists I speak to (especially those over 40) would love to create a situation in their practice where they can stop doing clinical dentistry and still make a monthly income. This requires scale (more than £800k turnover for the income to be meaningful) and careful management. (See most corporates!)

But to grow your dental practice above all requires associates who behave in a way which maintains and builds the practice goodwill, rather than shrinking it. And these people are becoming increasingly hard to find.

Only high performance associates can support principles who want to cut down on clinical hours

Only the highest performing associates can make it possible for principals to cut down their clinical hours

The model also requires associates who can gross at the right level, as the principal will no longer be operating clinically and subsidising their behaviour! In round figures, the difference between a good and a bad associate is £500 a day gross fees and more.

Recently I have been working with a client who has retired from clinical dentistry and has three associates delivering the dentistry in his practice. However, the active patient list is shrinking (and has been since he took off his gloves) and the blame lies fairly and squarely at the feet of the associates. And so we have to turn this around and in our conversations we have been identifying associate behaviours which maintain active patients and create goodwill (rather than lose it).

Here’s a list of the behaviours we think make the biggest difference to patient goodwill. I would be happy to hear from anyone who wants to add to it and then we will update it and republish it. Maybe you will consider these criteria when hiring your next associate…

Associate behaviours which build and maintain patient goodwill

1. Arrive with a positive mental attitude, rested and ready for a challenging and productive day’s work

2. Be charismatic, charming and friendly towards patients

3. Do painless dentistry and create great, aesthetic, long lasting outcomes

4. Collect every patient from reception

5. Return every patient to reception and explain to the receptionist, within the patient’s hearing,  the patient’s requirements for the next appointment

6. Run on time

7. Identify all the pathology in a patient’s mouth and show them with intra oral cameras and radiographs

8. Offer solutions to this pathology in a hierarchy of necessity and choices. Spend enough time doing this

9. Don’t use dental language with patients and definitely not language such as exam, scale and polish, big filling etc

10. Operate fast enough

11. Take responsibility for hitting your own Average Daily Yield targets

13. Keep clear, coherent records in line with GDC guidelines (but not at the expense of running late)

14. Don’t always raise a fee, occasionally do something for nothing for a patient if it feels right and if it lifts the goodwill

15. Don’t discount the fees

16. Arrive at the practice in good time (half an hour before first patient) wearing smart casual or formal wear, not jeans and trainers and not clinical clothing

17. Greet (all of) the support team and their colleagues with courtesy

18. Huddle with your team 15 minutes before the first patient to review the day list and support anyone experiencing problems

19. Ask for referrals using the practice protocol

20. Liaise closely with reception every day, helping to book appointments rationally and productively and fill gaps

21. Be willing to phone patients to see if they are OK after a difficult procedure and to follow up on prescribed work that hasn’t been booked yet or on patients who cancelled and have not rebooked

22. Agree to look after the practice’s emergency out of hours service on evenings and weekends in turn with the other clinicians

23. Handle complaints about your own work or behaviour directly with the patient with courtesy and diplomacy; find a win-win solution before rushing to the defence union

24. Handle complaints about your predecessor’s work or the work of other dentists in the same practice directly with the patient with courtesy and diplomacy; find a win-win solution before rushing to the defence union

25. Be willing to come to practice meetings either in your own time or in your clinical time

26. Be part of your own and others’ appraisal process

27. Book holidays a year in advance

28. Don’t cancel patients at short notice

29. When leaving the practice each day, say goodbye to colleagues and the support team and thank them

30. Don’t gossip about the practice team, colleagues or patients

If you would like help to improve your associates’ ability to build goodwill or need help to find an associate with these behaviours then contact me for a chat.


m. 07770 430576

With all good wishes,


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Dr Simon Hocken is Lead coach: business, practice & clinical leadership at Breathe Business. Connect with him on LinkedIn to see what he’s reading and talking about.


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