By: Jeff Shirck DDS, MS and Jeff Mastroianni DMD, MS


You know the scenario: It’s 3:30PM, your office is humming along with the afternoon rush, and you are popping back and forth from chair to chair. You are working on one side of the clinic, but you hear a mom on the other side of the clinic as your assistant, “why does the doctor spend such little time at the chair?” This is no doubt a question that runs through many parents’ minds when they are sitting in the clinic watching the orthodontic assistants “do all the work.” How does your team member respond? “Well, uhh, it’s just that we’re allowed to assist the doctor and we just do what the doctor tells us to do.”àthis was an actual response I heard from one of my staff members.

I knew from this incident (and many more like it that occur daily), we needed to improve our communications and training. In this case, the staff member was caught off-guard, answered honestly, and felt they did a good enough job of explaining. How would I have preferred they respond?

Question: “Why does the doctor spend such little time at the chair?”

Answer: “That is a GREAT question and one that a lot of parents ask or at least wonder about. As opposed to every other field within dentistry, the main job of an orthodontist is actually without a drill in their hand. Haha. When Dr. _________ met Johnny at his first exam, he developed a comprehensive treatment plan that is to be completed over the course of treatment. When Dr. _________ comes to the chair, it’s typically to evaluate see how Johnny’s teeth are moving and to determine if any changes need to be made to the treatment plan. From his assessment, he let’s me know how he wants Johnny’s treatment to proceed. As an orthodontic assistant, I have received extensive specialized training in orthodontic assisting from Dr. __________ as well as hold a radiographic certification through the state dental board.”

It is our job as doctors, teachers, and practice administrators to do everything we can to prevent them from being caught off-guard. So what can we do? Let’s role play! Spend the next month requiring each staff member to write down 4-5 questions each week (doctor included!) and by the end of the month you will have a lot of really good questions to discuss. Block out two longer chunks of time to get through the questions to come up with the answers you want and are comfortable with for your practice. Once you have the answers, get them all on paper and give them to your staff members to study and memorize. We have established team meetings where we discuss these questions, role play, as well as have prepared quizzes to give to staff members if there is ever a down moment so they can write out how they would respond. You can also try to set aside a couple of minutes in your morning huddle meeting to have two team members role play with one of the questions in front of everyone. The goal is to always put our staff members in situations where they are confident.

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