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Jul/Aug 2012
Volume 33, Issue 7

Cultivating the Ideal Periodontist-Restorative Team

Mark K. Setter, DDS, MS

Historically, a leader was the person in charge. In a military model, the commander would give the orders, the subordinates oversaw their implementation, and those lowest in the chain of command carried them out. By following the orders, determination and vigilance often met with success. Leaders received praise and their subordinates maintained employment.

The contemporary definition of leadership is rooted more in an understanding of the human spirit and principles of self-motivation. True leaders not only understand this idea, but they are able to exploit it by discovering what motivates individuals, then facilitate their personal growth to achieve the highest levels of success for the entire team. Periodontists and restorative dentists can use this philosophy with immense success by nurturing the ideal interdisciplinary dental team.

By defining “customers” as those who should be getting what they want out of the relationship, who are the customers of the ideal interdisciplinary dental team? Unquestionably, the needs of patients are the primary focus of the team’s efforts. The entire dental team must discover patients’ true desires and make every effort to produce not only the desired outcome of treatment, but to satisfy their needs during the entire treatment process, from the first phone call to the completion of active care.

Ensuring Team Focus

Likewise, in the interdisciplinary setting of modern dentistry, restorative dentists should be regarded as periodontists’ customers, because periodontists need to ensure that the interdisciplinary team is focused on making sure restorative dentists get what they want. What do they want from the interdisciplinary team? Periodontists should take the time to find out the answers to this question. One of the key attributes of a contemporary leader is the ability to listen, with no personal agenda tainting the words being spoken. Developing the ideal perio-restorative team requires an honest effort on the part of the leadership to have conversations that reveal not only the expectations of the restorative dentist, but also reveal the “wish list” of the restoring office. When would the ideal time be to make contact between team members? Before an examination? After an examination but before the treatment conference? Or after the treatment conference has been completed? How would the restoring office like to receive communications—by mail, fax, e-mail, or through personal contact?

In a relationship between restorative dentists and their dental laboratory technicians, the doctor wants to make sure the technician receives everything needed, with maximum attention to detail, in order to achieve a winning result for the team. Giving more is the key to receiving more. The same is true of the relationships that exist on an interdisciplinary dental team. If every team member learns the “wants” of the other team members with maximum attention to detail, and makes every effort to deliver for the benefit of the team, the results can be remarkable. Each restorative dentist may have slightly different “wants,” so individualized attention and delivery are required.

If leadership is the common denominator to having ideal perio-restorative teams, there are attributes that should be developed to enhance the number and quality of these teams. Leaders, in the contemporary meaning, have several qualities in common, all of which can be easily developed.

Leadership Qualities

The first quality essential to leadership is an optimistic vision of the future that is better than the view of the past or the present. Leaders must help create a shared goal in which all team members have a commitment to the team that supersedes any commitment to an individual. The practice of dentistry is not easy, and many dentists acquire a belief system from their patients rather than creating a belief system their patients can embrace. The leader of a perio-restorative team can facilitate the development of a diagnostic standard of care independent of patients’ beliefs. A successful standard is one that assures that every patient seeing any member of the team will receive a diagnosis that identifies any and all risk factors that could interfere with a lifetime of good oral health. The team should unite around a shared vision of optimism, not a dictated statement.

The second quality leaders must develop is a sharpened set of listening skills that will allow them to understand each member of the team, putting their needs ahead of his/hers. The goal should be communication skills that support team goals over individual goals. By asking better questions and more of them, the best ideas can be brought out that support the highest objectives the team could aspire to achieving.

Third, a leader must develop empathy for the goals of the team and to the individuals therein. Zig Ziglar wrote in his book See You At The Top, “You can have everything in life that you want, if you just help enough other people to get what they want.” Leaders put others first. Consistently facilitating the success of others can be viewed like foundation blocks to a building. The higher the building desired, the more foundation blocks need to be put in place.

The fourth quality a leader must possess may seem obvious, but to be properly regarded, it must be overwhelmingly clear to every member of the team. It is said, “If you don’t believe the messenger, you won’t believe the message.” Maintaining an office built upon honesty is always the right policy. Consistently committing to a vision and delivering on promises creates an atmosphere that everyone can admire. Trust comes from behaving consistently, communicating clearly, treating promises seriously, and being forthright in interactions.

As a fifth quality, leaders seek to empower others to act and even lead when appropriate. By making team members feel equal and capable, a leader can bring out leadership in others. Among the points made in Dale Carnegie’s book How To Win Friends and Influence People is that the way to win people to a desired manner of thinking is to let them do the talking, give them a feeling of importance, and praise their good qualities. In a clinical situation, the interdisciplinary team should allow for co-diagnosis, with all team members sharing input into the goals of treatment, the challenges that need to be addressed, and the process best used to achieve the shared team goal.

Why We Do It

Finally, more important than what is done and how is why it’s done. Members of the ideal perio-restorative team share a common list of reasons why they actively participate in the profession of dentistry. “We do dentistry that changes people’s lives” is the slogan embraced by the author’s office, and all team members know this is why they come to work. The loftier the reason why, the higher the success the team will achieve.

Thirty years ago, when the author was a dental student, the leading clinicians at the prominent schools around the country were periodontists. They included Drs. Ramfjord, Cohen, and Schluger. Leadership has long been a cornerstone of the role of periodontists within the dental community, one that they should continue to embrace. The dental profession admires leadership, and there has never been a more important time to redefine and facilitate leadership to help each perio-restorative team achieve success together.

About the Author

Mark K. Setter, DDS, MS
Private Practice
Port Huron, Michigan

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