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5 Steps to Great Communication at Your Dental Practice 

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Find out why over 1,500 Canadian dentists trust ClearDent to keep their practices running smoothly.

Find out why over 1,500 Canadian dentists trust ClearDent to keep their practices running smoothly.

Feeling overwhelmed? Missing important details? Wanting to feel more prepared when walking into the operatory or when answering an incoming call? You’re not alone. 

Here are 5 ways to get your team in sync using tools they already have. 

1. The Huddle – a daily team touchpoint 

Given how hectic today’s practice has become, it’s understandable that we’ve started to forget about the daily team check-in, aka. the huddle. The huddle plays an important role in that it gives you a chance to discuss challenges and create a plan to resolve them together.  

It’s best practice to make it a habit, build it into your scheduled routines, and make it count.  

For those who have never experienced a huddle, it’s a chance for the team to get together to set goals, discuss patient needs, assign tasks and prepare for the day ahead.  

The typical huddle is anywhere from 10 – 20 minutes and is meant to be brief and direct. Having access to the huddle via a workstation in the meeting room or via ClearDent Cloud can be a benefit when viewing the day sheet and patient charts. 

  • Assign a huddle leader. This role can rotate through the staff and is responsible for keeping the team on task and on time during the meeting.  
  • Recap goals and team announcements 
  • Overview of the day. Each provider is responsible for going through an overview of their day and highlighting outstanding treatment, insurance coverage, patient warnings, and opportunities for same-day treatment. (Good software will have all this information at your fingertips with tools like chart audit reports, treatment status indicators, patient warnings and linked family members accessible from the day sheet.) 
  • Identify special situations. Bring attention to patients who may require special assistance, challenges with things like room turnover, and timely recall checks or assistance with a difficult patient. Determining when a provider is and is not available to leave their patient is important and sets expectations for other team members before the day gets hectic. Sharing these concerns at the beginning of the day allows other team members to jump in and help.  
    Celebrate successes! 
    Bonus topic: Ask the huddle leader to bring a new tip to the meeting. This can be something they’ve learned that would benefit other team members like a shortcut or feature of their practice management software, or a tip relating to loading and unloading the sterilization machine, right down to a tip about an easier way to get to the office during construction

The huddle is your team’s communication hub. After a few meetings, you’ll notice the days are running smoother, the office is more cohesive, and the team is in sync. Your patients will notice too! 

2. Make digital the norm

The sentiment of “A place for everything and everything in its place” couldn’t be more appropriate in a digital world, especially when handling sensitive patient information.  

Phone Calls: 
First, we must abandon the urge to grab the pen and notebook when the phone rings! Make it a habit to open the patient’s profile and enter information in the appropriate place. Here is an example of a “best practice” conversation fully integrating digital into the discussion. 

[Phone rings] 

Receptionist: Good morning, thank you for calling XYZ Dental, Lisa speaking, can I start with your name

Caller: Hi, it’s John Smith 

Receptionist: [Immediately] Hi John, give me just a moment while I pull up your profile. (Patient recognition) 

Caller: Ok, but I don’t have a lot of time. I am heading over to the school to pick up my son. He fell and I think his tooth fell out. 

Receptionist: [Who can see the family file] Oh my goodness, I’m sorry to hear that. I hope Danny is ok. I will let Dr. Smith know you’ll be heading over. Do you have any other information about his condition? (Empathize, restate the problem, let the patient know you heard them and are going to work with them, ask for more information) 

The receptionist can talk to the parent, enter notes, and view the child’s information, making interactions more personal. Remembering the child’s name builds trust and shows they are valued at your practice. 
All of the information gathered during the call is logged directly into the patient file – without the need for hand-written notes that must be added to the file later.

Sticky Notes and Notebooks: 

Next, let’s remove the labels and sticky notes from the monitor and front desk area. This clears the clutter and to incoming patients, makes the office look more organized. 

Reminders and notes may include: 

    • Cancellation requests 

    • Phone numbers and billing information that needs updating 

    • Post treatment reminders 

    • Lab follow-up reminders 

    • Other office to-do’s 

Find a digital home for all these items. Use the to-do list in your practice management software, place a digital sticky note directly on the scheduler, indicate lab case statuses on the scheduler view, and associate those lab cases with the upcoming appointments. Even a reminder like turning off the monitor can be resolved by setting the proper power settings. 

Next, create systems using a digital to-do list to assign tasks to team members. Do not keep a paper notebook of tasks! Things will get lost or missed. Tasks written five pages back are often left outstanding and lose their priority and importance. If you are away for the day, is anyone going to pick up your notebook, decipher your notes and flag items that were due today? The goal is to keep all team tasks digital!  

Set start and due dates, use the priority option to flag items of high importance, associate the task with a patient, and even mark the task as private. Assigning tasks gives ownership to the team member and ensures that items are being taken care of consistently. A good practice management solution will have all this functionality built-in, and you shouldn’t have to purchase other third-party solutions. Here’s an example of how productivity tools enhance efficiency when managing multiple locations: 

The Office manager had a meeting with the clinic lead in location B and would like to create follow-up tasks. While the Office Manager is at location A, she accesses location B directly from her browser and adds the tasks to her clinic leads to-do list. 

Going forward, continue to find ways to digitize the clutter. Scan documents like insurance responses, referral letters, and requests for information directly into the patient file and then securely shred them to ensure patient privacy.   

Relying on a single team member to possess the answers to every question can create bottlenecks and create inefficiency in office operations. It’s important to foster a collaborative environment where patient information isn’t confined to just one person. Sharing information openly among the staff ensures everyone is well-informed and can step in seamlessly when needed. When individuals (unintentionally) hoard information, it not only restricts the flow of knowledge, but poses a significant risk, particularly when that team member is absent. In their absence, crucial details may be inaccessible, leading to confusion and potential disruptions in patient care. By encouraging transparency and open communication, offices can operate more efficiently, ensuring that vital patient information is readily available to all team members. 

Going digital doesn’t need to happen in a day. Set goals and take it step by step. The process of clearing the clutter will gain momentum naturally!

3. Follow up with follow-ups! 

Consistent follow-up is critical for revenue production, and failing to do so can create a perception of disorganization. Implement effective office systems to ensure daily tasks are completed, avoiding reliance on others to handle them later. 

Establishing a follow-up schedule provides a sense of structure, making things feel less overwhelming and allowing the team to concentrate on the task at hand without feeling pulled in multiple directions – leaving incomplete tasks everywhere. 

The office should set practical communication goals for the week. While exceptions and urgent situations will always arise, these goals serve as a framework to maintain organized lists and prevent tasks from being overlooked for an extended period. 

Here is an example: 

Every day:

  • Check the to-do list.  
  • Monitor the waiting list and booked-and-waiting list for patients who need to be rescheduled or pulled forward. 


  • Leverage your Treatment Plan Manager reports to identify unscheduled patients with approved outstanding treatment. 
  • Follow up on pending predeterminations; the insurance company might need additional information. Often, responses are sent directly to the patient, who may not realize they’ve received it or understand its content. 


  • A/R review, send statements bi-weekly and proactively follow up with delayed insurance payments.  


  • Follow up on referrals to specialists. Have specialist treatment updates been scanned into the patient’s file? Is there a need for additional treatment?  
  • Check on your reputation management, how have patient’s been hearing about your office? Have they left feedback that requires action? 


  • Recall Manager – follow up with patients who have received upcoming due and overdue reminders.  
  • Maintain your Patient’s Without a Recall report.  
  • Look for patients who may have been in for their initial exam and hygiene but have not been enrolled in the recall system. 


  • Reconcile lab cases delivered throughout the week to match with invoices received.  
  • As the cases are checked-in, ensure that patients are booked. 

Patients will say yes more often if they receive personalized care from compassionate providers.​ 

4. Patient Communication: How much is too much?  

Effective communication with patients is important in any healthcare setting as it fosters trust and understanding. However, it’s equally important to recognize the boundaries of communication, understanding that there is a fine line between being proactive and overwhelming patients with excessive contact. Striking a good balance is key, ensuring patients are well-informed without feeling inundated. By being mindful of your contact policies, providers can maintain respectful communication, enhancing patient satisfaction and overall patient experience.  

The office should keep these things in mind when setting up communication templates, automated notifications and reminders, as well as outreach by the team for surveys, inactivation updates and follow-ups. Leverage technology to seamlessly connect with both your office and patients, enhancing communication and efficiency. 

  • Establish clear office policies and guidelines for communication progression. For example, you may want to initiate with a text message, followed by an email if there is no response, and if still no reply, make a single follow-up call. 
  • Tailor your communication method based on your audience and the message’s sensitivity. For reminders or basic inquiries like appointment confirmations, text messages are appropriate. For more confidential matters, such as treatment proposals, you should utilize encrypted, password-protected emails if your practice management solution allows for that (and if you use ClearDent, you have this capability built in) 
  • Be mindful of the recipient’s work environment and schedule when considering phone calls. A considerate approach might involve sending a brief text first, asking for a suitable time to discuss important matters over the phone, demonstrating personalized care and respect for their time and privacy. 
  • Use and maintain patient preferred contact methods. Without systems in place, staff will waste time trying to contact patients, only to leave messages. 
  • Do not text patients from a personal cell phone. Ensure you are texting your patients from within the software so that you have an audit trail and record of conversations accessible from the patient’s Chart.​ (If you use ClearDent, you can text from the office phone number which would be best practice) 
  • Provide opportunities for patients to get organized by giving them clear ways to confirm their appointments. 
  • Recall best practices: 
    • Send an automated notification to unscheduled patients 30 days before their due date via email or text which wil be logged directly on their patient chart. 
    • Send another automated notification, if still not booked 1 week after their due date. 
    • Do not put cancelled recall appointment on the waiting list. These patients will be captured in the Recall Manager reports. There is no need to have the same patient on multiple lists. 

5. Communication is more than words 

Effective workplace communication is about active listening, the ability to understand unspoken feelings, and responding with genuine empathy. It’s in these subtleties that true connection and understanding are found, making communication a holistic exchange that encompasses the complexities of human expression and connection within a professional setting. 

Avoid Miscommunication

Choose the proper communication method: Knowing a patient’s preferences is key to effective communication, but so is choosing the proper communicator. In situations like treatment coordination, scheduling, or A/R collections you want to have the proper team member communicating with your patients. One team member may be a better fit according to their experience, efficiency, position or the audience they are going to speak with.  

Message: The message being conveyed should be clear and concise. 

Feedback: Feedback plays a pivotal role in effective communication by offering valuable insights into the reception and comprehension of a message. Actively seeking feedback allows the communicator to gauge the audience’s understanding, ensuring that the intended message aligns with the received one. For instance, in a professional setting, feedback can be instrumental in refining treatment plan presentations, proposals, or instructions. It provides an opportunity for the team member to identify areas of confusion, clarify misconceptions, and adapt their communication style to resonate better with the patient.  

Culture: Understanding the cultural context is important for effective communication. It means being mindful of the customs, traditions, values, and norms prevalent within a specific community or group. For instance, in some cultures, direct eye contact signifies confidence and sincerity, while in others, it may be perceived as disrespectful. Similarly, certain phrases or gestures might carry different meanings across cultures. Being culturally aware helps communicators choose appropriate language, tone, and body language, ensuring their message is received as intended and minimizing the risk of misunderstandings. 

I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure that you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

Robert McCloskey


When feeling overwhelmed and seeking a sense of preparedness, it should be reassuring to know that many dental professionals share these sentiments. Using these practical solutions will help to bring your team back in sync. The daily team huddle serves as a valuable touchpoint, providing a structured opportunity to align everyone’s focus. Embracing digital solutions proves essential in streamlining communication and information sharing, enhancing overall efficiency. The emphasis on thoughtful follow-ups emphasizes the importance of consistent, yet respectful communication, avoiding overwhelming contacts. Communication transcends mere words; it’s about understanding unspoken cues, fostering empathy, and building meaningful connections. By implementing these strategies, teams can navigate their challenges effectively, ensuring a cohesive and well-informed work environment. 

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