Home Dental Episode #606: Tips to Improve Your Happiness as a Dentist, with Dr. Erin Elliott

Episode #606: Tips to Improve Your Happiness as a Dentist, with Dr. Erin Elliott

by adminjay

Dentistry is an amazing career. You get to control your schedule, who you work with, your income, and your life. So, why are so many dentists unhappy? To explain why that is and what can be done about it, Kirk Behrendt brings back Dr. Erin Elliott, seminar leader from 3D Dentists, to reveal the secrets to improving happiness. Stop dreading Mondays! To create a happier practice for you, your team, and your patients, listen to Episode 606 of The Best Practices Show!

Episode Resources:

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Learn more about 3D Dentists

Main Takeaways:

Figure out what you like about dentistry.

Create a great culture and environment.

Surround yourself with happy people.

Get your schedule and income right.

Delegate what you don’t like doing.

Find a mentor and take great CE.

Focus on things you can control.

Add the right technology.

Set achievable goals.


“I feel like we have been blessed in the career that we have chosen, and it breaks my heart to think that you go to work every day dreading it, or the Sunday night paralysis that I hear about — the dread, the stress, the beaten down, having to go sit in the restroom to deep-breathe because that’s the only place no one bothers you, just one thing after another. It breaks my heart because I do think we’ve been given a gift.” (5:48—6:23)

“Obviously, there are some things in dentistry you might have to do. But really, we are blessed to be able to create and change an environment that suits you. You don’t have to conform to what we’ve been taught, especially nowadays. Nineties dentistry, you were told you drilled and filled, you referred, and you’ll make a pretty good living. But now, you can make it what you want it to be.” (8:24—8:52)

“A good place to start is to simply write down what it is you do like about dentistry. Now, my dad told me this story one time — he was a dentist. He’s passed away now, but he never had an associate because he could never find anyone that he trusted with his patients or connected with. And I always remember this because he said he was in an interview once and he said, ‘Okay. So, tell me what you like about dentistry.’ The associate said, ‘Well, let me tell you what I don’t like.’ I was like, ‘Red flag.’ Right? That’s not the person. So, what is it about dentistry that you do like, and what can we do to promote that, create that? Sometimes, there are things that you have to do. But it’s not all you have to do.” (9:52—10:44)

“I’m not afraid to let people go anymore. I’m really not. It took a little bit of time to get over that, but I want the right people in place, people that when I walk by, I hear them say, ‘Oh, I love this job.’ And some of it is creating a culture. I’m not a micromanager. I find people that take initiative. We have a very fun but professional, friendly — I mean, our tagline is “Join our Family”. I feel like we have that connection. We just had a 30-year anniversary party, and I could not believe how many people were there for 30 years.” (13:24—13:59)

“We create that culture where people feel comfortable. But then, there are still some duds that you get, and you have to not be afraid to let them go and just keep trying. What if you do a lean and mean? Like, we created this beast where we keep growing. But we have a large team because some of it is like, ‘Well, I want to be home with my kids. I only want to work three days a week.’ So, we navigate and negotiate some of that. But what if you had one hygienist, one assistant? That’s not such a bad play. If you don’t want to manage a big team and worry about schedules and hours and all that, just lean and mean.” (14:14—14:56)

“When you feel so overwhelmed, there’s so much going on, life seems to be pressing you down with the family and everything else, what can you control? So, short-term goals are typically money-based, and it’s something that you can accomplish in 90 days. So, it’s getting a new team member, or implementing morning huddles, those little things that you can — my favorite, I still write out checklists because I love making that check. I love making the line through that I’ve got it done. And so, it’s like, what can I get done, easy? And then, some of these longer-term projects, I set aside time for. So, the medium-term goals are like six to 18 months. Like, what equipment are you going to buy? Are you going to drop certain insurance PPOs? What CE can you schedule to get to your long-term goals? Those are more like creating flexibility and satisfaction, something you want to accomplish in two years. Is it building, or moving? Is it introducing new procedures, new technology, new team members to help you implement these things? Do you ever take the time to do that? Plus, it really does feel nice when you can accomplish some of those things and not feel like you’re never getting anything done.” (17:16—18:36)

“So, the first step is goals, and then what you can do to get there. The second is, when you’re looking at long-term, you’re like, ‘Man, my life would be so much easier if I didn’t have to work X amount of days. My body can’t keep up. My work-life balance is out of control. I need to change my hours.’ So, for me, I didn’t even realize I did this because I hadn’t met T-Bone yet. He’s my idol and mentor. I realized that if I worked till 5:00 and got home, the kids were in their monster phase, ready to eat. I’m rushing out of the office. But if I stopped at 4:00, I could tidy up all the tasks that I needed to get done and leave the office, get home when the kids were still okay, and I could spend time with them, help them with homework while my husband made the dinner — and it’s just one hour. One hour made a world of difference. So, my schedule since then became 7:00 to 4:00.” (18:43—19:54)

“Guess what? You get to control the schedule. My partner hated getting up early. He has older kids, so he’s 8:00 to 5:00. So, the office gets to be open that whole time. We capture the 7:00 a.m. hygiene patients and the 4:00 p.m. Never in this world would we ever work past that, because in North Idaho everyone is coaching their kids’ baseball teams. They move here for the lifestyle, so I’m not going to ask my team to work beyond that. Just a simple thing like that.” (20:03—20:34)

“You might need to do a little bit of math, because if you want to make X amount a year that you need to for your lifestyle, what makes you comfortable, the area that you live in, write down also how many days a week you want to work, and then how much time you want off. So, you have to think about how many days a week in the year you want to work, essentially. And then, you need to find out how much you would need to produce a day to do that. So, simple math problem. What is your production now, and what does it need to be to make that happen? Well, there are a few ways you can make that production. One, you can do more on the patients you already have. Second, you can look at what procedures you’re sending out the door.” (20:56—21:48)

­“I don’t want to produce more stuff I don’t like doing. I’m not going to go do root canals just for the money because I really — first, I don’t think I’m good at them. Second, I really don’t enjoy them. So, yeah, I’m going to dread going to work if I have a day full of root canals. And not everyone can get an associate. But it’s not such a bad thing because when I leave, my patients are taken care of. I’m never on-call. We pay our assistants to take the emergency phone home. Rarely get bothered. What is it that you want to get rid of? What things can you delegate? Just do it.” (24:09—24:49)

“In-office payment plans have allowed us to do more quadrant, full-mouth dentistry and sedation too. Like, if you’re already here, let’s get it done. I feel like that’s where we’ve really blossomed, is doing more, and not even in the way I treatment plan. Dr. Harness came into our practice, and she’d be doing two crowns on patients I’ve been seeing for years. And I was like, ‘Huh? They would never do crowns. I had to do big fillings on them.’ She goes, ‘I don’t know. I just told them they needed a crown.’ I was like, you get comfortable, or you think you know people. So, really stepping back and evaluating myself and how I approach treatment planning and the co-diagnosis with hygienists. There are so many nuances that I wasn’t even aware of but did it by instinct. And then, of course, meeting T-Bone and people like you, and listening to podcasts, I realized that there are a few tweaks with what I’m already working with that can make our lives easier.” (24:51—26:00)

“For anyone that physically is exhausted from dentistry, there are other things you can do that aren’t so taxing. For sleep, like I shared earlier, it’s like solving a mystery. It’s detective work, connecting with patients, helping them navigate medical insurance — things like that that I don’t physically take anything. It saves my neck, my back, everything. But it’s also a lot of it I can delegate too, so I could be producing if I wanted to.” (26:46—27:20)

“[We] also [added] technology. We added the cone beam. That increases case acceptance and shows you a lot more dentistry that needs to be done. We did go with the chairside milling, not just the chairside scanning, and we love it. There’s so much flexibility that you can get. I have a whole new lecture on cone beam, and it’s fun to show the potential of the possibilities and how you do get your return on investment. It’s a big plunge, but one that we were — again, we didn’t go, ‘What if . . .? What if . . .? What if . . .?’ I said to my partner, ‘What do you think if we buy a mill, oven, scanner, and a cone beam?’ And he’s like, ‘Okay.’ And it’s been awesome. Not everyone can do that, but it usually does work out.” (27:25—28:12)

“I like to surround myself [with] people that push me a little bit, that show me a different way to do things than we’ve been taught in the past, and really like dentistry.” (28:19—28:30)

“This is one last thing I was going to say about what I do like about dentistry. I remember working on my parents’ boat. We had not put the cover back on, and so there was all this black mold thing that had grown. So, I went out there and I spent four hours cleaning it up. Didn’t make one lick of difference. Couldn’t see a difference. And then, what I realized is with dentistry I get to take this broken-down, diseased thing and make it whole again in a couple hours, and how satisfying that is. It just happens to be attached to humans. Some dentists don’t like the human part of it. But you can find a connection because we’re all humans. One way or another, you can find the connection.” (32:58—33:47)

“There’s a lot that we miss with communication. Like I said, even proposing a treatment plan — I was 16 years into it and thought I had it all figured out, and even have taken extensive communication stuff. And here comes my associate, and I’m like, ‘Oh. I have not arrived yet.’ So, got to keep it fresh.” (34:37—35:05)

“List all of the things you do in a day. Check the ones you can delegate and highlight what absolutely needs to get done. Not everything needs to get done today.” (38:30—38:40)

“Surround yourself with people that are happy too.” (42:11—42:13)

“It’s infectious when you’re around people that love what they do also. And it’s not just in dentistry, just in life.” (42:35—42:42)


0:00 Introduction.

2:59 Dr. Elliott’s background.

4:50 There are too many unhappy dentists.

7:05 Important things to remember.

9:06 What do you like about dentistry?

12:37 Create a family in your practice.

15:53 Focus on your team’s strengths.

17:04 Do the math and figure it out.

23:37 Delegate what you don’t like doing.

26:31 Find a mentor.

28:55 Attend in-person CE.

31:00 Figure out your mix of services.

34:31 Always be learning.

35:21 Have regular huddles.

37:50 Figure out what you can delegate.

39:53 Find your unique ability.

42:04 Last thoughts on improving happiness.

43:03 More about 3D Dentists.

Dr. Erin Elliott Bio:

Dr. Erin Elliott grew up in Southern California but went away to a small NAIA school in Western New York, where she played collegiate soccer and graduated summa cum laude. She graduated Creighton Dental School in the top five of her class. After school, she settled in North Idaho and began her dentistry career. She has a passion for Dental Sleep Medicine, Short-Term Orthodontics, and integrating CAD/CAM and cone-beam imaging into a general dentistry practice. She regularly lectures on these topics.

Dr. Elliott is an active member of her local American Dental Association, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, and was the president and a diplomate of the American Sleep and Breathing Academy. She teaches two-day sleep apnea courses with 3D Dentists and Dr. Tarun Agarwal. She also privately coaches practices about sleep!

Dr. Elliott spends her free time with her stay-at-home husband, Tom, and her two sons. She loves to spend time with friends, golfing, traveling, playing soccer, reading, and serving her community.

Dr. Elliott is dedicated to sharing the tools she has developed and honed over the years in the industry, and she knows these tools will help your practice succeed.

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