Professional Courtesy: A Better 2024, With Help From Your Friends by Dr. Thomas Giacobbi

Professional Courtesy: A Better 2024, With Help From Your Friends

by Thomas Giacobbi, DDS, FAGD, editorial director

One of the message boards in this issue is the story of a dentist who had decided to deny her hygienist’s time-off request. The hygienist had asked for two consecutive weeks off and that, combined with the need to pay a substitute hygienist in her absence, left the dentist frustrated enough to deny the request. I encourage you to read the highlights of the discussion, which can be found here. (Rest assured, this story finishes with a happy ending!)

I also came away from the discussion with two lessons: the importance of getting advice from your peers and the changing face of staffing a modern dental practice.

As I write this column, that lively message board has more than 2,500 views and 150 comments! That scale of feedback about a decision is one of the reasons remains a critical resource for dentists. As it turns out, the original poster in this conversation credited the feedback she received from her colleagues with helping her figure out a way to resolve the dilemma.

Your participation on Dentaltown allows you to learn from others’ experiences and ask for advice on issues specific to you. Take a moment to visit the site today, and I bet you can find a topic relevant to your situation in just a few minutes.

You get what you plan for
The dental staffing issues that have become more commonplace in the past four years can be chalked up to many issues, including the fact there are fewer skilled workers in the dental profession. This means that you may have front-office or back-office team members with less experience and training to do the tasks that keep your office running. In the case of hygienists, the ones graduating from programs in the next few years will help to fill positions that have been vacant since 2020.

Why is this important? Many of our offices will be faced with dilemmas similar to the original poster of that Dentaltown thread I mentioned earlier. People want—and sometimes will need—the freedom to take time off when they want, and those times won’t always conform to what’s convenient for a practice. Our teams will need to work together to cover these absences so the office can continue to run smoothly.

This means that offices will have team members working outside of their typical roles, and sometimes hiring temporary employees, to cover the needs of the practice. If you look at your practice as if every day you had a temp in a different role—hygienist, assistant or front office—you’ll quickly find opportunities to make their day more productive. For example, is everything in your office clearly labeled, including drawers with supplies, items in the operatory and at the front desk? The easier you can make it for someone who has never been in the practice, the easier it will be to have a productive temp, train a new team member or have a cross-trained team member.

Take the time in 2024 to commit yourself to the improved organization of your office and documentation of your processes. Imagine that every day is a training day for someone, and those bumps in the road when a team member is on vacation will be a bit smoother. Hiring a dental assistant with minimal experience will be less of a headache and your experienced team members will be happy to see these new faces take some of the burden off their shoulders.

If you have an office dilemma and need advice, please post your question on Dentaltown! (Head to, then scroll down to the Practice Management forum.) And if you would like to reach me directly, feel free to email me at

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