The dental industry is doing its best to forestall the increasing rates of employee turnover and attrition amidst inflation in a post-pandemic world. Clinic owners are facing a bewildering conundrum of applicant shortages and misfits, staffing needs beyond the norm and patients’ continued demand for excellence. To stem the flow, it is important for clinic owners and practitioners to equip themselves with the tools to identify employee burn-out and to cultivate strategies to shape culture.

A major cause of turnover in the dental profession is “quiet quitting”, a global phenomenon that has become widely popularised. It is thought to be largely linked to the pandemic and its aftermath. However, the Slow Dentistry Global Network (SDGN), a Swiss non-profit organisation, is proposing a deductive argument and an approach that addresses the root cause of this phenomenon.

Slow Dentistry—a modern-day work philosophy—places an emphasis on seeing an appropriate number of patients per day. Our research indicates that many clinics around the world utilise a business model that relies on seeing an excessive number of patients per day, leading to a multitude of problems. The movement advocates for a stress-free operatory environment that is crucial for the well-being of the patient, practitioner and practice as a whole. It is based on four cornerstones:

  1. room disinfection;
  2. informed consent;
  3. proper anaesthesia; and
  4. the use of dental dams.

These cornerstones revolve around an all-encompassing hallmark: personal congruence. From dental practitioners’ perspective, congruence refers to living in such a way that their blueprint of how they should be practising and their reality of how they practise is completely harmonious. SDGN asserts the premise that the more congruence is cultivated within a person, the more self-awareness and self-confidence develop.

The ultimate ramification of not following this growth mindset is a cycle of desperation hiring. The “Great Resignation” predicted by Anthony Klotz is slowly becoming a reality. Experiences connected to the COVID-19 pandemic have opened the eyes of many to the value of family time, pursuing passion projects and, most importantly, consciously detecting chronic stress and early stages of burn-out.

Lockdown-induced solitude juxtaposed the old-fashioned rushed style of dental care. This created a situation where younger practitioners had the opportunity to enjoy their work in a way that was previously prevented by the nature of profit-driven dental practice. In addition to many fresh graduates who are very scared and anxious to enter the workforce, the up-and-comers have needs that are not satisfied by the doctrine embraced by their employers, thus leading to a toxic workplace culture—the main cause of quiet quitting. 

The aforementioned four cornerstones of Slow Dentistry correspond to four pillars of personal congruence:

  1. emotional intelligence;
  2. conscious communication;
  3. healthy responsibility; and
  4. impeccable agreement.

Our philosophy matches each pillar of personal congruence to the corresponding value of each cornerstone. The complexity of this suggested coalescence is far beyond a straightforward elucidation. The aim of this article is to outline these factors and show how aligning and engaging the skill set, efficiency, talent and attitude of team members can result in a positive workplace culture.

Commercialised volume-based dentistry has led to an increased exposure to low-grade stress, which negatively affects the employee even prior to arriving at the clinic. Many dental employees who previously struggled quietly with stress have provided testimonials for SDGN. They reported that they felt stuck in their workplace and were afraid that their opinions would be dismissed or met with retaliation. The attraction–selection–attrition model proposed by Benjamin Schneider explains this situation with a psychological theory which suggests that employees base their person–organisation fit perception on the values portrayed in the workplace. 

SDGN is establishing training programmes and advocacy campaigns to effect change. These programmes target both the younger generation who are transitioning from university to the workforce and the older generation who are agonised by chronic exhaustion and burn-out. These programmes will nurture a universal contemporary approach towards shaping culture to eventually forge real relationships and co-create alignment within the workplace. 

The Slow Dentistry Experience (SDE) is a tutorship programme aimed at providing pre-employment training and development opportunities for young dentists at top Slow Dentistry-certified clinics around the world. Exclusive externships, internships and mentorships will be offered that fully explore Slow Dentistry’s ethos and that build a unified, stress-free relationship between the employer and the employee, which ultimately promotes a healthy work–life balance. The Slow Dentistry Experience is for those who seek inspiration and empowerment in their work and deeply believe in their ability to radically change dental care worldwide. This programme is planned to facilitate and optimise the employment process in dentistry. It is the first stage of system reform. 

The Slow Dentistry Job Board is a complementary stage to the Slow Dentistry Experience. Both stages will formulate a hiring strategy where both parties follow the same guidebook. There is a current lack of a unified system of linking applicants to job providers in dentistry, and SDGN aims to gather like-minded dentists who share the advocated ethos on the same platform. This will drastically diminish turnover rates, resulting in fewer costs, higher productivity and greater knowledge preservation for dental practices. Desperation hiring fills a position with the wrong person, which means a host of problems later. Safeguarding turnover is a process not a policy and is an investment not a quick fix. 

A community platform with a networking hub will be launched where dental professionals at all points of their careers can communicate with each other in one place. Nurturing the next generation in the nuances of Slow Dentistry is expected to generate a resilient workforce with a high degree of self-awareness. The first element of success in dealing and communicating with the dental team and patients is self-confidence, which develops from heightened self-awareness. 

Slow Dentistry places more value on the concept of seeking instead of chasing. It promotes the journey over the destination by advocating for No Half Smiles—a philosophy proposed by Dr Miguel Stanley, a major proponent of ethically based treatment planning rather than financial. The more we learn how to reject quick fixes demanded by patients and enact sound, comprehensive treatment plans, the sooner practitioners will start to put themselves first, creating internal harmony. This harmony cannot be attained without having already developed self-confidence. The emotional and financial aspects of workplace management are the least taught subjects in dental schools, if taught at all, meaning that many young professionals graduate with low self-esteem. SDGN will create a coaching programme to introduce interested dentists to the Slow Dentistry values. The programme will educate young dentists entering the workforce on the principles of innovative leadership by co-creating a customised management style with the operating team, one that aligns with the needs, values and culture of the workplace and attracts patients seeking complete healthy smiles. 

Slow Dentistry’s financial model is the ultimate hedge against indebtedness. Its management style characterises a steadier pace towards financial growth. It garners target patients over a longer period, which ultimately balances out the financial gap that was created by seeing an appropriate number of patients per day. This approach will save the new generation of dentists from falling into possible failure patterns and guide them to foster a well-thought-out mindset for a successful future that satisfies their aspirations. It will not only sustain the careers of those who prefer to keep working as practitioners, but also expedite the transition from practitioner to clinic director for those who possess leadership personality traits. 

Battling quiet quitting and attrition can only be avoided by embracing Slow Dentistry’s philosophy and eliminating a toxic culture, burn-out, misfits and favouritism in the workplace. The more congruent we are, the higher our self-awareness will be and ultimately the more self- confident we will become to preserve our mental health. A sustainable dental practice is a Slow Dentistry-certified practice. 

*Written by Huthaifa AbdulQader, DDS

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