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Four Keys to Successful Dental Scheduling

In order to have effective, productive, and smooth-running dental scheduling, the dental office assistant needs to have a basic knowledge of dental terminology and procedures. Clear communication between the office assistant, dentist, staff, and patient is critical. Time must be allotted for proper infection control as well as consideration for special needs of the patient. This may seem like an overwhelming juggling act but following simple techniques will be the key to an efficient dental practice.

First point of contact

The first point of contact a patient has with the office is usually the telephone. This is why dental scheduling is key. Calls need to be handled promptly, clearly, and with a smile. One technique is to have a mirror at the front desk. Before you answer the phone, look into the mirror, breathe, and SMILE.

Your smile will reflect in your voice. Speak clearly and slowly. Even if everything around you is frantic, NEVER let it show in your demeanor or in your voice. You are the glue that holds the office together. Be professional and calm. Gather complete information from the patient. You might want to set up a template, so you do not miss any important information. After a while it will become second nature and the template will no longer be needed.

Medical emergencies

Medical emergencies can be avoided by having a complete and current medical history for each patient. Review the medical history with your dentist. A diabetic patient may not want the 8am appointment if they did not have time to eat. A hyperactive child should not be placed at the end of the day when they are tired after a full day of school. Know your patients and schedule accordingly.

Break up procedures

My favorite dental scheduling technique is ROCK – WATER – SAND. Rock appointments are heavy appointments: root canals, major surgeries, crowns and bridges, high production visits. Water appointments are washes: no charge visits such as denture adjustments, suture removals or post-operative checks. Sand appointments “fill in” the rest of the day such as basic restorative.

TOO MANY ROCKS SINK THE SHIP. If you have a day full of rock appointments, you will have very high production, and hopefully high collections, but you will have a burnt-out staff. A day filled with water or sand appointments has the staff working very hard and even though they look busy, end of day production will not be that high.

This also applies when scheduling hygiene. No hygienist wants a full day of quadrant periodontal scaling.  Sealants occasionally break up their day too.

Work Smarter, Not Harder with Dental Scheduling

Have a serious conversation with your providers. Find out when they want their rock appointments. I worked with a young associate dentist who played in a band. He would be in bars playing until 2am – 3am then coming into work at 8am. Needless to say, he did not want any rock appointments at 8am – he was his best in the afternoon. Another dentist might be a morning person who wants a heavy morning and a light afternoon. This is where communication comes in.

Watch times allowed for visits. There are some dentists who can do a crown prep in 45 minutes where others may take 90 minutes. Allowing too much or too little time disrupts the flow of the day. If your dentists is always behind schedule the patients will notice.

They may start coming in late for appointments because they “know” they will have to wait anyway. One of the biggest reasons for broken appointments is attitude. Once you show a patient that you respect their time, they will respect yours by keeping their appointments. This is a win-win for everyone.

As the office assistant, YOU control the flow of the office. By following simple rules, you can be the deciding factor into the success and happiness of your office. You are the key, and NEVER underestimate the power of an office assistant.


Written by Colette Jesikiewicz, CDPMA, FADAA