Tim Harris BDS MFDS RCS (Eng) MSc (Dental Implantology) of the Dental Implant Clinic in Bath explores what it takes to deliver, and how to recognise the qualities of a good dental mentoring programme.
A decade ago few people had even heard of dental implants but today the situation is very different. As patients have become better informed they are increasingly coming into dental practices seeking implant treatment and their expectations about the outcomes are high. With patients living longer and healthier lives the demand for aesthetic and permanent solutions for missing teeth is only going to increase and implant dentistry is becoming a very attractive option for GDPs wanting to develop their skills and offer this service to their patients.
As the popularity of dental implants has grown, so too has the demand for quality implant training and the services of a mentor. This is because learning to perform implant dentistry through a training course which is led by an experienced clinician acting as mentor is a requirement of the FGDP Training Standards in Implant Dentistry (2016).
So, what should an aspiring implant dentist be looking for in a quality mentoring programme?
- Building professional relationships
Being a mentor is not just about teaching – it’s being part teacher, part coach and part friend. It’s getting to know someone and building a professional relationship with them to help build implants into their practice, making it a predictable and reliable treatment option for their patients. What we try to do at the Dental Implant Clinic is reduce the number of variables our mentees have when they start out on their implant journey. Very often dentists who start out in implants are known to have a higher failure rate, therefore, the fewer the variables, the less likely they are to have problems.
- It’s all in the planning
The idea of the mentoring system is not to just take anyone on and let them place implants without any thought or planning. As a mentor we help to make sure our mentees assess their cases perfectly and pick suitable cases for starting out, though some will have more experience and are purely looking for help on more difficult cases. It’s a two-way relationship: the mentor and mentee have to feel comfortable with the difficulty of the case being taken on.
It’s important to teach our mentees that implant dentistry is not just about placing the implant, it’s everything from selecting and ordering the right implant, getting the correct materials and kit together, communicating with the laboratory right through to setting up the surgery in their practice along with their nurses.
- Improving knowledge
Most of the dentists I mentor have a lot of theoretical knowledge but are wanting to improve their practical knowledge. It’s all well and good knowing how to place an implant but being guided to actually place an implant teaches you so much more. Many of our mentees have invested heavily in themselves, completing postgraduate degrees or undertaken further training to ensure they’re not just placing implants for the sake of it, but are developing both their skills and their businesses.
- Case assessment
Mentees come with mixed levels of experience – some may have placed more than 50 implants and others only three or four. However, what a mentor should be looking for is how they assess their cases to work out whether they are suitable. Feedback is very important, and time should be set aside to review each case – every aspect from the treatment planning, to the procurement of the materials, and to the choice of implant.
- Building your confidence
It’s not just about the level of experience, mentees also have different outlooks – some are inherently under-confident so it’s really important for a mentor to boost their confidence. Equally, there are those who think they can do everything on their own and it’s the job of a mentor to ask questions as to whether they really have the necessary skills to do that. A mentor is not in a position to tell them what they can’t do it, but instead it’s making sure they understand themselves and their own abilities and making sure that feedback is in place.
- Building patient confidence
Often the presence of a mentor in daily practice is considered a barrier to patients who may think their surgeon lacks the necessary experience to place implants. However, I find the majority of patients like to feel they’re part of an educational journey and feel reassured it’s not just one dentist placing an implant on their own, rather there is someone else there vetting and checking. The level of detail and precision a mentor requires and demands from mentees means that patients are really understanding and recognise they’re getting the best possible treatment in an environment that’s comfortable to them.
- Return on investment
Mentoring can seem an expensive option, especially for young dentists just starting out. However, the opportunity to place implants in your own practice is invaluable. From a practice owner’s point of view, a mentor is not only bringing in experience and putting systems in place to generate more business for the practice, they’re also educating the dental team and building a rapport with them.
While upfront costs for both formal implant training and mentoring can be substantial it’s important to look at the long-term benefits and factor them into your financial forecasting. Be prepared to make a loss for the first few cases, but as your implant practice and reputation starts to grow you will make a return on investment relatively quickly.
The end game…
Mentors are in it for the long run; we don’t just set our mentees up, attend for one or two cases and leave; we ensure communication lines are open and remain a point of support for the foreseeable future. Our aim is to build a network whereby the mentees learning to place implants today will become the mentors of the future. On the Straumann Mentoring Programme we strive to ensure every dentist who goes through the programme is able to develop their skills to the fullest for the better of their patients. A structured implant programme gives the reassurance that the mentee will learn tried-and-tested, evidence-based treatments and protocols to ensure they are placing implants in the cases where they are most likely to get successful outcomes. Nothing builds a practice more rapidly than successful outcomes!
To find out more about the Straumann Clinical Mentoring Programme, call the Straumann Education Department on 01293 651270 or visit http://straumannmentoring.co.uk/