Last year, Finney Dental in New Brighton became the first dental office to win the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota's Integrity Award for demonstrating integrity and a strong commitment to ethics in business.
Dr. Mark Finney's office won the Category I award for businesses with one to 10 employees. Finney, 61, has been a dentist for 29 years. His practice also includes four assistants and two hygienists.
QWhat makes your office special?
AIt's important that employees as well as patients know they're valued. Besides the 401(k) retirement plan, paid vacations and personal days, we also have employee gatherings at Champps after work for downtime with co-workers and their families.
Before new patients come in, I call them the day before the appointment to ask questions, hear concerns and tell them I'm looking forward to meeting them. In the evening, I also call every patient who had a procedure done that day to make sure they're feeling OK. People aren't used to that kind of personal attention. Sometimes they say, "I can't believe you're calling me," or "Did you think that something wasn't going to be OK?"
QHow much time do you spend with patients?
AA new-patient exam takes 90 minutes. We look at the mouth with a magnifying camera so patients can see what I'm looking at, but on a 32-inch monitor. Patients are sometimes put off by the size of the image but they're curious. We charge only $65 for the 90-minute visit. It's not easy for some patients to come into a new situation and a dentist that's new to them.
QWhat kinds of treatments or services do you offer to make a visit more palatable?
AUn-numbing patients before they leave the office is now available. There are also some anesthetics that wear off in 30 to 60 minutes instead of several hours.
We can do crowns that are designed with computer aids instead of using the gooey impression material. We take pictures, make the crown in the office and install it the same day on posterior teeth.
QHow do you ease the pain of saying, "This is going to hurt"?
AWe don't hurt people. Nobody likes a shot in their mouth, so we spread a topical gel to numb the area of injection. There are ways to give the anesthetic slower to make it less painful. When I was young, a dentist gave me a fast injection in my upper lip area and I saw stars. Sometimes people ask if we gave them a shot because they don't remember getting one. It also helps not to wave the syringe around.
QCan you get people to take better care of their teeth without shaming them?
AScolding doesn't do any good. It isn't easy, but if someone hates to floss we can suggest other methods such as floss picks or floss handles. The hygienists try to have fun with it, like seeing how many times they can fit the word "floss" into the conversation with the patient.
QWhy do dentists ask us questions when our mouths are full?
AIt's a bad habit. We end up in these monologues or we're talking with an assistant about who did this in what year, or what was the name of that movie or book. Five minutes later, when we finally give the patient a chance to talk, they spit out the answer that they couldn't wait to tell us.
QWhat options do you recommend for low-income people without insurance?
AGo to [www.tinyurl/y8un6y2] for a list of low-cost dentists in the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota. Besides the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry clinic, try the dental assistant/hygienist schools [Argosy in Eagan, 651-846-3381; Hennepin Tech dental assistant program in Brooklyn Park, 763-488-2569; Herzing dental hygiene clinic in Crystal, 763-231-3174; Century College dental hygiene clinic in White Bear Lake, 651-779-5787 and Normandale Community College dental hygiene clinic in Bloomington, 952-358-8608].
QLast year a blogger wrote a post titled "10 reasons why your dentist probably hates you too." How can patients get a better experience at the dentist?
ABe interested in what's going on and be up front about any fears. We can allay them. For example, some patients get a ride here. A new patient told us about gagging easily, so we offered nitrous oxide. The patient didn't know it was an option. Another patient didn't like having cotton in the mouth. We can work around that. One patient was worried that an implant would be too long, so we made a mock-up first.
Some people are adamant about not wanting any anesthetic. My own mother told me that she thought I would be more comfortable if she didn't get any novocaine. Some patients really hate the numb feeling. They don't even flinch during the procedure.
Others might want to consider nitrous oxide. It doesn't make you unconscious or so out of control that you say inappropriate things. It's like having a glass of wine.
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633