The Dental Experience Podcast

Hosted ByRyan Vet

A Dental Podcast All About Creating Experiences Worth Sharing
No matter your role, as dental professionals, it is our responsibility to provide exemplary patient experience and care. In each episode of this dental podcast we will hear from experts on how to create a positive patient experience while simultaneously growing your practice.

Episode 306: The Critical Role of Dental Assistants, with IgniteDA’s Kevin Henry

There are over 300,000 dental assistants in the US, and Kevin Henry is on a mission to empower, enlighten, and educate all of them. Their role is critical to the culture, comfortability, and profitability of the dental practice, and today Kevin gives his tips for assisting the assistants.

The Dental Experience Podcast Kevin Henry

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Voiceover: Today on The Dental Experience podcast.

Kevin Henry:  People don’t work in a dental practice, they work in a small business.

Ryan Vet: You can’t see my heart, but my heart is keeping me beating you can’t see my brain, but my brain is keeping me going and thinking.

Kevin Henry: Whenever you were first dating the things you got to know about your spouse or your significant other, maybe their fears, their desires, what they want. You know, sometimes they just want to get out of there, let’s be honest.

Ryan Vet: Michael Jordan said, “Yeah, he played on the Bulls, how do you know him?” They’re like, “He played on the Tar Heels.” I said, “Who are the Tar Heels?”

Kevin Henry: Those words will just break like a, nails on a chalk board.

Voiceover: This is The Dental Experience podcast. Here’s your host, Ryan Vet.

Ryan Vet: Welcome to another episode of The Dental Experience podcast. I’m so excited to have with me Mr. Kevin Henry. So, Kevin and I have seen each other around over the years, and then, starting January of this year, we had the unfortunate experience of being in Napa together.

And then we ran into each other to the next weekend at Yankee, and then ever since have caught up and just gotten to know each other, and I’ve gotten to hear what Kevin has done with IgniteDA. And so Kevin, welcome to the show.

Kevin Henry: Thanks Ryan. I appreciate it. And I will suffer through Napa with you anytime, you just say when.

Ryan Vet: Sounds good. Well, I think we’re going back there next year and I’m bringing my wife this time for speaking consulting network. My wife is also a dentist. I, I met her when I was an RA – don’t tell my boss – in undergrad, but you also have a cool story with SCN and meeting  your wife, and I would love to hear about that.

Kevin Henry: I do actually. Yeah, I was lucky enough to meet the love of my life at the SCN meeting in 2011 in Dallas. Saw her from across the room, she has very white, blondish hair and it was very noticeable. Saw her from across the room. I was like, ‘who is that?’

And we ended up sitting at the awards banquet the next night together, and we went out to dinner after that. I took her to In and Out Burger, you know, so yeah. You know, you gotta go big or go home, come on. And, anyway, she  stuck around, we did long distance for two years. She lived in Seattle, I lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I was working for Dental Economics at the time.

And, yeah, we exchanged our rings under Juliet’s balcony in Verona, Italy, and now we live in Colorado, and life’s good, man. It absolutely is.

Ryan Vet: That sounds incredible. And we’ve talked a little bit about SCN on the show over the past couple of episodes in a couple of seasons, but SCN is where a lot of the speakers and consultants that you hear at the national trade shows, that you have in your office.

That’s where they get together and learn how to be better so that they can better benefit you and help you grow your practices, and Kevin and I are both members at SCN, andwe look forward to seeing each other and our colleagues there every year. And many of the guests I’ve had on the show over the years, have been members there or have become members there, so that’s exciting.

So, you were with Dental Economics for a while, and Dental Economics is one of the leading journals right now, and talking about the business of dentistry. Could you tell us a little bit about your experience there and then kind of your career throughout dentistry?

Kevin Henry: Absolutely. I took a job at Dental Economics as their managing editor in 1999.

I had just left the world of sports public relations. The job that I had in Tulsa at the time moved to Kansas City, and my daughter was 1 year old at the time, and I knew my parents would hang me by my toenails if I dared move their daughter four and a half hours away to Kansas city. So, I decided to leave sports public relations. Took, took the job honestly as a very temporary basis.

But, whenever I got into it and realized what great people are in this industry, I learned so much and people were so accommodating. And now 20 years later, I sit here and I look at, you know, one of those points of life where you don’t realize that kind of the fates are pushing you in the right direction.

And, and that was definitely a moment for me. I wouldn’t have met my wife. I wouldn’t be here. You know, I wouldn’t have been able to travel to Europe or South Africa or so many places throughout the world without being in the dental industry. So, very lucky and blessed, but it also showed me how a dental practice works from the inside.

You know, I was able to shadow so many practices learning the job for Dental Economics, and that’s where I kind of first fell in love with dental assistants and the role they play in the practice. And I know we’re going to talk a little bit about that in a moment, but Dental Economics allowed me to start speaking.

My My first talk was in 2005 at the Oregon Dental Meeting to assistants and, you know, yeah. Fourteen years later, love what I do, but, but at that time at Dental Economics was so formative for me because it reminds me every day that people don’t work in a dental practice, they work in a small business, and it has to be run like that.

That’s something that every time I go into a conversation with somebody, honestly, that’s in the back of my mind. So, I have a different way, maybe, of looking at things sometimes than others do, just because of that mentality. But, yeah,that time at Dental Economics was, was amazing and I’ll always be thankful to them for giving me a chance.

Ryan Vet: Wow. Well, that’s awesome. And I’m not sure if I heard you right, did you say you went from sports to dental?

Kevin Henry: I did. I did. Yeah. And, full disclosure for you and your listening audience, I’ve never worked a day in a dental practice. My time has always been as a magazine editor or consultant, just watching what people have done and learning from them.

I used to work for the NAI, which was small college athletics. And my job, before I came into dentistry, was going to Sports Illustrated and ESPN and traveling to their locations and telling them why our athletes at these tiny schools needed as much publicity of those as North Carolina or Duke or NC State.

So, I loved it. I thought I’d be doing it forever. You know, but, like I said, sometimes God has other plans and, and here I am.

Ryan Vet: Absolutely. So you just named, and you know I’m in North Carolina, you named the three schools that are literally 15 minutes in either direction from me. So, the important question is, which one’s your favorite?

Kevin Henry: Oh, my gosh, of all those, I will tell you that I probably have more friends who are Tarheels.

Ryan Vet: OK, you passed.

Kevin Henry: Some of my dearest friends from, from afar actually root for the Tar Heels, so I’ll go with them.

Ryan Vet: That’s awesome. Well, I’m from Chicago originally. And so moving to North Carolina, everyone’s like, who’s your team? And I’m like, “the Bull,” they’re like, “Who are the Bulls?” And I was like, “uh,” and they’re like, “have you heard of Michael Jordan?”

I said, “Yeah, he played on the Bulls, how do you know him?” And they’re like, “He played on the Tar Heels,” I said, “Who are the Tar Heels?” So totally different worlds, obviously that was a little bit of an embellishment of the story, but it, we’ve got a lot of good college sports in North Carolina.

And obviously, UNC has the dental school, but that’s not why we’re here. We’re not here to talk about sports. I’m honestly not a huge sports fan myself, but we are here to talk about a topic we haven’t really touched on yet on this podcast. And we always talk about how to create an experience worth sharing, and we talk about how you can do that in the front office, how you can do that as a dentist, but we haven’t touched on assistants and assistants are critical.

I remember the first time I saw an endodontist and his assistant working together, it was like art. It was like watching a ballet or something, and it was absolutely – I mean, they weren’t dancing around the office, but with their hands – it was absolutely incredible. That was the first time, quite frankly, I appreciated dentistry as an art form than just a science.

And so Kevin, you are the assistant guru. I would love for you to just share a little bit about what you do now, and then we can go from there.

Kevin Henry: Happy to do that. You know, as a, as I mentioned a moment ago, I’ve been speaking to assistants around the world now since 2005. My goal has always been to empower, enlighten and educate dental assistants.

And that is how we created Ignite DA about three years ago now as a free community that is designed to really make sure that these men and women understand the vital role they play, not only in the lives of their patients, but also in the bottom line of the business. And, you know, Ryan, there are more than 300,000 dental assistants in the United States.

They make up the largest group of dental healthcare professionals that there are out there, and there are so few of us who are actually speaking to them and reminding them that they’re not just spit suckers. They’re not just a dime a dozen, so many things that I’ve heard through the years that does grate on my nerves.

And it’s so important that they understand the role they play. And so, yeah.  I love speaking to them. I love being a part of their communities, hearing their pain points. And, and yeah, like you said, I try to be their cheerleader. I try to be their champion as best I can because I think they, they need that.

They need a reminder that they play a critical role in the practice’s success. They play a critical role in their patients actually coming back and accepting people as well.

That is

Ryan Vet: so good.

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Basically, the rest of our conversation, I want to talk about two things. One, how, as an assistant, you can create an experience worth sharing, and two, as everybody else in the office, how you can support the assistant and best work with the assistant to make sure that everyone shines. So, let’s start with the first part and really as an assistant, what are some things that they can do every single day to create that experience for the patient and for their team members?

Kevin Henry: That’s such an important question, and it’s one that a lot of assistants sometimes forget the role that they play. And I think to create that experience for the patient, whenever they come into the practice, it’s important to remember that you’ve got to be a good listener. You’ve also got to be a good note taker.

You’ve got to be somebody that listens to the patients that knows maybe their fears, their desires, what they want out of that visit. You know, sometimes they just want to get out of there, let’s be honest, but there are a lot of times that patients may have a deeper desire in there. And that’s where the dental assistant plays such a key role being the conduit between the assistant’s needs and what the dentist actually hears.

Ryan Vet: Yep.

Kevin Henry: And I, I will tell you, Ryan, it’s been crazy for me whenever I’ve been in these practices and seeing how the patients talk to the assistant versus how they talk to the dentist. They seem much more open with the assistant sometimes. And I always tell my assistants, you need to be confident in yourself.

You need to have the clinical skills to know, and believe, that when that dentist prescribes a crown and walks out of the room, that patient may often turn to you and say, what do you think? And that’s your moment to not only make sure that they understand, yes, you need this and here’s why, but also to build up the dentist in their mind and to remind them that he or she has the best interest in mind for that patient.

So, I think there’s a lot of roles that the assistant plays in that experience, but it starts with just being that conduit and being – having empathy with the patient and having, making time even to listen to what they need and then figuring out how do you explain this to the dentist? How do you chart this?

How do you put this in their patient notes so that they know the next time through, this patient may have a fear of this, or this patient talked about her daughter’s wedding in a year or whatever it might be?

Ryan Vet: That’s so good. I do want to spend a couple more minutes just talking about charting and taking good notes and being thorough because often, and I’ve heard this, the complaint of the assistant in the complaint of others in the office that have to work with an assistant, sometimes the assistants don’t feel the importance of taking a good note, but you just brought up a great example of even saying, “Hey, mentioning the wedding,” that can change an office, if you take good notes, and if you do thorough charting.

Kevin Henry: Yeah. It really can. And you know, it’s, it’s a protective measure, as we all know, you know, if you don’t document it, it didn’t happen.

You know? So, so having those clinical notes and having them documented properly is so important. But the background, you know, you’re building that relationship with the patient. And knowing the background and what you can put in there like, you know, life events, you know, triggers that you may see where they start getting, you know, do they really start white knuckling the chair as I always call it, you know, anytime talk about an injection or any kind of pain point, you know, little things like that can make such a difference when that patient comes back in for that crown or six months check-up or whatever it might be.

And I’m also working with a lot of practices on disc and personality, you know, and you and I I’ve talked a little bit about that off offline. I know a lot of practices now are working with personality types and knowing what that patient’s personality type is and marking that in the charts so that they are always aware this person doesn’t want small talk. This person just wants to know the facts and to get out.

You know, little things like that can make such a difference in making sure that that patient experience is the best it can possibly be.

Ryan Vet: That’s so good, and I appreciate you sharing that. So, let’s transition for just a moment and talk about how can others in the office interact with assistants, and how can they make sure that they’re supporting the assistants? You talked a moment ago about how, when the dentist leaves the room, the assistant’s going to kind of have that sympathy conversation, right? And do you agree with what he or she just said? And the assistant has an opportunity to shine and promote the dentist, but how can the dentist and the hygienist and the front office team, how can the rest of the team support the assistants better?

Kevin Henry: I think it’s, it’s all in the way that you start viewing each other in the practice. And it sounds corny and cliche, but it really is about understanding that that assistant is just a big a team member and just a big part of the team success as anybody else, and I’m talking to the dentist as well, anybody else in their practice. And, you know, Ryan, we’re all motivated by different things.

There are different things that make us want to do better, make us want to do more. And I always ask dentists whenever I’m with them and speaking to them, you know, what do you know about your assistants? Why did they get into this? Why do they get up every morning and come into the practice? And if it’s just because they need a paycheck, well, that’s a different conversation.

But I guarantee you, the majority of dental assistants who are out there right now have something that motivates them. And it may be that interaction with their patients. It may be a certain part of the schedule they love more than anything else. I will tell you, I mention oral surgery when I’m around assistants, and their eyes light up like it’s Christmas. You know, it’s about finding what each other’s motivation is and maybe how to even make that a bigger part of the day or a bigger part of their career.

Whenever I talk, I always talk about the importance of having a roadmap because maps always tell you where you are, where you want to go and how you’re going to get there. And how are you talking to your assistant about his or her career? How are you talking to them about where they want to be a year from now or two years from now or five years from now?

It’s so important to kind of know that so everybody’s on the same page and, if there’s something that that assistant loves to do, invest in them, in courses. Invest in them in getting additional training so that they’re not only loving what they do, but they’re actually really good at it, too. You know, those are just some tips that I try to give out there, but it’s all about communication.

It’s all about just talking to each other, you know, Ryan, the first time you and I met. You know, yeah, we, we chatted, we kind of learned a little bit about each other, but you know, you, you dive deeper into a friendship the more that you talk and the more that it grows. And I think that so often in dental practices, we have a very high-level friendship, almost, and sometimes we don’t dive into the weeds a little bit with each other and learn what makes each other tick. I think that’s really important to happen.

Ryan Vet: That’s so good. And I think, you know, just viewing the dental office as kind of a body and you can’t operate without one part, and sometimes we look at some parts as not as visible as others. But you can’t see my heart, but my heart is keeping me beating you. You can’t see my brain, but my brain is keeping me going and thinking. So, you know, it’s the same thing with every role in the dental office, no matter who you are. And if you have a small practice or a large practice, everybody is so critical and so important, and I love that you talked about diving in and getting to know each other. I mean, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you over the past several months, and it’s just the beginning of a, an exciting friendship that you and I are going to have, but the same is true with someone that you spend eight hours a day with four or five days a week with.

Kevin Henry: You know, and, and it may be a little bit different, but think about whenever you were first dating, the things you got to know about your spouse or your significant other, you know, and, and how you kind of dove in just a little bit deeper to learn more about them. And, during the week, we spend more time with that family at work than we do with our real family at home whenever we’re awake.

So, it’s so important to know that family and kind of what makes them tick and dive in a little bit, talk, communicate, find out what each other is kind of – those, those good vibes that you can get out of them, what those are and, and whenever you find that you might be surprised about the common denominators that you find in each other and can build upon those.

Ryan Vet: That

Kevin Henry: is so good. And

Ryan Vet: now Kevin, you’ve dedicated your career to Ignite DA and just really helping dental assistants. So could you talk a little bit about Ignite DA and what that is?

Kevin Henry: Absolutely, and thanks for giving me the chance to do that. We founded about three years ago. My partner is Dr. David Rice, who formed Ignite DDS, and originally that was formed to help the young dentists and the dental students out there kind of, get their feet wet and understand the real world of dentistry whenever they graduated. And one night at dinner, Dave and I were in Buffalo with our wives and we were all sitting around the table and saying, you know, wouldn’t it be great if these young dentists and young assistants grew up together and learned from each other and how to work together?

And, you know, like we were just talking about how to understand each other better, and that’s how Ignite DA was formed. But we also know that it’s not just the young assistants who need that. It’s not just those who are in school who need to know how to interact with each other better, it’s so much for every assistant who’s out there.

And that’s been our goal with Ignite. We are lucky enough to work with the Yankee Dental Congress, you know, you and I saw each other in Boston. We have the dental education track at the Chicago Midwinter meeting, we worked at the Hinman meeting on a full day of education for assistants. We go around the country with some clinical partners and work with dentists and assistants together to, again, form that bond.

So, it’s really become a passion of mine. I was lucky enough to speak at the first ever Dental Assistant Congress held at the South African Dental Association meeting in Pretoria, South Africa.

Ryan Vet: Wow.

Kevin Henry: And so to see it grow, and to see people realize that assistants need education and they need people actually speaking to them, not just lumping them into a group.

It’s so important to their growth and to their career. And so I’ve, I’ve been very blessed to be able to do that. And, uh, Ignite DA is completely free. We’re at, would love to have you as a part of that, we have webcasts, podcasts, blogs, a lot of information on there for assistants that can kind of hopefully break them out of the rut and remind them just how important they are.

Ryan Vet: Yeah. And I just want to reiterate, you have free education for these dental assistants, which is great, and then very inexpensive continuing education. Could you – it’s $5. Is that correct?

Kevin Henry: $5 a credit hour. Now, that’s the best deal that you’re going to get, to be honest with you. We teamed up with our friends at Patterson Dental for that.

So $5 a credit hour, we help assistants get their mastership or fellowship in the ADAA. We help them work toward what the – whatever they might be working toward with the dental assisting national board, who credentials dental assistants throughout the country. So we want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to help dental assistants take that next step in their career. And I love what I do. Absolutely.

Ryan Vet: That’s awesome, Kevin. And I just want to reiterate to the listeners that Kevin truly provides a service, and he truly just loves making people be better in their roles. Making team members excel. You don’t see a lot of people that are not in it for the money, but are in it for just encouraging and really creating unity among the team.

So, I highly recommend anyone that’s a dental assistant or even a dentist, one of these young dentists as he talked about growing up together. I like that that phrase a lot, but just talking about how to make that team click. And in our last couple of minutes, Kevin, I know we didn’t talk about this before, but I’m going to throw it out there.

A lot of times, assistants are one of the more requested temporary employment positions in an office, and being a temp team member can be so challenging because you’re in somewhere one day and the next place the next day, do you have one or two tips you could share with people who may be on their, their Fridays off or their Mondays off or whatever day they may have off, that decide to temp how they could best fit into an office that’s not their regular day to day office?

Kevin Henry: Absolutely. I, you know, I think one of the biggest things that I always tell assistants is that you’ve gotta be flexible, and, God bless them, they’re some of the most flexible individuals in our industry, and they’re often doing 10 different things at once, but it is about being flexible.

And it’s about walking into a practice and understanding what their needs are versus bringing your own set of expectations into it. I’ve heard so many times people say, “Well, that’s not how we did it in my previous practice,” and those words will just grate like a nail on a chalkboard , you know? So I think it’s about being flexible.

I think it’s about really taking time to understand what the culture means. Even if you’re in there for a day, you’re still a part of that practice’s culture, still a part of that business culture. So what do you take away from that? And even if you don’t maybe agree with everything that’s done in the practice, there’s gotta be some things that fit into your core values, so how do you emphasize those?

So that would be, that would be my tip. Be flexible, know what you’re getting into and also know where that practice’s strengths match your own so that hopefully, you know, your day or two or whatever it might be is as beneficial as possible.

Ryan Vet: That’s great. And for the assistant that’s just done with school and they’re looking for a job right now about this time of year, what would you recommend to them?

Kevin Henry: I would recommend to them that they, first of all, just get out there. Go into dental practices, you know, and when you go into those practices, be professional, look professional, have a professional resume, be ready to talk about what it is that you bring to that practice. And I always recommend getting on a practice’s website before you ever step foot in their door.

What does their mission statement say? What kind of practice is this? Is this a high-tech practice or a low tech? You know, how does it align with what you want to do in your career? I don’t believe that dental practices should hire just because somebody has got a heartbeat, and I don’t believe someone should walk into a job just because they need one.

I think that that a well-qualified, personable, empathetic assistant will always have opportunities for employment. And so, I think that as an assistant, you certainly should be picky with where you work and where you want to go, because that practice is going to be the next step in where you want to go in your career, that next step along the map that we talked about.

My advice would be, be professional, but also be picky.

Ryan Vet: That’s so good. And for being professional and having a professional resume, does Ignite DA offer solutions like that, or do you know somewhere where they can go?

Kevin Henry: We do. We actually, we actually have a lot of friends in the industry who can do that.

And I’ll just give a shout out to one of our board members, Tia Hunter is a dental assistant in the St. Louis area. She is phenomenal, and she has also done so much hiring of assistants, so she’s been on both sides of it. And we’re lucky enough to have her as, as one of our biggest advocates for those young assistants trying to figure out their next steps in their career.

So absolutely, you know, we we’d love for you to reach out. We’re happy to help any way that we can. And if you just need advice, even on what – and I’m using air quotes here – professional looks like, you know, reach out cause everywhere is different. Everybody has a different perception of that.

Ryan Vet: Hmm. That is so good, Kevin. Well, I appreciate your time today and just appreciate the insights you’ve poured into this episode. And I think this has been a really helpful episode for me even as I talk to offices and really try to build that team camaraderie and just talk about the importance of assistants and the team as a whole.

So, I appreciate your time here.

Kevin Henry:  Hey, Ryan, it’s been a blast. Thanks for having me on. And like you said earlier, I’m looking forward to us growing our, our friendship and our relationship, and doing great things together.

Ryan Vet: Well, thank you, Kevin. I appreciate that. And I’ve got your contact information, but is there a way that the listeners could get your information or any information that they could find out more about Ignite DA?

Kevin Henry: Absolutely check us out. Ignite I G N I T E D A dot net. And if you want to reach me, my email address is pretty easy. It’s Kevin dot Henry, H E N R Y at Reach out, I’ll be happy to help in any way that I can.

Ryan Vet: Well, thank you so much, Kevin. I appreciate your insight on the show, and I look forward to, like you said, continuing our friendship as we continue to get to know each other at SEN and around as we pop up at different trade shows and see we’re both speaking or exhibiting there.

So I appreciate everything, Kevin, and thank you so much for your time.

Kevin Henry: Sounds like a plan. Have a good one, my friend.

Ryan Vet: And listeners. Thank you so much for listening to another episode of The Dental Experience podcast. Please, if you liked this episode, share it with a friend, share it with a colleague. And if you have a minute, we strive for five here at the podcast, and we’d love for you to write us a review.

Thank you so much.

Voiceover: Thank you for listening to The Dental Experience podcast. For show notes, to ask a question or for more information, visit The ideas discussed during this episode are the opinions of the participants and do not serve as legal, financial or clinical advice.

Until next time, this is the Dental Experience podcast.

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The Dental Experience Podcast is hosted by Ryan Vet and is edited by Earfluence.

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