Dr. Krista McDaniel working on patient

Doubling Dental Through Doctor-Partner Alignment

Author: Alexa Mullins
Date: 05.10.23 Read Time: 8 min

Lightwave Dental CEO Justin Jory, and Chief Dental Officer Dr. Clifton Cameron doubled growth several times over a 5-year period. Founded in 2016 with eight distinct practices, Lightwave grew to 12 locations in the first year and 20 locations shortly after with $45 million in collections. By 2019, Lightwave doubled in size to $98 million in collections across 40 offices. Lightwave finished 2021 with 72 practices and $190 million in collections. The team more than doubled to 1,800 team members up from 800 in 2021. Putting people first and enabling doctors to own and lead is creating new opportunities at Lightwave.

By Dr. Clifton Cameron, Chief Dental Officer of Lightwave Dental, and Justin Jory, CEO of Lightwave Dental

Dentistry is a team sport. A dentist cannot maximize her clinical production without a fully engaged and coordinated team. For a dental practice to double its growth, dental leaders must train, motivate and engage their teams. A dental group cannot grow without strong local leaders at each and every practice that “get it, want it, and have the capacity to do it.”1

Lightwave Dental was founded upon a core belief that dentists are the natural leaders of the dental practice and our job is to help them, and their teams, reach their personal, professional, and financial goals. Dentists, whether you like it or not, you must become a leader. As much as you would like to delegate it or outsource it, the reality is that local, daily leadership in your practice will inevitably fall on your shoulders.

Lightwave believes our role as a management partner is to help facilitate and maximize your leadership potential as a dentist. For that reason, we now refer to Lightwave as a Dental Leadership Organization. Lightwave doubled its growth several times during our five year history, growing from 8 to 76 locations across Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama. We have learned many things about the key ingredients for truly exceptional dental practice performance.

So, how does a dental practice owner double growth in this current environment?

When Dentists and their Teams are the No. 1 Customer

Legendary management consultant Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”2 At Lightwave, we believe that if we take great care of our dental teams, they will provide excellent care for their patients. We always tell new members of the Lightwave team that dentists, and by extension their teams, are the No. 1 customer at Lightwave. During our growth journey, Lightwave developed a success formula to guide our growth which boils down to the following:

Focus + Motivation + Teamwork = Success

In a dental practice, there are three key fundamentals for developing focus within your dental team. First, you must set clear expectations with detailed job descriptions and checklists detailing every task required for the job. Second, you need to explain and publish your goals. Your office goals for the week or the month should be published in a visible location, such as on a whiteboard in the employee breakroom. Additionally, most successful practices have a meeting cadence to create accountability that includes a daily huddle, a monthly team meeting, and periodic one-on-one interviews.

One of the easiest and most affordable ways to motivate your team is to provide regular positive recognition. There are three simple ways to do this: express gratitude spontaneously, praise your team members publicly in your team meetings, and provide awards for exceptional contributions on a periodic basis (quarterly, bi-annually, or at least annually). Another way to motivate your team is create experiences for fun and happiness by planning low-cost activities and celebrating personal milestones. You can also offer financial incentives like bonuses, prizes, and rewards for the behaviors you want to encourage in your office.

It falls upon leaders to develop a common set of values to guide how we work together and to develop positive relationships that foster good team chemistry. A core values statement should be posted in the office publicly for all to see. It is critical that practice leaders hire and fire based on core values. We also need to nurture positive and meaningful relationships among team members. This is why it is important to plan social activities inside and outside the office. Teamwork is most likely to thrive when team members truly care about each other on a personal level.

Team Engagement Surveys

In today’s labor market, there is nothing more valuable than internal referrals for open positions. Therefore, the ultimate measure of success is whether your employees would recommend your practice (or dental group) to other professionals in their network. At Lightwave, we built an internal survey based on our Team Health Formula (Focus + Motivation + Teamwork = Success). We have 16 questions with answers on a 10 point scale (1-10) in our surveys, and it takes an average of eight minutes to complete each survey. We send these surveys out to all employees every six months, and we analyze the results in painstaking detail. If you listen, your team will lead you to a successful outcome.

Aligning the doctor-partner relationship

Dr. Paul Homoly once said, “The greater the complexity of care you offer, the greater the demand for your leadership.”3 Dentists must embrace leadership or they will never reach their full potential. The biggest challenge for dental practices today is that so many doctors have a fixed mindset focused internally. Rather than that “me first” mindset, the leadership growth process requires reorienting that thought process to focus outward – to a growth mindset. That level of transformation requires trust in the collective, trust in the team around you.

In the iconic movie Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks’ character says, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” The same is true with patients, each one is different. However, most dentists bring one approach to the practice and spend their days trying to fit a square peg into round hole. The most effective dentists learn to adapt to each patient and adjust their approach based on the patient’s needs and circumstances. At Lightwave, we use a combination of continuing education and personal coaching to help dentists develop leadership skills in their patient interactions to maximize their potential as a clinician.

Outside of the operatory, it is imperative that dentists learn to lead their teams. As the complexity of the care you provide increases, your team needs to learn new skills for presenting, treating, and billing your complex procedures. As a dentist, you cannot avoid practice leadership, it inevitably falls on the shoulders of clinicians to teach and coordinate the actions of the dental team. If your dentists have a “clock-in and clock-out” mentality, your practice will struggle to double its growth. However, if your dentists have leadership skills and an ownership mindset, combined with a healthy team that is focused and motivated, then your practice will double every couple of years. The real challenge for any leader is putting all the pieces together.

Execution is the Key

At Lightwave, we are blessed to work with many dental practices that have grown from a startup office to over $5 million in collections. Some do this over 20 years. Some dentists do this in five years. James Allen once said, “You are the master of your thought, the molder of your character, and the maker and shaper of your condition, environment, and destiny.”4 The difference between those that excel and those that fail is their ability to apply what they learn. Turn clock-in, clock-out dentists into practice owners. Rally your dental team with focus, motivation, and teamwork. Listen and apply their feedback, and you will be the next one to take your startup practice to over $5 million in collections in five years. Above all, remember that culture eats strategy for breakfast, so take care of your people and they will take care of your patients.

1. Wickman, Gino. Traction: Get A Grip On Your Business. BenBella Books, Inc., 2011.
2. Phrase first appeared in a trade journal. Moore, Bill and Rose, Jerry. PIMA’s North American Papermaker: The Official Publication of the Paper Industry Management Association, 2000.
3. Homoly, Paul, DDS. Making It Easy For Patients To Say “Yes.” Online Program, 2022.
4. Allen, James and Allen, Marc. As You Think, 2nd Edition. New World Library, 1998.