One of my favorite things about visiting the Spear campus is the camaraderie. Everyone is an open book. Need to know how to adjust your hours? Not sure how to charge for something? Scottsdale for me is like the Switzerland of dentistry. Everyone is nonpartisan and ready to help.

dentists working together

Unfortunately we may experience a very different reality in the town or state we practice in. We go home and there’s an immediate fear that if the guy next door knows your new hours, he’ll switch his, and every last one of your patients will jump ship. It’s not good for us personally or professionally, and it’s not good for the field as a whole.

As I reflect on what’s great about the Spear community, here are a few tips to bring the gregariousness home.

Tip 1: The dentist down the street is not your competition

In reality, the type of patients that go to your office go for certain reasons, and they go to surrounding offices for other reasons. It may be based on a word-of-mouth referral, the type of dentistry you do or your website message, but chances are their office isn’t the same as yours. There’s enough dentistry to go around if your eyes are open to the possibilities!

neighboring dentists working together
Me with Drs. Bridget Mackey (my neighbor here in Massachusetts) and Jill Hansen at the Spear Faculty Club Summit this year.

Tip 2: There’s a place for every type of dentist

From single-tooth dentists to corporate dentistry to whatever type of dentistry you practice, there’s room for everyone. Much like the dentist down the street isn’t your competition, you shouldn’t think of the chain opening down the street as competition either. Some patients seek convenience and want the provider who is open seven days a week, 12 hours a day. They need a large group practice. Some patients are hunting for the cheapest fix, and there’s an office for that. Not every patient will want the type of dentistry that you provide, and that’s OK. It’s a good thing those other offices exist for those patients! It keeps the right patients in your office and provides dentistry to those who may not be the best fit.

Tip 3: Don’t speak poorly on previous dental work or a previous dentist

Putting down anyone or anything previously done in a patient's mouth brings negativity to the patient's current situation. I think we’ve all learned that patients carry with them certain limitations to providing ideal dentistry. Sometimes it’s as simple as denying ideal treatment, other times it’s because the patient doesn’t open wide enough to get the width of the handpiece in there, has an uncontrollable tongue, denies every sort of isolation you typically use for bonding, etc. You don’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes, on that day, at that time.

Tip 4: Phrase your ability in a good light, not theirs in a bad one

Sometimes we see dentistry that makes us cringe. Dentistry we wouldn’t hope to do on our worst day. Rather than showing the patient a photo of the existing dentistry and pointing out all of the flaws, we should all put more effort into pointing out what we can do for them today. It’s easy enough to point out a problem with a tooth without indicting blame. Rather than saying, “This crown was put in incorrectly; there’s a gap and, therefore, it needs to be replaced,” say, “There’s currently a gap between the crown and your tooth that makes this tooth susceptible to decay and future problems.”

dentist friends
Drs. Andy Cohen and Doug Sandquist; two positive guys you’ll see often at Spear’s Scottsdale campus.

Tip 5: Elevate your fellow dental professionals

Learn with them, rather than tell them or imply you know “more” than them. Nothing feels worse than being talked down to. I recently had a new patient who was mid-ortho. I spoke with the treating orthodontist with whom I hadn’t worked previously, and he wasn’t open to discussing his treatment plan for our newly mutual patient, even though I had some questions from a restorative perspective. It felt awful, and it didn’t do anything to help the patient. You can’t always control how others treat you, but you can work to control how you treat others. Approaching comprehensive treatment planning from a team approach with humility benefits everyone. Sometimes I feel like my questions for my periodontist may be amateur, but he never makes me feel that way. Sometimes I ask my orthodontist to accomplish feats that are orthodontically impossible, but he’s gracious in his explanation of why we need to find another option.

Tip 6: Surround yourself with like-minded dentists

Following this tip will help you continue on your growth trajectory. Whether those who inspire you are the specialists you work with, your referring restorative dentists, or the dentist down the street, surround yourself with other like-minded providers. One of my favorite things about taking seminars and workshops at Spear is the camaraderie and mentorship you receive from the people sitting in the seats around you. If you’re the smartest dentist you interact with on a yearly basis, you need to switch up your social circles! There is so much to be learned from our excellence-driven peers.

like-minded dentists
Drs. Bob Winter, Carmen Santana-Paine and Gregg Kinzer at the Faculty Club Summit in 2014.

Tip 7: Start or join a study club

If you don’t belong to one, you should find one or start one. While we learn the tools we need to grow at seminars, workshops and other forms of continuing education, we learn implementation through our real-life patients. I know I’ve headed home from a seminar, after Frank Spear made everything so easy to digest, positive there wasn’t anything left to learn about dentistry. And then I picked up that same set of models and photographs and wanted to hit my head against the wall all over again. Sitting down with a multi-disciplinary group and working through the roadblocks that prevent you from implementing everything that you know (you just don’t know how to use) is critical. I’ve never left a study club meeting without a pearl or two I can use the next day, and sometimes I even leave with a rock-solid treatment plan for a case I was previously fumbling over.

Spear Study Club at dental seminar
My Spear Study Club at the “Treating the Worn Dentition” seminar in Chicago 2015.

Tip 8: Continuing education

Our profession has a difficult time with consistency, which leads to difficulty in gaining patients’ trust. While dentistry has a steady shade of grey and there are undeniably multiple ways to treatment plan larger cases, a lot of the rudimentary dentistry is treatment planned according to the provider’s education level. Someone who last learned about occlusion in dental school 20 years ago won’t treatment plan the same way someone on their fifth Spear workshop will. The higher the level of care provided by all dentists, the greater the integrity of the profession as a whole. By educating yourself, you’re doing a great service to the field. Educate yourself, and encourage your peers to do the same!

(Click this link for more dentistry articles by Dr. Courtney Lavigne.)

Courtney Lavigne, D.M.D., Spear Visiting Faculty and Contributing Author -


Commenter's Profile Image Andrew C.
April 5th, 2017
Great article!!!!! I really enjoyed reading it and the picture of Doug Sandquist is awesome. So glad we are friends. See you soon.
Commenter's Profile Image Dave S.
April 6th, 2017
Courtney, beautifully crafted and so well done! There really is a place for all types of practice in our profession. This is a must read for those who truly do not understand what happens within the Spear Community. As you wrote so eloquently, misconceptions and invulnerability can be pervasive at the local level. Thank you for this wonderful piece. Glad to see my knuckleheads, Andy and Doug, made the photo shoot. I guess I ended up on the cutting room floor:):):) St.
Commenter's Profile Image Katie D.
April 6th, 2017
Loved loved loved this article. I agree with you on all points! And seriously, I'm also bummed I didn't make it into a picture!!!
Commenter's Profile Image Mark V.
April 6th, 2017
Great article. The Spear Dentist Code of Conduct! Thank-you. Mark
Commenter's Profile Image Chia W.
April 18th, 2017
Love this article!! Thank you for sharing! I am emailing this article to the other dentists that work in my office! :)