close up of a dentist's face working on a patient.

Teddy Roosevelt was known for his lifelong ability to get things done in even the most challenging circumstances. Whenever he was facing difficulties, personal or professional, he had a saying that summarized his philosophy of how to act in troubled times: “Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are.”

I think that is a great mindset to have, and it is especially relevant to what dental practices everywhere are going through. Your world was very suddenly turned upside down.

To break down that quote and apply it to our current reality: “Where you are” is in a situation we haven't seen in our lifetimes. “What you've got,” depending on your jurisdiction, is the consideration of elective vs. emergency care. So, according to Teddy Roosevelt's philosophy, you have to do what you can with that.

Now is your opportunity to make the most of emergency visits. The ADA has issued guidelines on how to define an emergency and it gives you a lot of room to see a good number of patients. They have also provided a patient-friendly information release about when to seek dental care.

As we all know, in normal circumstances, emergency patients get crammed into the schedule at the last minute, and usually, the best you can do for them is to address the urgency that brought them in and then move on to the next scheduled patient.

But these extraordinary times give you an extraordinary opportunity to slow down and talk with the patient about how their emergency came to be an emergency – to talk with them about their commitment to their oral health, to show them Patient Education videos, to conduct a thorough exam, and create a plan for them going forward.

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Obviously, some emergencies are going to be the result of an accident. But as we all know, there are many “emergencies” that have been years in the making, and now is the time to educate those patients who don't fully value dental care to connect with them at a deeper level. This is your opportunity to develop those relationships, so you have new sources of regular care as things return to normal.

And then there are the emergencies from new patients. These are the patients with an urgent need who come to you because you happen to be the dental practice in the area that was nearby and open when they needed treatment. Special circumstances have brought you together.

If you seize that opportunity, you can turn that one-time visit into a lifelong relationship. Once again, provide a thorough exam, spend time with them talking about their oral health history and goals.

Most importantly, send them off with an appointment to return. The important thing is to get them in the books now and get them thinking of themselves as patients of your practice.

There are other things you can do in an “emergencies-only” treatment restriction. For example, you should send a message to patients (and referrers, if you're a specialist), reminding them you are available for any urgent care they need, that they should not hesitate to contact you if they are feeling any discomfort and reassure them your practice is taking extra measures to ensure a safe, clean environment. If you are a restorative dentist, make sure to engage with your referrers when you need to for help with emergencies.

You should also make yourself known to those potential new patients seeking urgent care, through avenues like Google and Facebook ads. Many patients out there are looking for care and finding that their usual dentist office is closed. If you are available to take in those people in these uncertain times, you are setting yourself apart and giving yourself a chance to show what you can do. And you should absolutely make sure you have a live person answering calls and booking these new appointments, even if it means forwarding calls to a staff member working from home.

For many of you, this is an opportunity you often wished you had – an opportunity to do what you never had the time to do with urgent care patients. Now you may have more time.

Spear has set up webpages, one for specialists and one for restorative doctors, where we are archiving and updating resources on dealing with your ongoing practice recovery.

I have already been so impressed with what I am seeing with members of the Spear community who are engaging with the resources available to them and working to support the dental community as a whole. These are leaders who are taking Teddy Roosevelt's advice to heart: “Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are.”

Imtiaz Manji is co-founder and chairman of Spear Education. Discover more of his practice management and leadership lessons at