DENTISTING DURING CORONAVIRUS Part 6: Interview with Dr. Amy Gentner

In this new series, we’ll be asking questions and getting first-person perspectives on what it’s like so far to practice amid the pandemic. Every region, every practice, every practitioner has unique stores so we’re chronicling them here to give you an up-close and personal look at challenges, solutions and inspiring moments across the country.

Dentistry has been calling Dr. Amy Gentner since the eighth grade. She followed her passion to the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, where she earned multiple scholarships and was voted best general dentist of her class. She now owns and operates her practice, Gentner Family Dentistry, in St. Johns, Michigan. Dr. Gentner also serves as an active member of the American Dental Association, the Michigan Dental Association, the Academy of General Dentistry, and several others. When she’s not in her practice, Dr. Gentner speaks to local classes and groups about dentistry, as well as donating dental supplies to local charities.

When did you reopen your practice?

We reopened to patients on May 29th.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

The stronger PPE and heavier masks have been causing a lot of physical stress, headaches, and exhaustion.

How have the changes in PPE affected your ability to practice?

We were very blessed to get enough PPE. We got support from the community early on, we donated KN95 masks and then got KN95 masks back from the local FEMA. There was some difficulty getting face shields from main suppliers, but we contacted private companies and were able to get them. As far as items being inauthentic, we had a batch of masks that was on the approved list but got taken off, so we had to get rid of them. But for the most part, we stuck to reputable dealers and were aware of authenticity early on.

How has the experience been with patients? Has it been difficult to encourage patients to come into the office?

We’ve had some older or unhealthy patients postpone their visits, but for the most part, our office is swamped. Before we reopened, we filmed a tour of what to expect. The video showed the new office layout and our new PPE. The video was posted on Facebook and sent through email. When patients came in, they told us how comfortable they felt in our office because of our communication. Communication is important for leaders. Patients and staff are looking to you for advice and leadership. You need to have done enough research to know and understand what you’re talking about.

Have you encountered any challenges with staff members?

One hygienist asked for the summer off to help her elderly parents because she did not want to compromise their health. Another staff member has had high anxiety about Covid, but throughout, I have been working to make her feel comfortable in the office. Prior to opening, I sent care packages to staff, hosted Zoom meetings for social connection, and we had three days of training in the office right before opening.

Will dentistry ever return to what it was like pre-COVID? Should it? Or are the new precautions justified even in a world with a vaccine?

Once we have herd immunity and a vaccine, I think a lot will return to normal. The PPE takes a toll and is hard on bodies. I can’t imagine having a full career with this much PPE. We need to work to balance viruses and safety long term.

Practice Transitions Stories: Rebuilding The Log Cabin

Dr. Jim Clark, Benco Dental’s Head of Practice Transitions, has bought and sold multiple practices during his 30-year career. But only once did he buy a practice, and end up selling it back to the owner. 

The year was 1997, but the rustic log cabin housing a dental practice appeared to be out of the mid-19th century. Situated on the bank of a Montevallo, Alabama creek, it was owned by the chief of the fire department, the head of the Montevallo historical society, and the director of the state historical society—all the same person. In over his head, the busy practice was slipping from the dentist’s hands. 

Dr. Clark, by then savvy on streamlining systems and confident in his ability to whip it into shape, bought the practice with hopes of making lasting changes. His intention was to focus on the business side so the former owner, a beloved figure in the community, could keep doing dentistry. 

Kind—but eccentric

“He could have had an instrument in a patient’s mouth, but if that fire alarm went off, he would have jumped on the truck and left the patient in the chair,” Dr. Clark remembered. It’s also an understatement to say the doctor was flexible with patients who had trouble paying. “He graduated from The Pankey Institute, but he would have traded dentistry for just about anything…pigs, chickens, someone to paint his house.” 

Visits to the practice were spent encouraging the dentist to adopt better financial management. When Dr. Clark wasn’t there to oversee things, the office management team kept them in order. “This particular practice needed a lot of outside management,” Dr. Clark said. “He was pressuring the assistants to return to old ways when I wasn’t there. Even though I owned the practice, the dentist just could not give up control.” After four years, Dr. Clark sold the practice back to the former owner.

Saved from the brink

“This particular model I have of buying the practices and leaving them with the same person in charge has a downside,” said Dr. Clark.  “It’s hard to change the way they practice and get doctors out of bad habits. This practice was a unique experience.” 

Over time, Dr. Clark figured this doctor was always going to have trouble conforming to the new style of his management team. “After I saved his practice from the brink of bankruptcy and he bought it back, I heard he returned to a lot of his old ways. He was a great guy, but only wanted to be the employer, never the employee.”

But, on the bright side…

Despite the management battle, Dr. Clark says he never regrets a practice bought and sold.  “When you have doctors who are not willing to follow the basic protocols the management team put in place, you have to decide whether to fire them or give them more options. When owning practices, it’s never as easy as people think. There are pitfalls you’re responsible for and at some point, you have to solve the situation.” 

From his perspective, there is always something to be learned for the next transition—and this was one lesson he’d never forget.

Thinking about a transition of your own?

As Dr. Clark says, it’s never too early—or too late—to talk about it. You can contact him personally at jc8602@benco.com or leave a message at 1-800-GO-BENCO. Visit Benco Dental’s Transitions online to learn more about Dr. Clark and our team’s services.