Increase of the Millennial Generation in Dentistry

By Lexi Marino February 2, 2021

Dr. David R. Rice, DDS and owner of the popular dental education platform, Ignite DDS, shares his perspective with Rolando Mia in this episode on the rise of the millennial generation in dentistry and lends advice for team communication.

Watch this video to learn the following:

  • Why the “golden rule” of communication may not be the best method for younger generation
  • Importance of dental isolation tools to keep teams safe from viral infection
  • Finding an online education platform to extend your knowledge beyond the clinical aspect of dentistry


Rolando Mia: Hello, everybody. Welcome to Dental Voice S2 with Zyra’s. Thank you for joining us, my name is Rolando Mia. The purpose of Dental Voice is to hear directly from professionals in dentistry, get their perspectives and advice from people regarding topics that are relevant to us today.

Our guest today is really cool, very excited to have him here. So, Dr. David Rice has a talk about all sorts of crazy stuff and excited to hear kind of his perspective. He graduated from the State University of New York in Buffalo. He completed a practice residency, Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh. Also, he’s huge about education, was with the Pankey Institute, Dawson Center, SPEAR Center. He’s participated as a professor at SUNY lab, and he’s also the founder or the creator of Ignite DDS. So Dr. Dave Rice, how are you doing?

Dr. David R. Rice: I’m great, how are you today?

Rising Increase of Millennial Dentists

Rolando Mia: Very well, thanks.

I’m excited to talk to you today about how dentistry is evolving. And more specifically, how dentistry right is transitioning. Transitioning to a younger generation of dentists. If I understand correctly, Ignite DDS has a very high focus on that. Could you explain how that came about and where the genesis and the energy for that came from?

Dr. David R. Rice: Sure, I’ve always taught in some way, shape or form, from the time I finished my residency program to my very first day in practice. I used to teach a day a week at Buffalo’s Dental School and I loved it. Then I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to teach around the country?” I spoke at trade shows, I still do, greater New York and all that fun stuff.

However, my favorite people in dentistry are young people. I always thought it’d be really cool to help people build kind of a new house well, then try to fix an old broken house, and sometimes, dentists my age and older, sometimes we think we know everything, hopefully most do, but I got energized working with young dentists, with dental students. Hence, nine years ago, Ignite DDS was born, and I love traveling around, today it’s more virtually than ever, working with students and young dentists. It’s a lot of fun.

Living to Work Vs. Working to Live

Rolando Mia: That is so awesome, it’s interesting. I don’t know if you’ve heard this. We don’t know what we don’t know, but we know what we know. So we think we know, therefore we just know, and no one can tell us otherwise, right?

Dr. David R. Rice: Such a true story.

Rolando Mia: So when it comes to dentists, young dentists, and the whole COVID-19 environment, we’ve been hearing it’s an accelerator for a lot of different things. It’s an accelerator for some of the older dentists to finally transition out. It’s an accelerator forcing young dentists to jump in and take over.

From what you’ve seen, working with young dentists or dentists who are entering the space, what are some of the top things that they’re experiencing? I’m going to call it the millennial mindset, as opposed to the boomer mindset. What would you say about that?

Dr. David R. Rice: I think generationally, the biggest shift I see is boomers. They live to work, and the more seasoned dentists that I know, they’re almost defined by dentistry. We have an incredible prosthodontist in our practice, Marshall Fegan, and Marshall’s amazing.

I admire him because till today, he’s in his seventies, and he comes to the practice, and he’s as excited as he was the day, he walked across graduation stage. However, that’s the “live to work” concept and I think today’s mindset is “work to live”. So, dental practices are important. Our business life is very important, but there’s more of a merging of life. It’s sort of this one big amalgamation of life where we’re working to live now. There’s better balance, I think today, than even for a guy like me, who largely defined his life by profession.

Rolando Mia: What a distinction, live to work versus work to live. When younger professionals are entering the working world, their mode of communication is very different. Their use of technology is completely different. Their method for engaging is completely different. What are some of the things that you’ve seen in relation to his concept?

Why the ‘Golden Rule’ of Communication May Not be Relevant

Dr. David R. Rice: Okay. Can I frame it first? Is that okay?

Rolando Mia: Absolutely, please.

Dr. David R. Rice: All right, so mom and dad didn’t mean to do this to any of us, but I guarantee all of our parents taught us the “Golden Rule”, right? Treat others the way you want to be treated.

I would argue that that may be one of your parents’ biggest mistakes. They didn’t mean it to be a big mistake. What they really meant is be nice to other people because you like it when people are nice to you.

However, I think today, more than ever we’ve got traditionalists, boomers, gen X, gen Y and now gen Z, are sometimes working in the same building, yet alone coming in and out as patients. To your point, yeah, we all communicate entirely differently.

I would say scrap the golden rule and implement the platinum rule, “Treat people the way they want to be treated”. I guarantee you, Marshall at 74, wants to be treated very differently than I do at 51 or if you’re 25. To your point, communication is a really simple one. Some people want a phone call, someone an email, someone a text, some want a message on some other platform. And that’s just one tiny little example where we think we’re doing the right thing, but maybe we’re totally miscommunicating.

Rolando Mia: Treat people the way they want to be treated. Communicate to them the way they want to be communicated, not the way I do it. Is that what, is that kind of what I got?

Dr. David R. Rice: That’s a hundred percent it. I think the golden rule comes from a really good place; it comes from here (the heart). The reality of it is it’s inherently flawed because we each want something different and an age generation, that’s just one factor.

Human behavior at large is a factor, culture is a factor, family, firstborn children versus the youngest child or the middle child, gender. So many things come into play, that if I’m a dentist today, or a dental team member today, my number one learn outside of technology, that makes dentistry safe and convenient is how to best communicate with my patients.

Implementing Good Team Communication

Rolando Mia: Phenomenal communication has systemically or consistently one of the most important aspects for dental professionals during this pandemic. It’s interesting, on Dental Voice, we’ve spoken to an incredible range of, but consistently, communication has been the biggest aspect of it.

What’s the advice that you would give people with regard to implementing good team communication?

Dr. David R. Rice: You know, a long time ago, one of my mentors told me, fair, firm and friendly. He used to always say, “David, fair, firm and friendly.” So I’ve sort of morphed that, today, be kind, be clear, you have to set expectations and then be consistent.

When we set expectations and then we don’t follow through, as the leader, the young dentist, I know you’re walking into a practice and whether you’re an associate or you’re a new owner, everybody’s been there longer than you have. It’s okay. That team, they’re still looking to you, whether you’re an employee, an associate, an owner. You’re still a leader whether you want to be or not. So, let people know that you’re open, ask great questions, be more interested in them than interesting, and then be clear with your direction and really be consistent.

Rolando Mia: That’s amazing. Be consistent, be kind. So you touched on leadership. One of the things that we are learning, working with dental schools is that there’s a lot of great information. From a business perspective, dental schools are starting to add some of this leadership type of teaching.

This whole idea of leadership, especially, and you hit it right on the nose. In a pandemic, in a crisis, people look to somebody to help, or make decisions, or make a call. How do you establish that leadership mindset and make decisions when you don’t know the answer?

Dr. David R. Rice: I love that. I think right now, if you flip a switch and say, “Hey, we’re not necessarily in a pandemic as a problem, but we’re in a pandemic as an opportunity.” What we know is our team’s and our patient’s like number one emotional concern is their safety.

They need to feel safe, whether we work together all day long, because they have kids, moms, dads whomever at home, themselves, or patients coming in and out. So, I would key on the fact that your team, in this instance like, they want to feel safe. So, just ask them how they’re feeling, what you can do as the leader to get them in the best place possible, and then consistency, follow through and check in every day. Be specific with each team member because everybody’s different.

Everybody’s going to look at safety through a different lens, so you customize your conversation based on who’s in front of you and follow through.

Rolando Mia: Follow through that’s a great. So many things are happening during the course of the day, patients are coming in. You’re worried about something and then you become derailed or you become distracted. So follow through, that’s fantastic, I love that.

There is a mindset right now, it’s about patients. There’s a fear that they’re having around potentially coming into the practices. We spoke briefly, according to the ADA, although the practices, dental practices are open right now, the majority of them are only tracking at maybe three quarters, 80% of where they were before. This is causing a lot of distress and stress. How is your practice doing?

Patients Know When Your Office Has a Good Culture

Dr. David R. Rice: So, very thankfully we’re doing great. We’re actually doing far better than we were, pre-COVID. We’ve always had a great foundation. We’ve always had a great reputation in our community. We’ve always had a practice that grew year in and year out.

However, what’s happening now is because we’re asking those questions of our team because we are being clear, we are being consistent. Our teams and our patients feel really, really safe. I’m going to throw a curve ball. I am not a patient-centric practice. Never have been.

I’m a firm believer in that. If the dentists, if we take care of our teams, our teams will take care of our patients. If we have a culture where our teams love coming to work every day, they feel like they’re a part of something bigger. Our patients feel it. You guys know this when you’ve gone to visit somebody’s house, and you’re like you knock on the door, you ring the doorbell, and like, the vibe is really good. You’re super excited. Or you ring the doorbell and then you’re like, “Hmm, something’s off.” You can’t wait for that evening to be over with. It’s the same in business, right? Patients walk in the door and they immediately feel good or they immediately think, “I’m just focused on getting out of here. So take care of your team first.”

If safety is a big issue, just dot all your I’s and cross all your T’s. So, get that virtual reception area going, talk to your patients while they’re still in their car, do the forehead scan, and ask all the questions. I’m an Isolite® fan, I’ll give you an example. We have one in every treatment room in our practice. We have for years, but do you want to talk about feeling safe as a team and the ability to cut down aerosol? My team feels good, especially my hygiene team, we know this is a massive problem in dentistry today. We’ve got 80% of hygienists who are like, “I don’t really know if I love dentistry anymore.”

At my practice, we’ve got four hygiene members on our team and they feel great. So our patients feel great. So, just do those things that make people know that they’re in the best hands when they’re with you.

Level Up Your Infection Control Game

Rolando Mia: That’s so cool. So, because of the communication and clarity, are you discovering that patients are not apprehensive? Or if they do come in and are afraid, they realize, “Wow, I feel safe here”?

I love the context of going in and having an immediate good or it doesn’t feel right type of feeling. So, are you seeing patients feeling more comfortable? Are they expressing that to you?

Dr. David R. Rice: They are. It was really interesting at the beginning of all this, our patients, they weren’t angry by any stretch of the means, but they were like, “When can we come back? We’re not worried, you’ve always taken great care of us. We’d just like to come in now.”

So, for us, it was the work we did, you know, years ago. If you’re that practice, awesome, keep sprinting. If you haven’t been that practice in the past, who cares? Now’s your chance. Now’s your chance to level up your game and be that practice today, because your team and your patients, they’re just waiting for you to do it. There are simple steps. You don’t need to go buy a $300,000 piece of technology. You just need to utilize all the tools that you have at the highest level.

Rolando Mia: Wow, thank you for that. We spoke with Melissa Turner, RDH yesterday. Although there are practices where hygiene and the dentist get along really well, there’s still a lot of friction between them in some practices.

I think it’s miscommunication. How would you recommend navigating that discussion and then overcoming it?

Find Leaders Within Your Dental Team

Dr. David R. Rice: Yeah, I would do a few things. If you’ve never really sat down with your team and had a serious meeting before, then I wouldn’t jump right in.

The first thing I would do would be to identify the people on your team that everybody listens to already. You have inherent leaders as teammates. They could be a hygienist, could be an assistant, could be on the business team. But identify who those people are and sit down with them. If you can get them on your side, if you can share the vision with those one, two, three people on your team, it’s going to be a whole lot easier for you to share it with the rest of your team. If you already have done this before, then block out an hour. Don’t block it out around lunch or breakfast, because people will be distracted, but block out an hour of your time during the day, pay your team for the hour and sit down and talk about how they matter more to you than everything else.

Set the tone, and then talk about all the things you feel are the right things to do, and ask their opinion and for their help, and then by the end of that hour come to a consensus that everybody feels comfortable with.

As a united front, move forward. That’s what I would do if I were you guys.

And, if this is new for you, take some baby steps before you take a big giant step. If you’ve done it before, then do it again, just stay focused. Don’t get derailed and talk about all the things you don’t need to talk about, stay focused.

Rolando Mia: See that, it requires courage and confidence to overcome that. When you look at the clinical skills, and then you look at the education and training. How do you get that mentoring or coaching ability? Because one of the most difficult things for people to deal with, is people. Because people are people, right?

Dr. David R. Rice: So I’ll preface us this with, there are lots of really good people in dentistry, that are mentors. There’s no one guru. That being said, I’m not sure how you guys will take this, but I’ll say, unselfishly on my part, but may come across selfishly, but come to Ignite, come to Ignite University. Send me an email, send me a text, you know, drop me a message. We have half a dozen courses that are all about leadership, culture, communication, between us and our team, and our patients. I’ll tell you for every dollar I’ve spent at Pankey, SPEAR, Dawson over the years, AACD, I’ve spent $2 on learning how to be a better leader and communicator, because dental school didn’t teach us that.

Rolando Mia: Right?

Dr. David R. Rice: Right? And we need mentors. I wouldn’t recommend trying to read it in a book. You need to work with things that are founded in science and logic, that are repeatable. Not just a random Tuesday morning, if that makes sense.

Better Dentistry from a Teamwork Perspective: Isolite

Rolando Mia: That totally makes sense. And here’s the thing, part of what got me connected with you is people have mentioned you, people have mentioned Ignite, and I think it’s important to recognize that.

I appreciate you bringing that up, so not a problem there. There are other technologies that you’ve run into, and again, now you mentioned Isolite in your practice, was that difficult for you to adopt? Or how did you end up there? I’m just kind of curious.

Dr. David R. Rice: Gosh, I don’t recall how many years ago, but it’s been a while that we’ve been using it. It was super simple to adopt. In fact, I still remember Harley in, I remember the day, so Harley’s hooking it up in our room and I walked in, everything was ready to go, patient’s numb. By the time I sat in my seat, everything was ready to roll. I looked at Harley, and I’m like, “Didn’t you just hook that up?” She’s like, “Yeah, it took about two minutes.” And we just ran through the procedure, and it was great, and it was so great, that we outfitted all of our restorative treatment rooms. So I needed to set up my partner, Mark, Laura, Marshall. And then we said, “This is crazy.”

In hygiene, just as an example we do sealants out of hygiene, but we always needed an assistant to go over there because it was really difficult to maintain isolation and do a great job. So we’re like, “Let’s get them for hygiene.” Now we find our hygiene team, like they use them for everything. The saliva ejector isn’t hanging out of the patient’s mouth anymore. It just goes in, they get one side, they flip it, they do the other side, and our hygiene team loves it, our assisting team loves it.

I love it for a totally different reason than many of you are thinking. It’s a tremendous device to isolate, and to create a field division for us. However, why I really love it restoratively, is when Harley and I work together now, it’s not that Harley isn’t still aspirating, she is. But she has a second set of eyes, and she sees things from her side of the chair. We have a really nice relationship, where Harley would be like, “You know what, Dave, take a look at the distal lingual of whatever.” I’m like, “Oh, that’s my cue, like numbskull.” You didn’t see what you needed to see, and it’s my job is to be like, “Oh my God, Harley, thank you so much.” At the end of the day, I’m so much better with her than I am by myself. So, it’s a tremendous adjunct, not just in isolating, but I am developing a better dentistry from a teamwork standpoint and a vision standpoint.

Rolando Mia: I really appreciate it. It’s great to hear that the dynamic that you and Harley have, as your dental assistant – you’re better together.

Additional Technologies to Look into For Better Performance

Are there other technologies that you’ve discovered that are really powerful in the dental practice?

Dr. David R. Rice: Yes, I would say, if you’re not scanning in dentistry today, if you’re still making a lot of physical impressions, I would highly recommend you start scanning. There’s a ton of data to show what patients want. They want us to be convenient, they want us to have great Google reviews. They want us to accept their dental insurance, we don’t have to participate, you could, but they want us to accept it. And they want technology.

So scanning is, to me, such an attainable piece of technology. Now, I also like to mill 60% of the restorations in my practice, in addition to scanning, that’s up to you and your treatment philosophy. To me, that’s a must-have today. From delivering clinical excellence to internal marketing, to your patients, to being convenient, having the tech, getting better Google reviews, and on and on, and it checks three of the four boxes.

Rolando Mia: Cool. The digital revolution, technology, all of that is phenomenal, and only enhancing everything which is really cool.

Dr. David R. Rice: Totally agree.

Rolando Mia: If you were to, if you were to look at dentistry, and if you were to look at COVID, it’s not going anywhere, it’s here. How do you see that affecting it going forward?

Dr. David R. Rice: The number one thing, and not to sound too philosophical, but see the opportunity. We get to actually slow down, from the rat race that dentistry has kind of steadily become over the years, but we get to slow down, bring virtual into your practice.

So if you’re, if you are doing virtual consults with patients at home, awesome. Add virtual to your hygiene checks. I can do a hygiene exam from my treatment room, computer to computer, talk to a patient, the whole nine yards, it’s incredible, same day dentistry, really important. So you may have a lower volume of people coming in your front door, but if you pay attention to your schedule in advance, you might be able to take me from the hygiene chair and bring me to the restorative chair, or the restorative chair and bring me to the hygiene chair.

So instead of working on that one tooth, “I know you don’t want to come back. I know you missed a lot of work. I know your kids missed school; I know time away. I know safety, let’s get as much done today as we possibly can.” And your patients will say, “Yes.” They’re waiting for you to make that suggestion. So look for the opportunities that we have today, instead of getting down all the time, and lean on each other, because you’re not always going to be happy and excited. So when you’re having a bad day, have somebody else on the team pick you up.

Rolando Mia: That is so cool. I could really spend some time and dig in with you but want to be respectful of your time. How would you kind of sum up everything we’ve talked about and inspire people going forward from here?

Importance of Being Vulnerable in Your Career

Dr. David R. Rice: If I could leave you with one giant umbrella message as a leader, it’s to be vulnerable. So, I’m not sure how many of you know Brené Brown. This is a few years old now, but if you haven’t seen Brené Brown speak, she is someone to go to YouTube and watch her TED talk. She’s brilliant. Everything she speaks on is founded in data. So it’s not just an emotion, it’ll be a very emotional experience for you, but it’s very scientifically founded, which is why I like it. But be vulnerable as a leader.

To your point, we’re on it, we’re like, we don’t have the answers. We’re not going to have the answers. So look in the mirror and know that it’s okay to not have the answers. It’s okay to share with your team that you don’t have the answers. You’re going to make mistakes, be okay with making those mistakes and just shift, pivot, adapt, you know, the practices, the leaders that evolve with COVID, and whatever comes after COVID, because this isn’t the last thing that’s going to come our way,

Those will be the most successful people and practices. I’m not even saying successes in profit, I think successes in what brings you joy. Money helps makes life easier, but what brings you joy? So be vulnerable.

Rolando Mia: Awesome, thank you, thank you for that. If people wanted to get in contact with you or ask you questions, what would be the best way to do that?

Dr. David R. Rice: So I’ll give you two ways. Both are simple for me. So whatever’s easiest for you. Or if you want to just go to Instagram or Facebook, it’s @IgniteDDS and send me a message. I’m always happy to help. Dentistry has been really great to me and I honestly want it to be great for you too.

Rolando Mia: Thank you so much for being with us.

Dr. David R. Rice: Absolutely.