Inside the Mind of a Dental Receptionist

By Lexi Marino January 11, 2021

In this episode, we met with Jennifer Zimmer, Receptionist for Dentistry With A Smile. During our discussion she explained why a receptionist is a key resource for patients to build trust with your practice.

Watch this video to learn the following:

  • Importance of educating your front office staff on current safety protocols
  • Learning from your front office staff on what’s troubling your patients
  • Building patient trust through your front office staff

Rolando Mia, from Zyris, is the host of our series, Dental Voice. In this show, we focus on the latest news, topics, and conversations happening in dentistry and assess differing views across the nation. In Season 2, we’re focused on, “What’s Working and What’s Not”, where we’re debunking myths by assessing trial and error since the start of Covid-19.


Rolando Mia: Good day, everybody. And welcome to Dental Voice season two. My name is Rolando, and this is Zyris. The purpose of Dental Voice is to hear from people, clinicians, people in our industry and get their perspective, get feedback regarding the things that they’re doing. And most importantly, just kind of understand what they’re going through.

Today, we’re here with Jennifer Zimmer. Now, not only is she the Receptionist at Dentistry with A Smile, she’s also a patient and she interact with a lot of patients. So what we want to do today is say hi to her and then also have her share her personal perspective. And I think this is great. Hey Jennifer, how you feeling?

Jennifer Zimmer: I’m feeling good, Ro, how are you?

Rolando Mia: Very well, thank you. First of all, thank you for joining us.

Jennifer Zimmer: No problem. We’re big fans of Dental Voice.

Rolando Mia: Awesome, so I’m going to get right into this. How do you feel about COVID?

How Has COVID-19 Impacted the Receptionist Role

Jennifer Zimmer: It’s really a mix of emotions especially in the situation I found myself at the beginning of the pandemic here as a worker at a dental office which is a high-risk occupation. As a new mom as somebody who had a family it was very like I said it’s a mix of emotions. I was scared, nervous, angry. I almost didn’t know how to feel.

Rolando Mia: How did you navigate through that?

Jennifer Zimmer: Well, when the pandemic had first started. I was actually on maternity leave, so I was a little bit removed from the situation only because I was at home at the time. So, it didn’t really hit me until, you know, our office manager has sent out a group text to everybody saying that the office will be closing until further notice. Family members of mine were saying, you know we’re not going to work. My husband started working from home as well.

So then it kind of started to hit me then but at the same time I also didn’t know the extent of how serious the pandemic was until it started affecting my life personally, you know after a while you start knowing people who have it you start kind of hearing people passing away from it and then you know, and that’s when it kind of was like “Oh, my gosh, this is, this is real.”

Rolando Mia: You start hearing all sorts of things about, you know how it’s transmitted and how crazy this you know how it spreads and all that and then how it affects dentistry and all that type of stuff. How did that make you feel about coming back to work and then kind of the fact that you’re going into a dental office where nobody knew what was going on?

Jennifer Zimmer: The idea of my job was actually I think the scariest part of it for me only because you know we work in just a small office where people have their mouths open 85% of the time. And me with having a new baby in the home it was kind of you know I was wondering what was in store for me in the future and not only what was in store for me but what was in store for the rest of my colleagues and my coworkers here in the office.

A lot of the things that were being communicated to me were that yeah, we don’t know when the office is going to open again or we don’t know how we’re going to deal with, you know, keeping everybody safe and we don’t know how we’re going to do this and how we’re going to do that. So those months that we were closed we all spent a lot of time trying to figure out, like, how can we create the best environment for the situation that we’re in.

Rolando Mia: And when you started digging into that, what happened?

Controlling What You Can in Your Office

Jennifer Zimmer: So I was lucky enough. I’m still lucky enough that I work in an office where even when we’re not in the office we’re constantly working to create, you know the safest place for our patients, for our employees because it’s not just them that you’re thinking about you think about the people they come into contact with their jobs, their families, you know wherever they go like everything. We try to control everything in the office, you know but we also have to take into consideration what happens when they leave the office.

Rolando Mia: Wow. When you started thinking about this and you know, you started talking to patients about this what was the range of experiences that you got from people as they were during the lockdown or as we were coming out? Right now, practices are working again practices are opening again. And from what I understand and talk with Dr. Sebastian things are going well for you. So, what did you hear from the patients as you started coming back?

Jennifer Zimmer: I would state that our practice is actually a little bit unique. So in terms of communicating with the patients I experienced the whole spectrum of the types of patients you would encounter. So we had patients who were apprehensive to come in and we even had patients who were who went as far as like, “I want to get my cleaning done”.

A lot of that came from the trust and the relationship that we got that we have with our patients. So, you know like I said I’m lucky enough to work in an office where, you know the patient relationship and the patient satisfaction is really like our number one thing. And I think with that the patients trusted us. There wasn’t really much I needed to do to get them to come back. You know we were getting calls, texts, emails asking if we were open because they wanted to come see us. It was just, it was pretty surprising actually.

Building Trust With Your Patients

Rolando Mia: So, from a patient perspective because I guess because of the communications you had with them it sounded like they felt really comfortable coming to you. Is that what I’m hearing?

Jennifer Zimmer: Oh yes, so we have patients here. I can’t even tell you the number of patients we have but we have patients here who are basically almost our family. They text us; they call us, you know they come to our parties. And like I said when they, you know, during the pandemic they would call us and text us it’d be like, “Hey, Jen, are you guys open?” And I’d be like, “Oh, is everything okay? Is something bothering you?”, and they’d go, “no, I just like want to get my teeth cleaned.”

Rolando Mia: Are you seeing new patients?

Jennifer Zimmer: It’s like I said, we’re in a very strange time. We have had a few new patients come in and that was fine I guess, you know, things happen. People, apparently there was like a big banana bread baking craze during the pandemic, you know?

So you eat a lot of sweets you bake a lot of things and then you know things happen in your mouth. You break things, things start to hurt. So, we did actually end up getting like a small wave of new patients after we opened up. I think a lot of people a lot of patients communicated or referred their friends over to us, like hey you know my tooth has been really bothering me and they’re like, “Oh, you should call, you know Dentistry with A Smile.”

I think because we’re so accommodating, and we try to be as accommodating as we can. I also think that helps us make a good rapport with the patients. And I think that’s how we’re able to, you know be as successful as we are right now during this global pandemic.

Rolando Mia: Now I’m going to shift to a different topic. You’re also a patient. And earlier on, you shared with me that you where do you have your dentistry done? It better be here right.

Trusting in Your Office’s Safety

Jennifer Zimmer: I get my dentistry done at Dentistry with A Smile – best dentist ever.

Rolando Mia: So, were you concerned about getting procedures done during this whole process?

Jennifer Zimmer: So the funny thing about the pandemic, I think this particular pandemic really took advantage of social media and different news outlets. So during the course of the three months that we were closed. We would have like team meetings on like protocols that we were doing in the office but then also at the same time like you would hear in the news like, you know don’t eat this because you’re going to get Coronavirus or like do this.

Drink Corona beer it’ll cure you. So like you know it’s hard. It was like kind of hard for me to gauge like, “Okay well we’re doing this but like, is this really going to work?”, or like okay, “Well we’re going to do this in the office, but you know I heard on the news or I read somewhere on Facebook that like this is actually a really bad idea.” So I think what really at the end pushed me to be like okay, “I need to get my dental work done.” Like, regardless of what’s going on was like I said the trust that I have with the employees and everything that we’ve done to ensure the safety of the patients here. Yeah, and I kind of just tell myself, you know there are countless people out there working endlessly to create a safe environment for our new norm here. You know, why not?

Rolando Mia: Aerosols is a big issue. How did you feel about that being in the dental office and then also kind of being exposed to people as they’re coming especially now that you’ve started treating patients again and you know in different areas, you’re seeing these spikes of cases? How do you feel about that? Simply breathing potentially could give it to you. What are your thoughts on that?

Jennifer Zimmer: In terms of, you know what comes into the office before patients come in the people in the front desk at our office they ask many pre-screening questions. We do a lot of pre-screening before they even come into the office. There are instances where we have patients who say things like “Oh yeah, you know I felt this way, but it was fine. I got tested.”

So there are a lot of protocols that take place even before patients come inside. But even after patients come inside like I said, Dr. Sebastian has studied endlessly in the three months that we were closed trying to figure out what’s the best equipment what is the best way to keep the patients safe, the employees safe what’s going to reduce the aerosols if the aerosols or even what you know are the biggest threat to the patients. How can we do this? And how can we do that? How can we keep the hygienists safe?

We had one day of training before we officially opened the office. And after seeing everything you know we have a fogger that sprays Hydrochloric acid which is apparently very effective with the droplets in the air. We have the UV lights that decontaminate the surfaces. We have the Isolite® that, you know sucks in like 99% of the aerosols before they can even come out of the mouth. I think that all in itself and especially after experiencing it you kind of realize, “Oh my gosh like this is yeah, this is like sucking all the spit out of my mouth.”

Rolando Mia: So because you were exposed to all of that because you saw all of that as a patient you came in, you’re like, “Wow, this isn’t a big deal.” Do you talk about that to the other patients? Or is that not something that comes up during the course of your discussion with them?

Being Afraid of the Dentist

Jennifer Zimmer: I think one of my biggest attributes in working in the front is the fact that I was able to experience what it was like in the back. So that is something that I tell patients all the time like you know, “These are the things that we’re doing. You can read up on it, you can research it, but I’m talking to you based off of my experience I was able to, you know get my filling done with Dr. Sebastian. She was covered up her assistant was covered up. They have all these new gadgets that really made me feel safe. I got my filling done like a month ago and here I am.”

Rolando Mia: So you actually got to, now I’m curious the experience that you had with that with the Isolite is that right?

Jennifer Zimmer: I actually think I used the, Isovac®.

So I’m actually pretty scared of the dentist. I have like you know I have like what any normal person has like any fear that they have with the dentist with the Isolite you know they explained to me or the Isovac they’re like, “Okay, so this is like a new thing we’re going to put in your mouth you know don’t be scared.”
I also have like I’m pretty like sensitive with a gag reflex. So I was like, “Oh my God that thing is going in my mouth?” They’re like, “Yeah, it’s fine.” The assistant was trained very well she just kind of like you know pinched it and squeezed it into my mouth. Dr. Sebastian started working on me and I was just like, “This is really pleasant and comfortable.”

Rolando Mia: So it felt comfortable but it also it sounds like because you had multiple layers you had that system you have all the other infection control protocols; you wear the PPE it just, I sounds like it just made it almost like a no issue situation. Your team recognizes that you’re doing everything you can. I think it’s nice that you had that patient perspective. So when you tell them, do they believe you?

Jennifer Zimmer: I mean, we have a few patients who like really like push it with me and be like, “Well like but is the office clean? Is it safe? Like how do you clean it? What do you use?” And like I said we’re really lucky that, you know the head of our team, Dr. Sebastian she really was able to train us so well we were able to answer any question. We know who made the Hydrochloric acid. Why we do it? Who does this? How do we clean this? Like we know everything. And if there’s you know a little bit of apprehension and let’s say I couldn’t really fully get into helping the patient come in or make a decision about whether or not they should come in. You know, that’s when I had to call in like the big guns like Dr. Sebastian. And then she’ll really kind of drive the idea home of it being safe here in the office.

Rolando Mia: So, you mentioned earlier that you’re a new mom you have a seven-month-old daughter. What went through your head as you were coming back?

Jennifer Zimmer: I mean, definitely at first, the thought of coming back into work was probably one of the scariest ideas just because you know I guess as each day passes, we learn more and more about this virus. So we know exponentially more than we did when I first started working again.

So I think at the time, you know I think it’s only normal of me to be a little scared and to be curious about like how is this going to affect me and how is this going to affect my child? ‘Cause you know not only is my baby new, you know not only do we not know how she’ll react to certain things or how she’ll react to certain illnesses or ailments, but we also don’t know how the virus reacts. They can say as many things as they want on the internet, on Facebook, on the news on Twitter or whatever. But like at the end of the day nobody really knows you know the best thing we can do is just you know eat clean make sure you’re keeping your distance from people and just making sure that you’re doing everything you can to keep everybody else safe.

Rolando Mia: So the message that you’re giving to patients or mothers or fathers who come into your practice who do have young children. What’s the message you’d give them?

Putting Yourself in Your Patient’s Shoes

Jennifer Zimmer: You know I try to put myself in the shoes of you know, patients and parents.

As somebody who works in a dental office, I try to think of things that, you know what will help them realize that this is okay and what will help them realize that they’re safe? What are things that I would want to hear? What are things that these people have to say for me to feel safe?

So, like I said a lot of it goes back into all the studying that Dr. Sebastian has done and her educating the rest of the team. One of the things that she says is, “Here in the office like as long as you’re in the office everything is controlled. We have control over everything that happens in this office who comes in, you know even if they are sick, you know we do everything we can to minimize the contact and the spread.” And so far, everything has been wonderful you know. Everybody is dressed to the tee with the latest PPE fashion.

Rolando Mia: I love that you call it fashion.

Jennifer Zimmer: I mean that’s what we tell ourselves. And as a patient and as a parent I always say things to them like listen, “Dr. Sebastian Maria, our office manager, and all the other employees they are women who have taken me under their wing, you know, as their younger sister as somebody they can see as like their child or their daughter. If they truly felt like this was a dangerous situation, they would not have made me work.” I truly believe that. And that’s something like I said, you know they’re always looking out for me they’re always taking care of me and they’d do the same for their patients.

Rolando Mia: There are people in other dental practices out there who may not have that same experience or are in a position where they’re feeling apprehensive or fear or feeling uncomfortable about being in the practice. What advice would you give those folks?

You’re Not ‘Just a Receptionist’

Jennifer Zimmer: So to all the front desk people out there something that somebody once told me is I used to call myself just a receptionist. I used to say, “Oh no, I’m just the receptionist.” My manager told me one day. She said, “Don’t say that. Don’t call yourself just the receptionist because you’re more than that.” That’s the kind of message I want to give out to like the front desk people of other dental offices. Like people don’t really realize how important we are. We are the first people that they see and we’re the last.

So if you’re in an office where like the situation isn’t ideal, I think the best thing that you can do is to just kind of educate yourself use the resources that you have and you know give that information out to the patients. And that’s the best thing you can do if, you know if you feel like your dental office isn’t doing the most that they can to have the safety and the best environment for you or for the patients you know, like I said do the research or bring up an idea to whoever, to the manager, to the doctor, to the owner and be like, “Hey, listen, you know I read this thing about this one thing – I’ve read about Isolite. Maybe that’s something we can invest in”, or “You know they have these like UV lights that you can decontaminate like X amount of surface area. Maybe we can get one.”

I think the reason why that we were so prepared is that we spent three months educating ourselves. And we’re lucky enough that, you know, we had somebody who took the charge of giving that information to us. But like you said not everybody’s as fortunate you know we’re in the 21st century, you know everybody pretty much has a smart phone or you know you can just Google.

Rolando Mia: So what I’m hearing is have the courage to go find out information and bring it up and then I’ll say it, so you don’t have to. If you need to go find something else.

It’s an entire team and the activities which were put in place at Dentistry with A Smile the leadership of Dr. Sebastian and the other members of the team. Also because you recognize that and you’ve embraced it, you know you’re the first person that the patients will see and you’re the last. There’s a lot going on in your life and you feel strongly that they wouldn’t have me here if it wasn’t safe for me. And I believe that people can feel that from you and having that is very reassuring for the patients. Do you think about that as you’re engaging with them?

Jennifer Zimmer: We’re not a very big office. There’s probably only like 10 of us. So the connection that we have with each other is very strong it’s very deep.

We like to have fun. We do TikTok’s, we do the Instagram thing and patients are able to see that and kind of relate to us which is I think that’s the reason why they’re so trusting of us. We’re not just like a dental office we’re like one of their followers on Instagram, you know we do all these fun things.

So I think, you know, I think one of the greatest attributes to our offices is this bright and positive energy we give off, you know, even at a time like this, we’re still laughing we’re still having fun, and we’re still making jokes. Patients see that. They come in and I hear them laughing harder than ever in the back and they’re here in the front, you know talking about all of the things that they did during the quarantine or like what their situation is at home. When they’re like working from home.

So I think, like I said I think one of our best features here in the office is our energy. I think our energy comes from the connection that we all have. And like I said that’s something that patients see right away.

Rolando Mia: It’s amazing to see that. What message would you like to give out to the community out there, to your colleagues to other dental professionals who will see this? What message should you want to give to the patients out there?

Jennifer Zimmer: First of all it’s okay to be scared to come to the office. That’s something that I always tell patients is that if you’re uncomfortable, I’m not going to force you to come. You never know what somebody is going through but I can always ensure that we’re doing our best here in the office and not just here in the office, but you know, everybody like I said there are countless amounts of people who are working endlessly to try to provide a safe environment for everybody in this country. Everybody’s doing everything they can to adapt to this new normal.

Rolando Mia: Awesome, awesome. So, hey thank you so much Jennifer. I’m so thankful that you joined us.