Interview: “Slow Dentistry has resonated around the world and is growing exponentially”
Since 2010, Slow Dentistry has been encouraging dental professionals to manage their time at the clinic better and to practise ethical and quality care. Now, more than a decade later, the movement has achieved substantial growth and continues to gain strength despite the recent challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this interview with Dental Tribune International, Dr Miguel Stanley, an ambassador for and the co-founder of Slow Dentistry, talks about some of the movement’s proudest achievements so far and about Slow Dentistry’s vision for the future.
Dr Stanley, an increasing number of dental professionals are joining and advocating for the Slow Dentistry movement. What do you consider to be some of your proudest achievements so far?
Just the fact that so many great dentists, hygienists and other dental professionals around the world have joined the Slow Dentistry global network, helping us spread the message of ethically driven treatment planning and patient preparation, is a great achievement in itself. Slow Dentistry makes so much sense to people once they learn more about it. It is very straightforward and requires no investment, no advanced technology and no special training—just a desire to do the right thing for your team and your patients. That is why Slow Dentistry has resonated around the world and is growing exponentially day after day, and I’m very impressed with the fact that this growth is mostly organic and not driven by excessive marketing but rather by dentists’ motivation to separate themselves from those clinicians who are focused mostly on volume and profit over quality care.
Another major achievement that happened in the last year thanks to the tireless efforts of our president, Nina Blaettler, was the transformation of Slow Dentistry from a limited liability company to a Swiss non-profit foundation. The foundation is called the FED, which stands for Foundation for Excellence in Dentistry, and this now means that every single dental professional who signs up to our global network is actually contributing to a cause and not to a private company.
Swiss non-profit foundations are highly regulated and their constant monitoring is required to ensure that the funds are used for the greater good. The entire objective of the Slow Dentistry global network is to disrupt what we believe is a bad trend in dentistry, one where clinics are created solely for generating profit. There are so many loving and caring dental professionals around the world who needed a way to differentiate themselves from profit-seeking clinicians. Our network is expanding, and we’ve received numerous contributions from existing and new members, as well as donations from companies within the dental universe. We are gaining greater means to invest in educating the general public, helping them understand that they have basic rights when visiting a dentist.
“Since March 2020, the Slow Dentistry global network has had a 550% growth in new memberships”
Slow Dentistry has four cornerstones, namely proper patient consent to treatment that has been proposed; proper room and equipment disinfection and sterilisation and avoidance of cross contamination in the dental office; proper anaesthesia and analgesia and, finally, the use of dental rubber dam. These four cornerstones are universally true, and when applied, they ensure that patients have a safer and better experience at the dentist. We stand for ethical and quality dentistry, and hopefully, we can grow bigger and have an even greater impact in the world.
Has Slow Dentistry gained even more strength during the COVID-19 pandemic? If so, why?
Since March 2020, the Slow Dentistry global network has had a 550% growth in new memberships. Moreover, we are now also receiving donations from companies that truly support our ethical message. The tireless efforts of all of the volunteers who work for the Slow Dentistry movement have really paid off, and we are incredibly proud of this achievement.
In the last year and a half, we have migrated the website to a completely new platform, allowing our members to have a more fluid and easier-to-use interface, and we are now working with an incredibly talented team of web designers and marketing experts. But I think that the main reason for this incredible growth is the fact that one of our four cornerstones is focused on disinfection. We advocate proper room disinfection, not just tidying up the treatment room.
Before the pandemic, many clinics were focused on treating as many patients as possible. All of our members agree that this is not the way to go, that proper room disinfection takes time to ensure that the dental unit, the surfaces, the floor and everything the patient touches are properly disinfected. There is no way you can do this in a rush, and we are finding that, on average, it takes between 8 and 10 minutes to properly prepare a treatment room between patients.
Also, prior to the pandemic, many clinics were getting away with just tidying up the treatment room in a few minutes so that they could have faster turnaround times. This has allowed the owners of the clinic to see more patients in a day and to generate more profit—at the risk of cross-contamination between patients. This has generated a lot of stress for dental assistants and nurses as well as dentists.
We cannot overlook the burden of mental fatigue and mental illness in dentistry. Seeing a high volume of patients a day really does create a lot of stress, and I believe that many dentists did not understand that this stress was probably also subliminally created by the fact that they understood that they were not doing things properly.
So once the pandemic hit, the general public as well as many dentists started understanding the importance of proper disinfection. This has since become a major priority, and while we were the only organisation in the world that had been advocating this for over five years, things just blew up. It was amazing! We were finally vindicated.
I can tell you that in November 2019, in our very first Slow Dentistry meeting in London, many dentists found our advocating longer turnaround times between patients to promote better safety and reduce the possibility of cross-contamination laughable. This is no longer the case. We take this incredibly seriously even though we understand that this probably means that clinics need to see fewer patients a day in order to get things right. This might generate less profit, but it promotes a safer environment, better care and a more propitious environment for a healthier mindset and less stress, which leads to better mental health at the end of the day.
Have you noticed any post-pandemic trends in dentistry related to the movement?
One thing we have noticed is that some copycat organisations and academies are trying to imitate what we are doing, but are seeking to profit financially from this. We would hope that people understand that, as a non-profit foundation, the objective of our movement is not to make personal profit, as all of our team members are volunteers and so are our honorary global ambassadors around the globe. We don’t sell weekend courses, no one is trying to gain personally from this and we are focused on getting our message to as many people in the world as possible, in as many languages as possible. Everyone in our network is inclusive and positive and wants the best for dentistry and for patients.
“Once the pandemic hit, the general public as well as many dentists started understanding the importance of proper disinfection”
I think that millennial dentists have a different mindset in terms of their relationship with their patients and a work–life balance. I think that mental health has become a big issue, and there are a lot of great dentists that are publicly talking about this important topic. Two of our global ambassadors, Drs Kyle Stanley and Simon Chard, use their platforms to promote mental health in dentistry. At the end of the day, there is a common thread to all of these discussions, and that is to do the right thing.
Allowing younger dentists more time to get things right is imperative in moving forward. Big-chain dental clinics or dental service organisations need to make sure that their younger dentists have all the time they need to work stress-free and to get things right the first time around. If we don’t facilitate this, we will soon be seeing a mental health pandemic in our profession, not to mention poor-quality dentistry.
The truth is that the Slow Dentistry global network should not be necessary. Every dentist around the world should be practising it, but they’re not, and that is why it’s important that people understand our core values. We are not selling anything, no courses are needed to understand it and nobody is profiting from anything here; it’s truly a humanitarian effort on a global scale, and we are all in this together.
What is next for Slow Dentistry, and what is the ultimate goal?
One of the major decisions from Nina this year was that we would move slowly into the future. We don’t want to deviate from our core values and mission. We would like to grow our network to be in every single country around the world, supporting those dentists with marketing at a grass-roots level, ensuring that populations around the world understand that they have the right to a disinfected treatment room, a signed, valid consent form, pain-free dental treatment and a dental dam for all of their root canal therapy and most of their restorative work. If we get this message across, we will have already made a deep impact. We are going to stay very true to our mission.
We are also working closely with companies and helping their marketing departments understand the value of donating to our global network, since by supporting us they are indirectly promoting ethical dentistry, which I truly believe should the core value of every company. We want to support companies by supporting quality dentistry. You simply can’t practise quality dentistry in a rush. Everybody wins by practising Slow Dentistry.
We’re also going to be coming out with some new badges that can be acquired by dental professionals who are already members of the Slow Dentistry global network. These include the digital dentistry badge, the small business owner badge and the educator badge. Staying true to our message, these new areas will help identify practitioners who go the extra mile and make the extra investments both in money and in time to better serve their patients and their communities. For example, a dentist who uses surgical guides to place dental implants spends a lot of time planning the treatment and coordinating and designing cases just so that patients can have a more accurate and precise intervention, and that might actually end up requiring less chair time. These guys deserve recognition.
This is almost counter-intuitive if you think about it. Slow Dentistry doesn’t mean more time in the chair or working slowly; Slow Dentistry is about time invested to deliver quality care. So we believe that dentists who use digital technologies to mitigate failure and improve workflows deserve to be rewarded or at least recognised for the time spent investing, training and preparing these workflows to better treat their patients.
The small business owner badge will identify clinicians who fulfil the following criteria: they only work in one clinic, own more than 50% of that clinic and are the clinical director of the practice. Why is this important? When you have all of your eggs in one basket, you tend to protect the basket a lot more. Through discussions with colleagues around the globe, we have found anecdotal evidence that, when these factors are in play, there is a lot more heart in the game and people care a lot more. Obviously, this doesn’t make you a better dentist, and there is nothing wrong with having many clinics, but sometimes patients might want a dentist who is simply a dentist and not also a businessman, and they need a way to distinguish.