FUN WAYS YOUR DENTAL PRACTICE CAN LEND A HELPING HAND IN THE COMMUNITY.
Recently, the editors at Aesthetic Dentistry asked a panel of dentists what types of articles they’d like to see in future issues of the magazine. Many of their responses followed a common thread: they wanted to learn more about what their peers in the industry were doing—not only in their individual practices but also in relation to community involvement and patient appreciation.
This desire piqued our interest—what exactly were dentists around the country doing to give back? How were they fulfilling needs in their communities and helping their patients feel involved in the process? We had to find out and the holiday season seemed the perfect time to do it.
So we sent a team of researchers to investigate; they made calls, conducted interviews, and scoured the web. They compiled stories and collected photographs. In the end, the information they gathered far outweighed anything that could fit into one magazine article, so we narrowed it down to four of our favorite stories. Hopefully, the ideas from these outstanding dental offices may give you the inspiration that you need to give back to your local communities in your own creative way.
More than twenty-five years ago, Dr. Bruce Sofferman at Smile Dental Center in Derby, Connecticut, noticed that many of his patients were being affected by a downturn in the local economy. These patients (many of whom Sofferman had known for years) had lost their jobs and were struggling to pay for basic necessities like food and shelter. “No one should go without food,” Sofferman stated. “So I decided to start a food drive during November and December when people in the community could donate frozen turkeys to a local shelter, which would in turn help the people in my area.”
As one of the integral ways of advertising the food drive, Sofferman decided that for two days he and his wife would stand alongside a major thoroughfare in town and flag down motorists with “Turkey Drop-off” signs. The real attraction to get people to stop wasn’t the signs, however, but rather the unusual way that Dr. Sofferman and his wife were dressed. From head to toe, the two donned traditional Pilgrim regalia. Yes, you got it: black buckle hat, a white square colored shirt, black trousers, and a jacket (on him) and a bonnet, homespun dress, and an apron (on her)—the whole nine yards! “I could have easily just written out a check and bought the turkeys myself,” Dr. Sofferman explained, “But by doing it this way, we were raising awareness about a critical need in our community and helping others get involved, too.”
The Sofferman’s efforts were an instant success. It didn’t take long for the food drive to become a tradition in the community that people looked forward to every year. Today, it is a joint effort that involves other businesses, groups and organizations. During the holiday season, hundreds—if not thousands—of turkeys are donated. The group also collects canned food, bags of rice, stuffing, pasta and other related food items that can be used for a Thanksgiving dinner or just to help replenish the food pantry’s shelves.
Now, more than 20 years later, Dr. Sofferman and his wife continue their involvement in the food drive. The pilgrim-clothed husband-and-wife duo are no longer the only ones in costume—their daughter, Sophia, dresses up in a Native American ensemble. Additionally, an employee from the shelter dresses in full-feathers as a giant turkey mascot. “It just feels so good to pay it forward like this,” Sofferman explained. “I’m so grateful that the effort we are making is really helping others.”
Elf Edington: Donning Tights for A Good Cause
In Las Vegas, Nevada, Dr. Mark Edington also conducts a food drive at his dental practice, Modern Dental Care. However, instead of focusing on the Thanksgiving holiday, this dental practice gears its efforts towards the Christmas season.
The project was initially the brainchild of Dr. Edington’s office staff and marketing manager who wanted to do something helpful for the community and fun for the patients at the same time. The staff decided to hold a food drive for the entire month of December and told their patients that if the office was successful in collecting one hundred cans, Dr. Edington (who is a rather serious guy around the office) would dress up like an elf for an entire day. Dr. Edington’s outfit would be complete with a green and red pom-pom hat, green jacket with white faux-fur color and cuffs, black pointy shoes, and—of course—some extremely attractive red tights.
“Making Dr. Edington the target really helped motivate our patients,” explained Marketing Manager Jenny Edington. “Since we told them that we would be posting pictures of Dr. Edington in his elf costume on Facebook, our ‘likes’ on our page increased dramatically. People from out-of-state even posted on our wall that they wanted to ship cans to help us reach our goal.” Apparently, the possibility of seeing “Elf Edington” for a day either in person or in pictures was too much for people to resist.
The food drive also improved the morale around the office. “Our staff was really excited about seeing Dr. Edington show his more playful, silly side. Their enthusiasm definitely helped encourage the patients to get involved,” explained Ms. Edington.
The patients were given an additional incentive to encourage participation. For each can they donated, the patient’s name was entered into a drawing for a Sonicare™ toothbrush.
Throughout the month-long promotion, patients dropped off cans at the office even when they didn’t have an appointment. They’d hang out for a while, chat with the staff, and snack on the holiday treats that were available for them on a holiday table in the waiting room. “It was like we were having a holiday party all month long,” Ms. Edington recalled.
Before long, the staff not only reached their goal, they exceeded it. By the end of the campaign, Dr. Edington’s office collected more than two hundred cans of food. Besides feeling great about helping out the community, Dr. Edington and his staff also appreciated the way this project helped them connect with their patients. “We definitely plan on continuing this tradition every holiday season,” Ms. Edington explained. “However, each year, we would like to bump up the intensity and have Dr. Edington do something even crazier than he did the year before. We’ve tossed around the idea of having him bungee jump in some kind of crazy costume, but he hasn’t climbed on board for that one yet.”
Have No Fear: Your Karaoke Dentists are Here
Adventure Dental in Vancouver, Washington has a fun way of reaching out to their patients and giving back to the community at the same time. Every year, Dr. David Neil and Dr. Todd Hillyard close up shop for an afternoon in December and host a Christmas party for their patients and families. Since this dental practice is focused on pediatrics and orthodontics, the party is geared primarily for children—but with the parents in mind as well.
Every year, Santa and Mrs. Claus are invited to the festivities. This allows the children to give Old St. Nick their Christmas lists, which is fun for kids and it is also great for parents because they don’t have to hassle with the long lines and crowds at the mall. In addition, the office sets aside a specific time for special-needs children who might need some extra attention from Santa. Along with featuring the visitors from the North Pole, the party also includes karaoke, hands-on activities, a petting zoo, games, prizes, and plenty of delicious snacks and holiday treats.
“This annual party has really helped us establish a stronger connection with our patients,” explained manager Susan Clayton. “It also gives us an opportunity to help our apprehensive children feel less fearful about coming to the dentist. After spending an afternoon singing karaoke with their dentist at a Christmas party, it’s less scary to come back to the office for their appointments.” Initially the event was small enough to hold in the office. However, it has now grown so large, the staff rents a tent and holds the party outside. “We easily have a thousand or more people come to the party, whereas at first it was only a couple hundred,” said Clayton. “We’re really excited for this next year when we move into our new office space. Hopefully, we’ll be able to host the majority of the party indoors.”
As part of the celebration, the staff also holds a food, clothing, blanket and toy drive. The collected items are donated to an organization that helps struggling moms and their children.
Since the practice is focused on children and families, the staff decided that this was the best way to give back to their community. “Our patients are very generous with their donations and more and more seems to be contributed every year. The children, especially seem to enjoy getting involved in the ‘giving’ aspect of the celebration,” Clayton explained. “We feel that the ‘drive’ is a very important part of what we want to accomplish at the party and plan to definitely keep including it every year.”
Brightening a Community with Food, Gifts, and Smiles
Just outside of Cincinnati, Ohio, the dental team at Harrison Family Dental has a long history of helping out in their community. They often distribute Thanksgiving meal baskets at a church’s food pantry. They organize food drives in the office where their patients can bring canned goods for the local food bank. They donate twice-yearly dental cleanings for the children of single mothers. One year at Christmas, the staff helped purchase home supplies for a patient who was struggling financially. “When Dr. Jeffrey Miller sees a need with his patients, he is eager to help them,” explained Front Office Coordinator Katelyn Meyer. “He is very kind and generous that way and we as his dental team are happy to be part of that.”
In 2012, Dr. Miller offered to perform some restoration procedures on a particular patient for cosmetic reasons. “He was 17-years old at the time and had some spacing issues and one missing tooth,”Meyer explained. “He is such a great teen and he really deserved to have a fantastic smile.” Financial reasons had prevented the family from getting this young man’s dental work done, so Dr. Miller offered to do the work pro bono. They told the young man about the “gift” just before Christmas and then spent the next few months working on its completion. “We took care of teeth 5 through 11 and had
the work completed through Arrowhead,” said Meyer. “The office team—and most importantly this young man and his family—were extremely pleased with the results. It was exciting to be part of something that really made a difference in someone’s life. He is no longer self-conscious of his smile and that makes us all very happy.”
One of the greatest benefits of community involvement for Dr. Miller’s practice has been making connections with their patients. “As we have become more involved in the community, we have been able to establish a real presence for ourselves there,” Meyer stated. “When our patients come in, they often mention that they have seen us at our various outreach programs and that helps us to build a stronger relationship with them.”