Cross Train Dental Team and Protect Against the Unexpected

What happens when a team member calls out sick or is out of work for days with a family emergency? In this post, Platinum Practice Solutions founder Kelly Lynch explores how scenarios like these are best handled by a cross-trained team with the right systems in place.

A healthy practice begins with the creation of a team of well-rounded individuals. Not only are they exceptional in their specific job functions and customer service, they are open to personal growth and delivering optimal patient care.

This ultimate team of individuals takes pride bringing success to the practice. They are willing to help each other when the unexpected happens, which we all know will at some point!

Consider the following scenario.

Doctor, you arrive at the office to a full and productive day. There are two hygienists, two assistants, and two admin team members in.

The restorative schedule is timed precisely for one doctor and two assistants. The two hygienists are 90% full, and the administration team has a full day ahead.

The day is looking great!

And then, thirty minutes before your day starts, the telephone rings.

One of your assistants is sick and needs to stay home.

Your heart sinks.

The schedule was created utilizing overlapping of doctor/assistant time and was perfect. Now you wonder who to reschedule and how these changes will affect your patients and the bottom line?

Your perfectly scheduled day is now in jeopardy!

BUT WAIT …Your administration team is cross-trained in sterilization, knows how to set up and break down treatment rooms, and has basic assisting skills.

The hygienists are trained in basic administration functions such as properly answering the telephone, scheduling an appointment, collecting payment, and correctly submitting an insurance claim.

They can also assist the doctor with restorative procedures.

WOW! The morning huddle just became charged with excitement, as the options are discussed to best care for your patients, your schedule, and your production!

Let’s see how a cross trained team can save the day:

  • One administration team member will assist the doctor and remaining assistant with the restorative schedule.
  • Everyone will help the administration area during any open time in their schedule.
  • They'll also assist with the turnover of treatment rooms and sterilization.

No patient will need to be rescheduled. Production is not affected. Your patients all receive the exceptional care they deserve, and at the end of the day the team goes home happy knowing they did a fantastic job covering for their sick teammate!

Wondering how your practice can start working like this? Especially when ...“We are too busy to train everyone in 'other' job functions.”

or ...“Hygienists and assistants aren't going to be happy checking out patients, collecting money, submitting an insurance claim, or answering the telephone.”

or ...“The administration team is far too busy to worry about treatment room and instrument sterilization, let alone learn how to do basic assisting”

When can all this training take place? There’s never any time to spare for training! You don’t feel good about paying a hygienist to do administrative job functions! There’s just no way this can work!


Admit it, you could go on and on as to why cross training is a bad idea! But before completely writing it off, consider the situation from a patient's point of view.

Patients trust their doctor and a practice's team members. They can become nervous when a temp ("someone new") cares for them.

When you bring in temporary help, they are unfamiliar with your practice, your procedures, and your processes. Most importantly, though, they are unfamiliar with your patients.

A patient may decide not to return if they have a poor experience with a temp. Even worse, they could write a poor review, or tell their friends about the poor experience.

Patients are far more forgiving if a team member they already know, steps in to help during their appointment. This often leads to friendly conversation and the atmosphere in the office continues to be positive.

And to be clear, I am not suggesting you forego hiring temps in your office.

If a Hygienist (a producer) is out, you need someone to cover them and continue producing for the practice. However, there is a noticeable difference between a temp and your everyday team.

In order to best neutralize the differences, write down systems on how your practice delivers care to patients. This will help any temporary hygienist provide care to the standards your patients expect. The temp will also think your office is amazing!

Now, let’s explore how to cross train your team members without jeopardizing their day and causing unnecessary stress. Remember: Change takes time, and challenging work at the beginning of any project makes the process easier in the end.

Cross Training Assistants

Create documents for procedures that are performed in your practice. Endo, crown prep and insert, fillings, extractions, and so on.

Create maintenance documents for the sterilization equipment and lab equipment.

Take pictures of instrument trays that are set up and labeled for each procedure.

Keep a folder of these documents and photos and be sure to review and update every time you introduce a new material or procedure.

Label the storage areas in your lab and sterilizations rooms with the contents. This makes finding items easy.

Cross Training Administration

Create documents for daily, weekly, and monthly procedures that absolutely need to be done in your absence.

Create documents for answering the telephone. What to say and do if it is a new patient on the line?

Make notes on how to check patients in and out, how to properly enter a treatment plan, the proper way to ask for money, how to schedule appointments, and how to start up and end the day.

What reports need to be run? What calls need to be made? How is recare handled? How and when are courtesy calls made? These should all be documented and easily accessible.

Cross Training Hygienists

Create documents for the proper sterilization and care of your instruments. Do you use lasers? If so, how are they cared for?

Set aside time during your weekly or monthly team meetings to cover one or two processes from each of the 3 areas of your practice: administration, hygiene, and clinical.

Demonstrate administration processes in the administration area and clinical in a clinical room. These “field trips” will visually assist in the training process. People learn differently, so having documentation as well as visual learning will benefit everyone on the team.

If there are times in your day to cover one process, create one document, or perform one new function, take the time to do it. Ask if you can process that credit card for the patient, assist with that crown prep, help with sterilization and turn over of the room, etc.

The most effective time to cross train is ALL THE TIME!

The ultimate cross trained team isn’t created overnight.

Time, training, practice, enthusiasm to help each other, and most importantly, to help the patients, are the building blocks to reaching your team’s full potential!

It all starts with a system!

NOTE: Be sure to check the dental assisting laws for your state. There are some states that only allow a Certified DA to work in the back. Also, radiology licensing is required to take x-rays. Be sure to have a licensed DA, a hygienist or a doctor take any necessary radiographs.

cross train dental team

Kelly Lynch is a Lifetime Member, Ambassador, and Fellow of AADOM, The American Association of Dental Office Management. She has been nominated for the prestigious Practice Administrator of the year by her Doctor and Hygienists. Kelly was awarded the honor of “Practice Administrator of Distinction” in 2016.

Learn more about how RevenueWell improves case acceptance and creates more close-knit relationships between dentists and their patients. Or download our ebook on how to grow your practice this year!