Center Stage – DSO Influencer, Teresa Williams

For the past seven years, Group Dentistry Now has been committed to the success of emerging dental groups & DSOs and the people who work for them. 

In January 2019, we began recognizing DSO influencers with our annual ‘DSO Influencers To Watch’ list. We are now pivoting from an annual list to a regular featured article, Center Stage, which will highlight an individual DSO influencer. 

Who is a DSO influencer? Someone who impacts and influences not just their dental group, but the DSO industry at large. With well-honed leadership skills, they inspire positivity, exhibit vision, and display entrepreneurial energy. Outside-the-box thinkers, they have extraordinary business acumen and philanthropic interest.  


Our latest DSO Influencer is Teresa Williams, COO, Dental Express. Here is our interview with her:

GDN: You left your last DSO, Dental Depot, after ten years, growing it to 18 large practice locations. What inspired you to restart from the ground up in a new emerging DSO, Dental Express?

TW: Growing a start-up DSO gave me the opportunity to be creative. There was so much inertia involved with the systems and processes with an 18-location business that changing something small was a monumental task. Team members were wedded to how we did things and less than eager to try something different.

A start-up offered the opportunity to refine some things that were historically flawed in our processes. There were many new resources to DSOs in 2014. I recognized the need to respond to the modern worker’s needs in our workforce. What worked well 20 years ago does not necessarily have the same relevance today. The patient care delivery system has evolved in how we perform dentistry, and a parallel evolution is needed to transpire with our approach to systems and processes.

After a decade of building a DSO, starting anew offered me the professional opportunity to “try on” each process and examine how they fit in our new practices. Working with a start-up DSO allowed me to be boots on the ground again with the authority to allow for innovation and improvement.

GDN: How do you develop leadership within your team? 

TW: My leadership development approach is fairly Socratic. I have found that many novice managers expect to have the right “answers” whether performing a new job function or approaching a challenge. When we teach them that successful leaders are often those that have the right “questions” and not the right “answers”, we are able to harness both their learning potential and the learning potential of their team. They quickly build confidence in their abilities, realizing that they can solve most problems independently and are not intimidated by new challenges. In asking questions (even if we already know the answer), we unlock their thinking to be more creative and responsive.

GDN: How do you build meaningful relationships with industry partners?

TW: As leaders in our industry, I believe we have a responsibility to collaborate with our industry partners to help them best support us. How we communicate our wants and needs directly impacts the success of their product or service in our organization.

I often hear from colleagues that they are dissatisfied with their dental software functionality, the performance of their equipment, or the reporting abilities of their merchant services provider. How we communicate our grievances is paramount to a successful relationship. If we reframe our expectations of industry partners by including a dialogue and a dynamic working relationship between the DSO and the industry partner, then we accelerate quality improvement. Expecting a partner to meet a need without a clearly communicated understanding of the need is unreasonable.

GDN: What role do Core Values play at Dental Express?

TW: The core values of Dental Express – Integrity, Empathy, Adaptability, Collaboration and Whistle While you Work – are attributes that I believe reside in most people we encounter every day. Those values begin with our Dental Express team and by “walking the talk.” Our patients experience them firsthand.

Once a value system is identified, the key is to cultivate an environment in which those values can thrive—both in theory and in practice. If the environment supports and recognizes these values, that means the team is letting them drive their decisions in the office—with their fellow team members and our patients. These values set the tone and stage for our culture and brand.

GDN: Being innovative is key to continued growth and success. How are you an innovator?

TW: As Dental Express has scaled over the last seven years, we have increased locations and thereby have more doctors. The result was a need for increased clinical leadership company-wide.

Over the past 12 months, we implemented a Clinical Leadership Board. This board consists of high-performing associates as well as owners that work to shape and implement the clinical philosophy of the company. Their responsibilities include interviewing, on-boarding, and mentoring new doctors, equipment evaluation and selection, standardizing clinical SOP’s as well as working to remediate patient or compliance concerns. Having a board that works together to solve clinical matters has proven to be well-received by our doctors and the clinical team overall.

GDN: What is an example of a risk you took and a result that surprised you?

TW: When we received the state mandate limiting our practice to preventative and routine care, we were faced with tough choices on our team—who was going to get to work in this reduced workflow? Since California was one of the first states to shut down and the last to open back up, things seemed bleak. We knew we couldn’t operate all full capacity and sustain our team within the state guidelines.

How were we going to truly be “all in this together” when some could work and others would be unable to? Many team members at the practice level, including doctors, were uneasy about treating emergency patients.

With the rapidly changing interpretations of the Paycheck Protection Program, we had to decide (1) to cover payroll and operating costs or (2) to allocate the funds all to payroll. We bifurcated our team and had some in the offices and others utilizing socially distant work opportunities. Within two weeks of the shutdown, our entire team was back to work—in the offices or at home. Never in my career did I envision clinical team members and doctors working at home or working in an office absent of patients.

During this time, our team worked hard to codify SOP’s, produce training videos, and completely overhaul our RCM processes. We held our breath as we made the decision to pay high level clinical employees to do non patient care related projects.

The reward was astounding. We had 98% retention through the pandemic. This retention gave us the stable footing to not only reopen fully when allowed but avoid the labor shortages seen by our industry colleagues.

GDN: What is your vision for the future of the DSO industry?

TW:  I think the pandemic has brought the DSO community closer and solidified a path forward for all DSOs. My vision leverages the strength of having a multidisciplinary team to provide a more well-rounded, consistent patient care experience and the practice level. Approaching dental care from a quality standpoint that includes positive clinical outcomes, cost containment as well as the patient’s perception of their experience will continue to propel DSOs as the premier way to provide dental care.


Previous DSO Influencers:


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