Interview: A Leading DSO’s Approach to New Associate “Onboarding” & Continuing Education

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Craig Copeland, DMD is Clinical Director of Community Dental Partners, a DSO based in Denton, TX. Community Dental Partners’ unique model includes clinical and business guidance, technology, resources, and relationships that enable its clients to focus on their passion and delegate the areas of the business that don’t give them energy. This approach stresses development of both the “clinical mind” and the “business mind” and enables each practice to identify and leverage its “unique wisdom” in order to maximize success.

Mark Binford is CEO of The Institute for Pediatric Dentistry (IPD), the leading private educational institution dedicated to helping dental practices – including many affiliated with DSOs – shape their future with unparalleled training in pediatric restorative dentistry. Comprehensive hands-on training programs for both pediatric dentists and general dentists, and their staff, are led by an all-star faculty with over 200 years of combined clinical experience.

Recently Mr. Binford interviewed Dr. Copeland about Community Dental Partners’ approach to providing continuous education for its member dentists and the role IPD has played in these efforts.

MB: Community Dental Partners has clearly embraced pediatric dentistry as an area of focus. Why is that?

CC: We are well aware that pediatric dental disease is reaching near epidemic proportions in this country. Here in Texas, 40 percent of four-year-olds have some form of caries. Our mission statement is built around helping children, particularly the underserved, get the type of dental access they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get. While reimbursement fees can be very “tight” in many markets, including Texas where we primarily operate, pediatric dentistry tends to not require significant lab expenses or capital outlays. Operating at a high level of efficiency with well-trained dentists is really critical to making our business model successful.

 That’s an intriguing statement. Could you expand on that?

CC: Think about it: when you’re doing pediatric dentistry, you have a patient who doesn’t want to be in that dental chair for long. So you really have no choice but to be as efficient as you possibly can while still providing excellent care, and that is almost always good for the bottom line. By increasing our focus on pediatric dentistry, we’re able to provide access to kids who are in need while also strengthening the financial performance of our organization.

MB: That leads to my next question. Could you describe the approach Community Dental Partners takes regarding the continuing education of its members’ dentists?

Dr. Ray Stewart with a student at a recent IPD “Game Changers in Pediatric Dentistry” course.

CC: Continuing education is absolutely critical in practices that see a lot of pediatric patients and thus place a premium on efficiency. Our dentists need to be on top of any new techniques, technologies and products that can keep patient chair time as brief as possible, while still ensuring great care. And that’s where continuing education comes in.

MB: What attracted you to The Institute of Pediatric Dentistry?

CC: For one thing, the new dentists we hire from dental schools each year are primarily GPs. In most dental schools, GPs are lucky to place a few stainless steel crowns or do even one pulpotomy. They get little or no training in managing children and their parents. As a result, most of the graduating dentists joining our practices are not well prepared to treat pediatric patients. Even many of the experienced GPs we hire who do have some experience treating kids many times lack skills in efficiently treating children. About two years ago we recognized that we had a big gap between our dentists’ actual pediatric expertise and the level of expertise we need them to have. We looked at continuing education programs all over the country in search of one that offered both the didactic element – the philosophies behind the treatment plans – and the hands-on, here’s-exactly-how-you-do-it element. It got very frustrating because we couldn’t find anyone who offered both elements. We strongly considered building our own training center, but the costs were prohibitive, and we also felt it would be a distraction to our business. Then we discovered the IPD. We saw that the IPD has an incredibly knowledgeable faculty with a true mastery of the didactic part, and that this same faculty works one-on-one with attendees to provide an amazing hands-on learning experience. IPD’s instructors have extremely impressive credentials and reputations, and they bring unmatched experience and expertise you know you can trust.

MB: I know you’ve personally attended our “Game Changers in Pediatric Dentistry” course. What were your impressions?

CC: One thing that really struck me was learning how a patient’s socio-economic profile can help you put the patient in touch with the proper risk category. It helps you determine the best way to approach the patient and parent, the most appropriate materials to use, the best treatment philosophy, and so forth. Of course, we never under-treat or over-treat any patient based on financial means. However, two busy working parents or a single working mom most likely needs to be presented options that can be accomplished in one visit, while a stay-at-home mom who can bring her child in for two or three appointments to solve a problem may be more comfortable with a different set of options. The IPD Faculty really gets that. They spend a lot of time in their workshops covering real-world treatment planning, which we really appreciate.

MB: So is the Treatment Planning workshop one of the portions of the course that your dentists see the most value in?

CC: There’s definitely a ton of value in that for us, but what is equally valuable is how IPD lets our dentists practice what they are being taught through hands-on work in the SimLab. Running their courses at universities with state-of-the-art SimLabs is really a game-changer for us. There’s just no other pediatric dentistry CE program doing this. It gives our dentists hands-on exposure to the very best materials: both the latest and greatest materials that you might not normally see up close for years, and proven materials that this renowned faculty has come to trust implicitly after years of successful clinical use and evaluation. In the SimLab training, what really impressed me is the individual attention our dentists get from these great educators. They actually take the time to work with each attendee in the SimLab and provide detailed, insightful feedback on what they did well and how they can do even better. They take extra time and do whatever it takes to help our dentists with a crown prep or pulp therapy they might be struggling with. The whole experience is a huge confidence builder for our dentists.

MB: What have your dentists had to say about their experience at IPD courses?

CC: Each and every one has raved about the experience. Interestingly, our more experienced dentists say they’ve benefited not only from the new techniques they’ve learned, but from having the course validate many of the treatment plans they’ve been using over the years.

MB: Is it true that you use IPD as a recruiting tool?

CC: It is. We hire a lot of students graduating from dental school every year, and they know that our practices generally have a lot of pediatric patients. When we extend an offer, usually the first thing they say is, “But I don’t have any experience treating kids.” We just respond, “Don’t worry; we’ll start by sending you to a two-day course at The Institute for Pediatric Dentistry, and you’ll be fine.” That’s a huge relief to them. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when we mention that the course is part of an all-expense-paid trip to a great location like Las Vegas and they’ll be staying at a 5-star Las Vegas resort hotel. That’s pretty appealing to any new graduate!

MB: Speaking of which, what did you think about the facilities at the course you attended?

CC: I’ve been to a lot of dental schools all over the country, but I don’t know that I’ve been to one that can compare with the UNLV School of Dentistry. Their SimLab is truly state-of-the-art and extremely functional, and the IPD staff and UNLV staff are extremely helpful and accommodating. The food that’s served for meals and breaks during the two days is outstanding. And the Venetian is just a fantastic five-star resort hotel. It’s got everything you could ask for: fine dining, excellent shopping, and great shows, not to mention a canal with gondola rides! The whole weekend is a first-class event from beginning to end.

MB: You’ll be pleased to know that we’re also partnering with another outstanding school: Tufts University Dental School of Medicine, where we’ll be offering a course in September. And we’ll continue to partner with additional schools over time as we strive to make it as convenient as possible for dental professionals to attend our courses.

CC: That’s great. Boston is a terrific location, especially in the fall.

MB: How would you rate the ROI Community Dental Partners is earning from its involvement with IPD?

IPD students at a recent “Game Changers in Pediatric Dentistry course.

CC: We have absolutely no doubt that our return on our investment in IPD training is excellent. The minute our dentists return to their practices, they have the confidence to handle cases that in the past they would have simply referred out. In addition, our IPD graduates now know when more comprehensive treatment is indicated, and through IPD they’ve established a network of peers they can collaborate with to discuss and tackle those more challenging cases. Before IPD, they might have provided a simpler treatment that they felt “safe” doing but that wasn’t necessarily the ideal solution for the patient. So IPD training has resulted in our practices not only handling more cases, but doing more comprehensive cases. The result has served to strengthen our production, our quality of care, patient and parent satisfaction, and our bottom line.

MB: What else should your fellow DSOs know about IPD?

CC: Another benefit of attending IPD is being able to spend time during breaks with the manufacturer sponsors and have them take you through their offerings in a more detailed and relaxed way than you would normally be able to get at a trade show or in your practice. And the Friday night cocktail reception is a very nice event that gives you a chance to rub shoulders with a world-renowned faculty and to network with other attendees.

MB: If you were to tell your fellow DSOs the three points that most separate IPD from other continuing education programs, what would they be?

CC: First, IPD shares amazing information about the most effective, most efficient ways to treat pediatric patients. Second, they then allow you to practice what you’ve just been taught with outstanding hands-on training that gives you the skills you can take back to your practice. And the third point is the human factor: their faculty members offer a true wealth of knowledge, take the time to give you one-on-one attention, and truly care about you and your success.

MB: Do you have any suggestions for how IPD can do better?

CC: One of the aspects of the course that I think provided the most value and stimulation is the treatment planning case studies, which you get to discuss with both the faculty and your fellow attendees. It was very interesting to hear how other doctors would handle certain cases, and what their thinking was. If there’s a way to devote more time to cases studies, that would be terrific.

MB: You must have shared that suggestion with us in our post-course attendee survey, because we recently shifted some of the didactic lecture coursework to the online segment which attendees can view before or after the course. This freed up an additional 90 minutes for us to devote to case studies in the classroom.

CC: That’s great to hear!

MB: We’re also acting on several other thoughtful suggestions we’ve received from IPD attendees. For example, we offer in-practice consulting for our alumni, and we’re expanding our alumni relations efforts. In essence, we want to do whatever it takes to meet the needs of dental professionals. We know we have to earn our reputation as the “go to” destination for pediatric dentistry continuing education every day, and we can’t do that if we aren’t continually improving. So thank you, Dr. Copeland, for your helpful counsel, and for sharing your time and insights with us today.

CC: It’s been my pleasure. And thank you for the wonderful training you continue to provide our dentists.

Special Offer for DSOs
For more information on The Institute for Pediatric Dentistry and to view the 2017 IPD course schedule, visit Use coupon code IPDROCKS to receive a 10% discount on your course registration.


When? March 31-April 1, 2017
Where? UNLV SimLab in Las Vegas
Who? Pediatric dentists, GPs, and dental assistants
CE credits? Up to 20
How much? Special prices available for DSOs and large group practices
What else? Stay at the luxurious Venetian Las Vegas

To register:
Call the IPD’s Information Coordinator Bethany Johns at (832) 571-2976, or email her at