Why Cross-Training Your Dental Team Works and How to Get Started

Apr 10, 2023

Picture this: Your dental practice schedule is full, and your day’s production potential is high. Minutes before your morning huddle begins, you find out that a dental assistant has an unexpected issue and a hygienist has called in sick. 

There goes your perfect-day unless…

You understand the value of cross-training your dental team.

A cross-trained dental team can spin on a dime, call an audible, and in most scenarios, not miss a beat. That’s a lot of cliches to encourage you to double-check your cross-training initiatives.

Why cross-training your dental team works

It’s not an “if” but “when” scenario. The domino effect will happen on occasion in your dental practice. 

One or two team member “dominos” fall, and without a cross-trained team, you face a variety of challenges. 

  • Your schedule could fall apart.
  • Production could be affected.
  • Patients risk being rescheduled, causing them inconvenience and frustration.
  • Your remaining team could feel additional stress.

Here’s why cross-training works and can help with those challenges:

Cross-trained team members can adapt and shift when necessary

A team member cross-trained in another role can easily transition for an entire day or days — or at a moment’s notice throughout a particular day.

You can’t control circumstances, but with cross-training, you can anticipate workflow challenges and be in a better position to adapt on the fly:

  • Staying on schedule
  • Sharing responsibilities
  • Serving your patients

Cross-trained team members help maintain your daily momentum

Think of cross-training as you would a backup power generator. If the lights flicker and the power goes out, the generator automatically kicks on and you’re back in business.

A cross-trained team has a somewhat automated connection to the overall office routines beyond their primary roles. Their energy is available when and where needed.

Cross-trained team members help you spot hiring gaps

How often and where you utilize cross-training can give you perspective on where you might need to consider team additions. Monitor the “who” and the “where.”

How to create an effective cross-trained dental team

Documentation, systems and routine workflows are the focus when developing your cross-training strategy. Each department within your dental practice has core routines and procedures that are unique.

Dental assistant cross-training

  • List procedural protocols such as those that apply to fillings, crown prep, extractions, endo, etc.
  • Provide a sterilization checklist and maintenance details relative to your equipment.
  • Photograph a prepared and ready instrument tray with labeling for reference use.
  • Update your treatment and procedural protocols when you make any changes or add new resources or procedures.
  • Map out your supply and storage area to ensure supplies are easy to find when needed.

Front office cross-training

  • Provide a list of daily, weekly and monthly workflows and tasks.
  • Create a phone protocol guide and include any helpful scripting or FAQ details.
  • Provide process details for patient check-in/checkout, clinical handoffs, printing and attaching a treatment plan to patient files, discussing payment/financial details, scheduling, and end-of-day routines.
  • Outline reporting procedures.

Hygienist cross-training

  • List sterilization and instrument maintenance procedures.
  • Use team meetings to participate in departmental orientation for clinical, admin and hygiene processes. Focus on one theme during each team gathering.
  • Get hands-on within another department as a training opportunity. This provides visual participation in the specifics of the department’s processes. 

In a sense, cross-training is an ongoing process. You’ll likely add to your lists over time.

And be patient as your team adapts to being cross-trained. 

The goal is creating a dental practice culture that’s prepared and where team members are willing to step outside their expertise and comfort zone. Cross-training makes this possible.

Support your team development (including cross-training) with proven data analytics and management tools 

Dental practice data analysis provides useful perspective for team growth and improvement. Use it to shape and refine your operational strategies and workflows.

Check out the following on-theme resources:

5 Ways to Keep Your Team Improving

How to Appreciate, Motivate and Retain Your Dental Team

The Jarvis Analytics platform helps ensure that you’re tracking the important metrics and staying on track with your goals as your dental practice grows and expands. 

Experience Jarvis in action. Request a demo today!


Contact us for more information about data tracking that leads to standout patient care and organizational profitability.


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