My Unexpected Journey to Heartland Dental

Heartland Dental
Author Sylvia Hazel practicing at Heartland Dental

Disclosure: This article is sponsored content from Heartland Dental as part of our sponsored partner program.

Sometimes you find something totally unexpected in places you would never imagine. While searching for a dental hygiene job to secure health benefits for my family, I got so much more than I expected.

My temporary relief became what I now see as my forever dental home. My name is Sylvia Hazel, and I am a registered dental hygienist and an expanded duties assistant. I graduated from Midlands Technical College in Columbia, S.C., and I have been a dental hygienist for nearly 25 years. Prior to coming to Heartland Dental, I worked in private practice for 17 years.

With my husband being self-employed, I have always provided health insurance benefits for my family. While working at a private dental practice, I was blindsided and lost my job when the office went through a change in management. This left me without coverage, and purchasing independent insurance plans for a family of four would prove to be very expensive.

To add fuel to the fire, I had recently learned that I would need surgery. I desperately needed a new job. Specifically, I needed one that provided health insurance.

Driving By Heartland Dental

While driving through my community one afternoon, I saw a building under construction with a sign that read “Heartland Dental.” I investigated online for more information and discovered that it was a dental support organization (DSO).

I was hesitant to apply. A friend of mine had worked for another DSO, and based on her experience, I understood all dental support organizations to be prophy mills where management cared only about production and patient volume. I thought my focus on patient education and care was likely not aligned with the philosophy of a DSO.

Still, my urgent need for insurance to protect my family pushed me to take the next step. I thought to myself that if I got the job, I could use the insurance and then keep looking for work elsewhere. I know that may not have been the right mindset, but that was honestly my plan.

Although the interview was typical, one question caught me off guard. The person conducting the interview asked, “If you had the chance to grow and advance in your career, would you be willing to do that?” What a crazy question, I thought. Of course, I would take advantage of the opportunity to improve my craft after all these years in dental hygiene! In addition to the clinical education courses they mentioned, the Heartland Dental representative also spoke to me about communications and business-related classes as well. I was certainly interested and excited.

The Heartland Dental Culture

After starting in the practice, I was impressed with the beautiful office and state-of-the-art technology. I discovered this was standard in all Heartland Dental-supported offices, which today includes more than 1,000. At the same time, I experienced a culture where the doctors make the decisions, and the hygienists are seen as a valued provider. Providing excellent patient care was truly the focus of the entire team. You can imagine my relief and excitement in realizing Heartland Dental did not fit the mold of corporate dentistry.

Right from the start, I was connected with a hygiene mentor. Those first few days were the most impactful on my experience at Heartland Dental. From the moment I met her, I knew I wanted to be in a similar position someday. She provided me with tips on being more efficient with various procedures and communicating with my patients.

More importantly, she helped to reenergize my passion for my hygiene career. Because of her, I felt motivated and empowered. I went home the same day and told my husband, “I want to be a hygiene mentor.”

The connection with a hygiene mentor was just one sign of how Heartland Dental was truly making an investment in me and my career by providing this resource who wanted to help me grow professionally. Additionally, they gave me opportunities to join a variety of continuing education courses, including a communications-focused class that I attended with my team. It was in those first training programs where I was introduced to the company culture and the leadership teams. Immediately, I felt respected and valued as a hygienist.

Heartland reminded me repeatedly how important the dental hygienist’s role is to the patient and the office as a whole. Working in private practice, I had never felt this way. The initial training included using cancer screening technology, laser, scanner, and many other technologies, as well as how to effectively communicate with patients, the importance of treating periodontal disease, and so much more. Through all of the courses, which have allowed me to earn continuing education credits, there was always a priority placed on providing high-quality dental care to my patients and giving them exceptional experiences.

Relationship with Doctors at Heartland Dental

To my surprise, I never once heard about production goals or quotas while attending training. I did, however, learn the importance and emphasis placed on having a strong doctor and hygiene partnership. My doctor took the time to get to know me personally while understanding my patient philosophy.

She really empowered me to think like a practice owner, and she allowed me to run my operatory like it was my own business. Across all Heartland supported practices, hygienists regulate the time spent with patients. It’s my understanding this may not be the case in private practices and other DSOs, but it has certainly been my experience in that whether I need 60 minutes or 90 minutes for a two quad SRP, I have the ability to adjust the time needed to care for my patients. With my new freedom, I took control of my schedule and collaborated with the business team to keep my schedule consistent in order to best care for my patients.

As our partnership grew, my doctor provided endless support. She took the time to listen and sincerely valued my input on decisions she would make. She also helped me to understand her treatment plan philosophy so that we could work together to help patients get the dental treatment they deserved.

I learned so much from her. That’s one of the significant differences that struck me about working in a Heartland Dental supported practice versus private practice. It’s truly a partnership between doctors and hygienists working together to achieve a common goal. This is standard throughout all the practices, as Heartland encourages frequent doctor-hygiene meetings to discuss treatment philosophies and other hygiene needs. This was so eye-opening because, as a dental hygienist in private practice, I had little to no involvement with the doctor.

I thought after all my years in private practice that I had learned all there was to learn. Was I ever wrong! I am still learning and growing. I was amazed the first time we were given a copy of my office’s profit and loss statement, so together, as a team, we could help strengthen the health of our practice.

Heartland Dental is such an open book, and we are encouraged to collaborate with our supported doctors to provide the best care for our patients. It’s just another aspect that I love about this organization.

Benefits at Heartland Dental

As a hygienist with Heartland Dental, I have received much more than I ever could have imagined. Sure, I got the health insurance I needed for my family and me, but there was so much more that. I received access to a 401K, a Health Savings Account, vision insurance, life insurance, employee stock options, a fantastic bonus system, and yearly reviews with opportunities for pay increases.

While all these benefits are excellent and very much appreciated, I quickly learned there are so many unexpected “extras” that are priceless in comparison. Throughout my six and a half years here, I’ve been offered incredible opportunities – from continuing education, communication skills training, hands-on technical support, and additional resources – all of which have certainly helped to advance my career and enabled me grow as a person. Part of that comes from the comradery within my team. We lift each other up when facing challenges, and it’s been a blessing to have support and encouragement from my teammates.

Mentoring at Heartland Dental

I am proud to say that I recently achieved my goal of becoming a hygiene mentor! Having watched my mother as a lifelong educator, I have always felt that teaching and motivating was in my blood. I have had aspirations of mentoring, and I love dental hygiene, so this is a perfect fit for me.

The Heartland Dental Senior Mentor Team has been so helpful in my transition into the role of a hygiene mentor in my region. I have access to all the training and resources I need, and I feel extremely supported. I never dreamed I would have the chance to mentor other hygienists and help them to succeed as well. I believe this is only possible as a result of being with Heartland Dental.

I cannot wait to see what my future holds. Constantly a student of my craft, I want to continue learning and growing. Because Heartland Dental is still investing in my growth and encouraging me to better myself, I know the possibilities are endless with the wide variety of continuing education I am offered!

Because of my new position – which began at the onset of the pandemic – I was able to be part of the conversations about how to best take care of our teammates when practices only saw emergency patients.

Again, I was so impressed with the leadership team’s priority of providing for the needs of all team members. Heartland Dental provided us with emergency pay and covered our health insurance premiums while we were unable to work. They offered us opportunities to stay connected during the lockdown, and they assisted us in navigating unemployment benefits. At the same time, they worked hard to procure the necessary PPE to keep us safe while helping us to best prepare for the reopening of the practices. Their support and guidance have never ceased.

That support also included Heartland’s response to the racial tensions and social injustices we have recently experienced in our communities and our country. I’m proud to say that our leadership has made it clear the company stands with marginalized communities and continues to help us all do more and become better individually and as a company. They even formed a diversity and inclusion team to focus on new company initiatives. I think this speaks volumes about our culture and provides me with hope, and solidifies my belief that I’m in the right place here at Heartland Dental.

If I could offer advice to a hygienist who is considering joining Heartland Dental, it would be to please give it a try. While I can’t speak for other DSOs, I know from experience that Heartland Dental stays true to its values by doing the right things for the right reasons. Our supported doctors and team members are the best of the best. Our hygienists are the lifeblood of the practice, and we are valued and appreciated every step of the way. Together, we all work hard to provide excellent care to our patients, and it’s a truly rewarding and fulfilling job. The health benefits are just icing on the cake.

Heartland Dental is Hiring Hygienists! Learn More About a Hiring Bonus and How Heartland Dental Puts Patient Care First!