Leaders and doers driving social good

Investment in Your Team is Investment in Your Practice: An Interview with Gio Iuculano, DDS of Winchester Dental

By Stephanie Baum, Mentor Engine 

Patients and referral partners of Winchester Dental in Winchester, Virginia regularly praise the practice for providing innovative, excellent dental care and an outstanding office experience—in fact, some patients travel regularly from other areas of the country for treatment. In addition to general dentistry, the practice provides modern, holistic dental treatment for other health issues. How did Winchester Dental evolve, and what drives its success? Practice owner Gio Iuculano, DDS explains.

Dr. Gio, can you give us some background on your practice?

We are a large group practice of four dentists, six hygienists, and 15 chairs. We have an in-office laboratory and regularly acquire the newest in dental technology. Adding providers as we’ve grown has helped us keep our overhead low. It also allows us to open the office six days a week (though no team member works more than four days a week) and to offer more clinical procedures.

When you began leading your practice, did you offer any specialty treatments, or just general dentistry?

We began as a general practice, and as we added new dentists to the practice, they added new procedures to the mix. My personal focus has been treatment for sleep apnea, which necessitated that I develop an understanding of TMJ therapy. That also led me to learn about functional orthodontics, which can ultimately prevent sleep breathing disorders from developing in children.

Your practice offers holistic treatments in the areas you just mentioned: sleep dentistry, TMJ therapy, and functional orthodontics. Can you talk about what the term holistic treatment means?

Holistic treatment affects the whole body; it is concerned with optimizing whole-body health. From a dental standpoint, we are aware that the procedures we perform within a patient’s mouth can affect the nervous system; they can affect growth and development in children; and they are a gateway to the microbiome in the gut. In all cases, the dentistry we practice is airway-centered. We always work with the intention of helping patients optimize their breathing.

Do dental schools offer specialty coursework in these areas?

I graduated dental school in 1998, and at that time, they didn’t. Dental treatment in these areas has really arisen within the past ten years or so, and I started with it around 2010. There are now a few programs in these areas offered at the dental school level. These kinds of treatment offerings are slowly gaining recognition.

What sparked your interest in offering these kinds of treatments, and how did you learn about them and develop your skill in these areas?

I saw that there was a need in my community. Patients came in with TMJ issues for which there weren’t many treatment options, so I began taking training courses in different parts of the US and Canada. The first course I did was in Dallas, a 16-week mini-residency program through the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain. Over another couple of years, I did more training in places like Omaha, Toronto, Salt Lake City, and Washington, DC. My training in functional orthodontics took place in Miami and Chicago, and for the past few years, I’ve been training all over the US in various aspects of all these areas.

As you attended these training sessions, did you start to see a lot of the same attendees from course to course?

Yes, over the years, a small group of dentists emerged with the same focus. It’s worth noting that general dentistry is much more profitable than these specialty areas, so when I find providers who offer these kinds of treatments, I know they’re really trying to help and give back to their communities.

What question do people ask you most frequently about the holistic treatments your practice offers, and how do you respond to that question?

Most people ask, “What’s in it for me?” I always tell them that the benefit of the holistic approach is that you leave as a healthier individual.

What is the second most frequently asked question you get about this, and how do you respond?

There are actually a few other questions. For TMJ therapy, people ask, “Can this treatment eliminate my pain?” Those with sleep disorders ask whether airway-focused treatment can help them sleep better. Parents of children with breathing disorders often ask if we can give their kids the chance to develop to their full potential, and to that question I can usually answer yes. We can’t guarantee complete success for every case, but we tell patients that we will achieve either improvement or resolution. Each problem comes with its own goal, and we treat each case individually.

Which of these specific areas are you most passionate about, and why?

Though we are innovative in offering treatment in these areas, I enjoy treating patients with a variety of issues and don’t want to pigeonhole myself in terms of special dental interests, so I hesitate to name one. I truly feel blessed to enjoy going to work every day; a lot of that is the team that I work with. We are a group with similar core interests. Having a competent, well-trained team in many areas is key to our ability to handle the variety of cases we see, and to delegate tasks as needed.

I’d like to ask more about that. Your team members constantly receive accolades for the excellent service they all provide, and for their wealth of knowledge. What do you look for when you’re hiring new team members?

In interviewing applicants, I always keep in mind how I would want to be treated in a provider’s office. We also consider how a potential member might fit with our existing team; we hire on personality. We look for core values such as honesty, caring for patients and fellow team members, commitment to working hard, and whether an applicant is goal-oriented.

We also employ consultants to help us ensure excellence in other aspects of our practice, such as business and training, because I believe in getting advice from individuals with expertise in areas where I don’t have that kind of knowledge.

What role does continuing education play for your team members?

We invest a lot in training our staff. During the most recent recession, for example, we did not cut staff at all, but instead used that time to invest in training for our team.

Does your practice require a minimum amount of yearly training for team members?

We don’t have any such requirement within the office, but dentists, hygienists, and dental assistants must complete a certain amount of yearly training to keep up with their licensing requirements, and we provide plenty of training for everyone each year. I believe that the better trained your team is, the better an experience your patients will have in the office. Keeping up training for our team members allows them to provide a wealth of information and outstanding care for patients, and this in turn helps patients to make better decisions about their own care.

What kind of training sessions do you have within your practice?

We hold “Lunch and Learn” sessions, which are scheduled monthly training meetings regarding our office protocols. Our office managers usually lead these sessions. We also want everyone in the office to know how to handle certain situations from different perspectives, so we cross-train our team members by having them assist in different areas and tasks as appropriate. Some of our regular administrative staff, for example, are trained, licensed dental assistants, and occasionally they will work directly with the dentists.

What’s next for you?

Every couple of years, I find something new to tackle, and I’m beginning to refocus on placing implants. For a while I had been referring implant cases to the other dentists in the practice, and I’m getting back into it now. My associates all do implants, and so as I ease back into this area, I’ll work closely and collaborate with them.