“The Most Valuable Mistakes” – Mental Health in the Dental Profession (feat. Dr. Brian Swift)

“The Dental Marketing Mix” Podcast – Season 1, Episode 2

In Episode 2 of “The Dental Marketing Mix” podcast, Dr. Brian Swift shares the lessons he learned about mental health along the way to opening his own private practice. From trying out various practice types (including high-stress, high-volume clinics) to protecting work-life balance and everything in between, Dr. Swift reflects on what really matters most for dentists searching for the right professional and personal fit. Don’t miss this wide-ranging conversation on mental health in one of the world’s most challenging — but also most rewarding — professions.

For more information on “The Dental Marketing Mix” and to check out other episodes, visit the podcast page. Learn more about Dr. Swift and Swift Family Dentistry on their website, and to connect with Dr. Swift, email info (at) swiftfamilydentistry.com


Dan Brian (00:18):

All right, welcome to episode two of “The Dental Marketing Mix.” This is a brand new podcast specifically for dentists. We are focused on marketing for dental practices, particularly online marketing, but we also get into all kinds of themes and topics that are of interest to practicing dentists. And so my name is Dan Brian. I am the host of this podcast, but I’m also the co-founder over at DentalScapes. We do online marketing for dental practices — general dentists, orthodontists, pediatric dentists as well as small to mid-size DSOs that our values align with. So in any case I wanted to dig into a really cool topic today and one that I think is increasingly important in today’s fast moving industry, and that’s mental health in the dental profession. And joining me to talk about that, I’m really excited to have a great guest on today.


He is Brian Swift and he is a practicing dentist and owner of Swift Family Dentistry in Roxboro, North Carolina. He’s a graduate of the UNC Adams School of Dentistry. And one thing that, I’m gonna give you a second here to introduce yourself, Brian, but one thing that I think is so interesting is that you have mentioned in the past that you’re one of seven practicing dentists in your county which is a little bit insane. But you are also one of two dentists in the county with a website. So, like I said, we dig into marketing here on the show but today’s gonna be a little bit more focused on a different topic. But I wanted to kick things off and ask you what motivated you to want to start that website in, you know, what I think is a pretty family-focused area, and you said you get most of your business from referrals and word of mouth. So what motivated you, and I commend you for building that website because it is so important. I’m a little biased of course, but what motivated you to do that and how has it worked out for you?

Brian Swift (02:17):

Sure. And first of all, just wanted to say thank you for having me, Dan. Very excited to be here. With respect to the website, you know, I just figured I kind of needed it in this day and age. I can’t imagine operating any kind of business without a website, and we know it is in addition to the word of mouth referrals that you mentioned, I think that’s probably the second strongest thing that we have in terms of getting new patients. Yeah, a lot of people just said they Googled “dentist Roxboro” and of course I’m about one of two that pops up, so. Yes.

Dan Brian (02:49):

Fair enough. Fair enough. Yeah, I mean, it’s so important regardless of how you even get your patients. I mean, and it sounds like that’s working for you, too, in terms of driving organic traffic to the website. But it’s so important in terms of patient experience and everyone wants to learn more about, you know, a practice before they decide where to go. And it’s cool. I saw on your website you’ve got staff bios and all of that, and I just think it’s so important for demonstrating the unique personality and characteristics of your practice and what makes, you know, you you, so that’s cool. Yeah, for sure. So, you know, I wanted to dig into a topic that I think we’re both passionate about and that’s mental health in the dental profession. But if you don’t mind, could you start by just kind of sharing your own personal experience with clinical dentistry? What did you do after graduating from dental school initially? And I think it’s fair to say and you can dig into it, you know, in far better detail than I can, but it’s fair to say, I think that you worked in some higher stress, higher volume practices situations. And I wanted to just ask about your experience with that and how you think that impacted your mental health kind of getting into the profession.

Brian Swift (03:56):

Sure. So I have been practicing now almost seven years fresh out of school. I think I had some rose-colored glasses in that I was gonna end up in kind of the situation that I’m in now, which is, it is a little bit slower pace. It’s almost a throwback. It’s very Mayberry-esque up here in Roxboro. Yeah. Which is, you know, it’s just that that’s not for everybody and it’s not everywhere. Yeah. And again, this is my experience. Some of these areas that I worked in are great for other people. It was not for me so much. As you said, higher paced, higher volume, I felt more like I was trying to hit quotas every day. Yeah. I had to hit X amount of procedures, X amount of dollars produced.


And it really limited my capacity to interact with the patients on a human level. I would oftentimes only see people once or twice. They’d come back in, see a different doctor just because it was a multiple office, multiple dental provider office. So the unit, there were three or four doctors, and patients weren’t usually specifically assigned to specific doctors. And it really kind of hampered my ability to establish those relationships, which is one reason that I really chose to get into this business, was to establish those long-term relationships. And yeah, I must say over time it was very grating on my ability to enjoy the practice of dentistry. It felt more like, you know, I was just kind of go, go, go, go, go, go, go trying to hit X amount of dollars. And it was really just not something that I envisioned myself doing long term. And it was quite a shock to the system, especially having exited school with those rose-colored glasses on. It was just not what I was anticipating.

Dan Brian (05:56):

I don’t think that’s unique though. I think, you know, my husband is a professor at a dental school here in North Carolina. And, you know, I think the rose-colored glasses phenomenon is certainly not something that is rare. But you know, now were you working in corporate dentistry? What was sort of the practice environment you were working in?

Brian Swift (06:17):

Yeah, so I bounced around I guess the first five-ish years. I was probably at a different office every year. Just about. There were some corporate offices, they were more local chains to the area, not necessarily national type stuff, but locally owned offices that had upwards of, you know, 15 to 20 locations. Heavily Medicaid-driven. Some of them. Which again, is oftentimes a little bit more quantity.

Dan Brian (06:54):

Yeah, really prone to high volume.

Brian Swift (06:55):

Yeah. Very high volume. But yeah, for the most part they were corporate-y.

Dan Brian (07:00):

Okay. Gotcha. Now, was there a moment that you can remember or maybe a series of moments that sort of led you to realize how important it was to prioritize your own mental health when making your career choice? And ultimately that led you to decide to go into private practice on your own?

Brian Swift (07:22):

Sure. I think after, you know, doing the same thing for three to four years I just, by the end of the day, I was just like, what the hell am I doing with my life here? This is just not what I really envisioned and signed up for. I was really contemplating like, do I wanna stay in this? Actually, this is not something that I envision myself being able to do long term for, you know, 25, 30 years ideally. And I was quite frankly, I was not the nicest at home. You can speak to my poor wife. It was challenging. I think it was just kind of dreading going into work every day, kind of that pit in your stomach. You’re just like, ugh, here we go again.

Dan Brian (08:11):

Hard to leave that at the door.

Brian Swift (08:12):

It is, it really is. The other thing I actually was fortunate throughout those three, four years, though, I worked part-time with one of my dear friends from dental school who started her own practice in the kind of RTP area of North Carolina. And so that kind of gave me one day a week the vision of what it was like to actually run in my opinion, a more quality practice where you can establish the relationships, you can kind of call your own shots, you’re your own boss. So seeing her set that up kind of gave me a hope that, you know what, maybe I can do this and there’s something out there where I can find my little niche in dentistry myself. So I say the combination of just getting burned out and seeing one of my good friends kind of go out there and do it herself.

Dan Brian (09:07):

Yeah. Well, I’m so glad you were able to, you know, find your way to your own, you know, private practice. It sounds like that was such a huge step for you in your career and has made such a difference. Now, not all dentists though, especially those that are, you know, fresh out of school or maybe have not been practicing for very long, not all of them are in a position yet where they can change kind of their work situation immediately. But that does not mean by any means that they’re not struggling with mental health or they’re working in a high stress, you know, high volume environment. What kind of advice would you give to maybe younger dentists, or at least maybe not younger, but less experienced dentists who are struggling with that in their current work environment and maybe are not yet ready to, you know, jump into private practice or even just make a career change. What do you think about that? What kind of advice would you give folks?

Brian Swift (09:58):

Sure. I think my biggest thing is I was always hesitant, especially at first to leave a job because I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to find another one. And so kind of the fear of, oh my gosh, what’s next really paralyzed me a little bit in some of these situations that I probably should have got out of sooner. I would say if you and your gut are having that feeling where, ugh, you’re driving into work and you’re just like, what the heck am I doing? It’s probably time to start looking. Because there’s always something out there. And again, you might not find it on your first go around. I kind of, in my opinion, learned more from those not so great jobs than some of the good jobs.

Dan Brian (10:43):

Absolutely. Yeah. I mean the learning associated with that. It’s often, you know, the mistakes and the mistakes that you make in your career, I feel that are most valuable, actually better than the wins. You know, you’ve spoken about, you know bringing some of that stress and those issues home and you know, how what you deal with in the workplace can ultimately create stress at home. And so, work life balance is obviously huge for any career, any industry. But particularly for dentists for some of the reasons that we’ve already talked about. What tips would you give others that are trying to achieve that kind of balance in this demanding profession?

Brian Swift (11:30):

So, for me one of the things that I’ve learned that really, really helps me is I just need a period of time in the morning to kind of gear up and get ready. And for me, that’s my drive into work. So right now it’s about a 40 minute drive is what I have every day. And I just find it allows me to kind of turn from home mode to work mode and kind of get in the zone. And more importantly, when I’m coming home just kind of turn it off, decompress and leave work at work so I can come home and enjoy the home life.

Dan Brian (12:08):


Brian Swift (12:08):

So for me, that’s just putting on my favorite podcast on the way home.

Dan Brian (12:10):

There you go. Well, now you’ve got a new one.

Brian Swift (12:13):

That’s right. I was just gonna say that.

Dan Brian (12:16):

Fair enough. Fair enough. So, yes sir. You know, as a practice owner, now you have a whole new set of challenges and things that occupy your time and your focus. And one of those is obviously managing a staff and you know, it’s very important obviously within private practice, in any practice for that matter, to create a culture that supports the mental health of everyone in the entire team. What kinds of things are you, and maybe drawing upon your own experience in some other practice environments that we’ve already talked about, what sorts of things are you doing to really build a culture that’s supportive of your team and really looks out for them, as well?

Brian Swift (13:04):

Sure. I think the biggest thing that I think first comes to mind here is I try to be flexible with them. If they ever need to take some time off. I can recall some of these other offices where, you know, kids had stuff at school or they had something with a field trip and these, the other owners would say, nope, you’re on the schedule, you’re not doing it. You’re not going. And I’ve tried to be really flexible with my team here that, you know, if the kid has a play at school or something and they really want to be there, I am happy to be flexible and work with them to kind of move the schedule around. Because in my opinion, that’s what it’s all about. We’re here to work to support our families, and that’s what it’s about. That’s what it’s about. So, absolutely, I think having some flexibility has really gone a long way here for them to respect me maybe more as a boss. I’m not kind of holding them to the fire constantly. And I think it makes it more enjoyable for them to come to work every day knowing that it’s not gonna be hell every day for eight hours. We try to keep it very low key.

Dan Brian (14:16):

Totally. Totally. Now you mentioned something interesting earlier on, you said that, you know, in your previous practice environments, you didn’t necessarily have an opportunity to forge relationships with your patients, and that’s something that can be so rewarding and also fosters long-term relationships with patients and loyalty to the practice and that kind of thing. But can you talk a little bit further about sort of why being able to create longer lasting, longer-term relationships with patients was important to you, and how maybe that’s impacted your outlook on clinical practice?

Brian Swift (14:55):

Sure. So like I said, initially I got into this business because I am a people person. I enjoy working with people and this is my way that I’m helping people. I feel like I’m making a difference in people’s lives by doing what I’m doing. And to be able to really get to know someone, like I said, on a human level, get their story, where they’re coming from, what they’re going through. It makes what I’m doing that much more meaningful, when you have a patient in your chair who you have gotten to know pretty well and you know, you’ve done a new smile for them and they’re sitting in the chair crying. It is really, really special.

Dan Brian (15:40):

Absolutely. Absolutely. Now, you know, one thing that’s interesting is you sort of landed on a unique practice or a practice that maybe is a little bit atypical in that you are in a relatively remote area. It’s a smaller practice, it’s very much, you know, family-focused. And you’ve got, I think you said a lot of patients that have been coming in for, you know, 20, 30, maybe even 40 years which is amazing and so, so cool that you’ve been able to foster that environment. But you know, as younger dentists are considering potentially opening their own practices, what are some of the pointers or tips and tricks that you would share with them in order to help them land on the right practice for them, if you know, it may be the case that they’re going to buy in or buy out an existing practice. What would you advise younger dentists to look for in terms of finding the right fit?

Brian Swift (16:36):

Sure. So again, having worked in a lot of these jobs that I found out were not for me I think was the biggest benefit in finding the one that was right for me. I kind of figured out everything that I didn’t want to do before I figured out what I wanted to do.


Speaking with existing staff at a practice, if you’re looking at it, shadowing for a while, getting to know the patient population is a good idea. I did that a little bit here where I hung around with the previous owner and just kind of got to see the day-to-day ins and outs of the practice and kind of get a pulse on the kind of patience that we have. And it just, with my personality, I felt like it would be a very good fit. So, you know, just kind of hanging out and dipping your toes in the water a little.

Dan Brian (17:29):

Yeah. And getting to know the personality and kind of culture of the practice. Even beyond, you know, what are the most common clinical procedures and that kind of thing.You know, paying attention to sort of the maybe softer or cultural factors you know, that’s interesting. Now, it’s getting better and I think  the conversation about mental health is picking up steam not just in dentistry, but you know, across the country in all professions, which is a great thing obviously. But we still have work to do, and I think it’s fair to say professional organizations and dental schools have some responsibility for that, for fostering an environment that’s conducive to having those conversations and being supportive of up and coming dentists and even dentists that are established in the field. What kind of, what was your experience in dental school, maybe what the conversation around mental health looked like and do you think there’s an opportunity for dental schools or even professional organizations like the ADA for that matter to do more to move that conversation forward?

Brian Swift (18:36):

I do think there is an opportunity to move it forward. Even just seven years ago, I’m trying to pick at the back ends of my brain here. I can’t remember a whole lot of conversation around it. And I almost wish there had been a little bit more of that, you know, you really do need to prioritize yourself. You need to have some ‘you’ time so you don’t lose your mind. Because you’re running, go, go, go, go, go all the time, that’s just not something that I can do. Especially when you’re running go, go, go all the time in a situation where you’re not happy. It just, it beats you down very, very quickly. So I do think there’s an opportunity to maybe have some kind of exposure to that and more so in school before you really are diving in the deep end of real world practice.

Dan Brian (19:27):

Yeah. And for so long the conversation about mental health in all professions really has been sort of taboo. Do you think progress is being made within, you know, the profession? When you go to conferences, do you see any topics that broach the subject or are you seeing more dentists have conversations focused on mental health? Do you think progress is being made?

Brian Swift (19:53):

I do, especially kind of within my own little circle that I’m in with my friends. I think it’s just we’re learning that we, even though we love what we do now, we do have to kind of take the time to prioritize our own wellbeing. Because again it sounds cliché, but if you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re not being able to take care of anybody else. So yeah, I think we’re making progress on that front for sure.

Dan Brian (20:22):

Awesome. Yeah, I mean, it’s encouraging to see, I think that you know, for any number of different factors and reasons, the conversation is moving forward and I’m so encouraged to see that because I know firsthand, like I said, my husband teaches dentistry at the dental school and, you talk about a stressful environment, let’s look at dental school. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that, you know it far better than I do but in any case, you know, Brian, I can’t thank you enough for coming on today and, and sharing your story. As we wrap up here, what are some of the key takeaways or a key takeaway for that matter, that you would want to leave dentists with? Particularly I think younger dentists or at least less experienced dentists that may be closer to getting out of school and, you know, may have those rose-colored glasses and not necessarily anticipate the type of high stress or maybe high volume environment they’re going to be working in.


What would you say to those people to watch out for, maybe warning signs or things they should keep in mind to protect and safeguard their mental health in the profession?

Brian Swift (21:30):

Well, I’m sure you living with a dentist, Dan, can attest to this, that a lot of us are perfectionist “type A” personalities. Can you imagine such a thing?

Dan Brian (21:39):

Can’t imagine.

Brian Swift (21:40):

You’ve never seen that. No, I think we’re oftentimes our own worst critics. So you will make mistakes when you’re fresh out of school. You still make, I mean, I make mistakes now. It’s just a matter of correcting the mistakes and doing the right thing with those mistakes. But learning to make mistakes, accept those mistakes, learn from them, move on and do better, I think is the biggest thing I can tell young dentists coming out. I would also say, again, kind of what I went through, just because you’re in a bad situation doesn’t mean that you have to stay there. You can learn from it and move on. And again, I think you and I both have mentioned I learned more probably from the bad situations, from my mistakes than I did from things going right. I learned how not to run my practice for myself. I learned how not to treat my own patients now. And because of that, it’s made me a better dentist. So kind of embracing the mistakes and embracing the not so good situations for me ended up giving me a better long-term outcome in my practice and really has set me up to have a better kind of clear head long term.

Dan Brian (22:57):

And it’s interesting what you say about, you know, sort of embracing and accepting mistakes. And it sounds like, you know, something that’s been important to you and I think is just so worth keeping in mind in dentistry and any other profession, is really this concept of kind of self-compassion. Like being able to you know, just roll with it and understand that not every, that we’re not perfect and mistakes are gonna happen. I think that’s just such great advice. Well, Brian, I can’t thank you enough. And, you know, I wanna encourage anyone listening in the Roxboro area to check out Swift Family Dentistry. So cool what you’re doing. I’m so glad that you’ve been able to find a place that fits you and you’re more comfortable in. And you know, finding a way to de-stress and safeguard your mental health and your me time and your family time.


I just think it’s so important and it’s a conversation that every dentist and every professional in any industry for that matter ought to be having. So I can’t thank you enough for sharing your insight here today and telling your story. Thank you so much. And you know, I do hope in the future, if you’ll have it, I’ll be able to drag you back on the show and we can get into other topics. Maybe we can talk about that website of yours. I think that’s great. Two of seven dentists in the county have a website. Well done.

Brian Swift (24:12):

No, thank you, Dan and I, again, I love being here and I look forward to adding this to my decompression podcast mix on the drive home. So thank you.

Dan Brian (24:23):

There you go. There you go. And to all the listeners listening, thank you so much for joining us today. Like Brian said, you can listen to this podcast anywhere you can get it. If you have enjoyed today’s conversation or you’ve enjoyed other episodes, I would please, please ask that you consider leaving a five star review on Apple Podcasts or anywhere else. The algorithm is brutal and I can use all the help that I can get. So thank you so much. We try to crank these episodes out every other week, so we’ll be back at it in a couple weeks. And yeah. Thanks so much. Thanks, Brian. Take care.

Brian Swift (24:54):

Thanks Dan. You too.