➕ "The concept of continuous learning is critical for creating a high-performance culture." Dr. Jonathan Levine, clinician, thought leader, and innovator connecting the dots between oral and overall health, joins Carolyn on the new episode of Kinda Different. They discuss how to create high-performing teams that help build trust and loyalty with patients.

Watch or read below or listen in on Spotify/Apple!

You can find more about Jonathan at the following places:
Website: https://www.drjonathanlevine.com/
LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/drjonlevine/

Hello! I'm Carolyn Brown. I'm a dentist and the co-founder of a dental software company called DifferentKind. DifferentKind is a patient experience platform. And this is our podcast called Kind of Different, where we really talk about innovation, connection, making dental care more human and the best that it can be.
So how lucky are we today to have one of the preeminent leaders in all of these things in the dental space here with us today, Dr. Jonathan Levine. Jonathan, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey into innovation and making dentistry the best it can be?
Well, great to be here, Carolyn. Thank you for having me. Jonathan Levine, I'm frosted on us by training.
I got into the profession, I will say, coming out of Cornell and didn't think I liked business. And I didn't like hospitals and the whole life and death. And I was, I played a sport called lacrosse, had a huge impact on my life as this kind of group of teammates ended up winning a national championship our senior year.
And I got into dentistry from Cornell, Boston University Goldman School. I got into dentistry and I realized there's a lot we could improve and change because it was very much, I felt a solo sport and I came from a mindset that life is a team sport and I felt that dentistry needs to be a team sport. And that set the fundamentals for me in starting three companies, my dental practice that I've always had with an amazing team, an educational program, a foundation, and all of the things kind of we say in the sandbox of the profession, but three and a half decades in it, I'm more excited about the profession than ever before because some of the things I wish for early on is really coming to fruition and it's really quite Darwinian at this point as the profession is evolving in such an interesting way.
Okay, well, tell me a little bit more about how you see the profession evolving.
Yeah, the adoption of new techniques and technologies and going from research to kind of patient care, that adoption takes in medicine about 17 years. In dentistry, it probably takes a little bit longer. And so what you're seeing, I think, today is the adoption of new technologies impacting an industry, but also a business model innovation through an organized approach to dentistry, where it has always been one doc, one assistant, one hygienist 30 years ago, 25 years ago.
That whole type of business model is really becoming change, completely change, whether it's the multi-doctor office, multi-specialty, but under an organized umbrella with people who can focus on all of the things not clinical. And it's really taking that organized approach of outside industry, whether it's hospitality, whether it's the opportunity to have an HR person and a finance person and a marketing head and understanding all of the different verticals necessary to grow a successful business. The dentist has traditionally worn multiple hats, as we always like to say, of not only a clinician and really understanding the research behind why we do what we do, but also as a business person and to understand how do you build a great culture and how do you inspire your people and how do we understand what a P&L is and finance and cash flow.
And there's so much to understand. So when you're a solo clinician and practitioner, it's just hard to understand all of these things. And now, with an organized approach, these DSOs that are now growing, as we all know, over 20, 22% meteoric rise from 10 years ago, I see that as a big future for the industry.
And when done well, when also there is a big impact and a focus on great clinical outcomes and outcome assessment and really understanding how do we raise the level of the delivery of care? And of course, how do we think preventively and root cause and how do we train and educate our people? We really have an opportunity to change the profession and bring it into the 21st century in a way that we can become a very important provider within the whole healthcare system.
I love it. I mean, Jonathan, first of all, we share so many parallels. I played field hockey in college.
We won nationals. My freshman year, my family's a lacrosse family. And it's really interesting because you said something earlier because we were on a call earlier today about dentistry really being a team sport.
And it's been bouncing around in my head as you were saying it. So I really love that you just kind of completed the arc of that particular story for me because I think that certainly we're very doctor-centric in the way that we approach dental care. And I think if anything, over the last five years, what it has taught us is that the rest of the team is critically important and that we have, either by staffing shortages or changes in the way that people want to work, have had a little bit of a right sizing of importance of the rest of the dental team.
And it sounds like from the way you've set up your businesses, you were already many years ahead of it. I know you have multiple hats that you wear as an inventor, as a business person, a foundation guy, an innovator in product and software. But if we could just talk for a minute about the amazingly beautiful practice that I've had the good fortune to visit at your invitation, can we just talk about the patient and the patient's journey and how you think about that, because you have a multi-specialty NGP practice in a very competitive area in New York City and deliver some of the best of care to people both famous and not.
So how do you stay on that edge, aside from just being a great practitioner, but it's really your heartbeat that drives the rest of the way the practice operates?
Yeah. Well, I could say that we're an overnight success in 30 years. It takes time.
It takes time to learn because you have to learn these different aspects. And what I've learned over the years of starting new things and really taking those learnings and playing forward, that if you want to build anything in life, in any industry, you have to focus on your people. Your people side of the equation is what is going to allow you to reach that vision that you set out for people.
The role of the leader needs to be very visionary and needs to build trust and to inspire your people and really what we call the servant leadership mindset. How do we make everybody the best versions of themselves and in return, we become the best? And when you embrace that philosophy, you can build a high-performance culture and really inspire your people to learn every day.
The concept of continuous learning is critical. If you can get on that thinking and you develop your vision, your why you do what you do on purpose and alignment on your value system, it's like your operating system, everything becomes possible. And that's the truth.
Now, that took a good three decades for me to learn. So anybody listening, I'd like to share that with you and I'd love you all to, you know, all your listeners to take that because that's what I've learned from experts in the field and friends of mine who have built really some substantial businesses outside the industry. I'm a big proponent of taking outside industry thinking and applying it to dentistry, applying it to the industry in a way that we can really move the needle on the industry.
And for example, the concepts of hospitality, where you have these amazing restaurants, where there's a focus on systems and protocols, and really to build this high performance culture where the people are inspired to be the best they can be, that applies beautifully to what we do so that we can offer up a patient journey that is really unique. The flip side of that coin of the people is our patients. And how do we develop this high level of care?
And I really believe that the white space in dentistry that I think will evolve now, especially with the help of organized dentistry and DSOs, is the multi-specialty practice, the general dentist, all under one roof, where you can work collaboratively, where you can weekly, what we do is we have grand rounds weekly, and we go over our patient data, the cases for these patients, and we meet on Zoom, and we set up our treatment planning. But the power of it is that each specialist shares their ideas in this collaborative conversation, which originally happened and really brought to the forefront over 25 years ago with Frank Spear and Matthews and Vince Kokic, and there was Pras and there was Perio and there was Ortho, and how do we work together to take this multi-specialty approach and this high level of diagnostics, and I deeply believe in that. Layer in our new technology, layer in our digital workflow, layer in our new understanding of sleep and salivary diagnostics, on and on and on, and you can create something that is very unique and distinctive.
And I do believe that there's an opportunity for this high level of care that can then trickle down everywhere where there's this collaboration, and you just call it the collaborative culture of people working so well together and maximizing your communication to elevate that patient care. And that's what I've tried to do with the leader. And the role of a leader, as we all know, is to build other leaders.
We lead at every level. And for people to feel that, it's not a command and control culture, it's quite the opposite. It's one of collaborative culture where people work extremely well together to serve each other.
Well, I would say too, one of the things I noticed about your office when I walked in was not only are you working direct as a professional to your patient, you're also supporting your patient in home care and in products that you actually really believe in and believe will help them maintain their quality of life and maintain what you've helped them design for themselves in terms of their smile and their dentition. So, can you tell me a little bit about one or two of the companies or products you're really excited about? I would love to kind of, because I know you're on the forefront of a lot of the products that come forward.
Yeah. Well, look, what we do in the dental practice and how we focus on the health and the beauty of the patient's smile and their overall health, that connectivity of oral health and overall health. They also have to have the tools to be able to have a very high level of plaque control and keeping inflammation out of the mouth.
80% of Americans have some form of gum disease, and we know that 58 systemic inflammatory disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, pancreatic cancer, on and on and on, are connected, have a direct connection to inflammation, chronic inflammation in the mouth. So with that in mind, patients need to be able to have these kind of tools that work well for them. For some people, they do great with electric brush and flossing.
Other people needs a water flosser because they don't like the floss. And the different tools that we have at our disposal today are better today than ever before. How many different types of electric brushes do we have?
How many types of water flosses do we have? How many different types of floss and floss picks? But also the knowledge that people now have that having a healthy mouth is more than just having white teeth.
People are understanding this connection of the oral health and the importance to our overall health and longevity. And because of that, people are really starting to focus on these types of things. Of course, we have a population that don't have access to care.
And the inequality is very unfair because in the poor areas, this is where dentistry, which can be so preventative, where you can get to disease so upstream and so early, unfortunately doesn't happen. And so, for people who do have access to care, they absolutely, with the different tools, whether it's the toothpaste that don't have sodium lauryl sulfate that doesn't abrade the teeth, that makes it easier to brush because there's a great flavor or there's a great hedonics, where it's the aroma of it. You know, whatever these new companies come out with for home care is truly amazing.
Then you have companies that are coming out with products that remineralize and can form back enamel through these different peptides. And we have breakthroughs in that area, like the company Vivartis. It's a very exciting future for companies that are innovating on this.
And then we have, you know, look at what's happening with AI in every field, the co-pilot for health care, where we can have a co-pilot help us read x-rays. And right around the corner, it's going to help us read cone beams, CBCTs, that allows us to understand AOA and potential infections or lesions in the jawbone. And so, kind of on and on with innovation in the dental practice, because there's so much going on, but that's also spilling out over for our patients, for them to take better health in the mouth.
There are companies now, you know, with the aligner industry, that's blowing up the ability to understand compliance. Are they wearing the aligners?
And we can actually see the changes of tooth movement with a number of these companies. So, you know, technology is quite amazing, what's going on. AI is going to change everything that I think we all know in life.
And it's just a matter of time of adoption for professionals and people in general to adopt these new technologies and not be scared of them, but really to go after it and see how it can improve outcomes and improve everything we do.
I think that AI is such a great example of this, Jonathan, because when some of these companies first came on the market, or started to even build and ask for x-rays to build their data sets, Pearl and Overjet, many years ago, there was a lot of skepticism from dentists. And I think now you see dentists, chair side accepting this as a regular part of sort of co-treatment planning, and recognizing the sensitivity of some of the products and software that we have out there. As we're really talking about the patient-centeredness, you were just talking about how certain products can be used by one patient, but maybe wouldn't be as easily adopted by another.
You started to touch on something that is close to my heart and the heart of DifferentKind. We're set up as a for-profit company, but we're a public benefit corporation. And both Matt, my co-founder, and I came from a public health dental background.
So I was hoping you could touch a little bit on the GLOW Foundation and some of the work that you're doing there, because you had also talked about, even though you're doing super high quality, high-end dentistry, we want to be inclusive and always think about every patient or individuals who've never even had the luxury of considering themselves a patient.
Yeah, you know, it goes to the inequality that unfortunately the areas that don't have access to care, both in medicine and of course dentistry, which I deeply believe that as dentists, because of how things started politically, and you got to go back to the 1800s, we are oral physicians. And there's so much we can do in dentistry to help people's overall health. But for me, starting companies and innovating and being a clinician, when I started the company GlowScience based on a number of patents we built into a mouthpiece that had light and heat built into it, we started a foundation called the GlowGood Foundation.
Well, my funny story is I came back from East Africa on a mission with my wife, Stacy, and a couple of my doctors. And in fact, I got to the office, one of my hygienists was talking to our patient, and this patient happens to be Lenny Kravitz. Well, he cornered me on the second floor of the office, and he says, Doc, you got to help my people.
And I looked at him and go, Lenny, you're half Jewish and you're half Bahamian, where do you want me to go? He goes, the Bahamas in Eleuthera. And he told me about the lack of access to care.
People walk around in pain all the time. They think it's normal. They can die from a bee sting.
And he said, come on down. And we went down, my wife and I, and we literally stopped people on the road, and we saw that. It was truly an oral health disaster because no education of how to take care of your mouth, not a doctor or a dentist in their area.
They would have to fly the Bahamas, and this is the poor side of Eleuthera. And so it was an oral health and a medical disaster that we found out as we brought professionals down there, both medical and dental, medical baselining, a large percentage of obesity and hypertension and diabetes, and an absolute oral health disease from decay and extractions of teeth and just loss of function and malocclusions. And so we came down with a team about eight years ago.
We are now in our eighth year, and it really brings the joy, as Simon Sinek says, you need to know your why, why you do what we do. And it's truly an amazing experience because we now bring about 100 people down. We do two missions in a row over about a 10-day period.
We treat about over a thousand people. We have technology that companies like SprintRay and 3Shape have given us digital technologies. We 3D print dentures and partials.
I have NOVA, Harvard, BU, and NYU. The teams come in, public health teams. We go into the schools, we educate the teachers.
We train the trainers there. We show the kids brushing programs, screenings. We treat them.
And it's truly amazing. My colleagues come from really around the world because I've been able to lecture over the last 25, 30 years. I have great friends in different countries and of course, New York focused people and from the USA.
And we have a blast. But it's always, how do we do more? So we have this 14 chair freestanding clinic that Henry Schein Cares was amazing at supporting us.
They're an amazing partner. And we've had great partners over the years, also Banco. And these great companies really allowed us to do this mission.
And we're just, we feel like we're just getting started. We're looking to have a fund, a fantastic fundraiser in November. And we'll get Lenny Kravitz to play with his band.
And it's all for a very, very good cause. But our foundation, and I'll tell you, almost unintended consequences, was that when my team comes back from a mission, they are supercharged. They are so excited about what we just accomplished and what we did.
And it really gives us collectively an amazing amount of feeling of gratitude and purpose for the profession. And I would say to everybody, try to do things like that. It'll fill up your soul, it'll fill up your life, it'll give you the energy that you need to be truly inspired by the chosen profession.
Well, I love that. And I love doing, taking our skills as clinicians and all of your many, many skills in building growing companies and applying it to doing good for the world. And how can people find out about the Glowgood Foundation?
Is there a website? Is there a way that they can have donations or dental companies can provide in-kind donations?
Yes. You know, we work with a company called golively.com. We're on Instagram, theglowgoodfoundation.org, glowgood.org, and both Instagram and our website.
We'd love people to reach out to us, whether they want to volunteer, whether they want to help us with contributions. But we're looking to really continue what we're doing in the Bahamas, look for other areas, look for partners in different areas to expand our reach. And so I appreciate that question, but they just gotta check us out on glowgoodfoundation.org.
Fabulous. Well, as we're getting ready to close out here, Jonathan, Dr. Levine, can you tell us a little bit about the passion you feel for the patient, and what else we could do in dentistry to continue to connect with the human beings that we're treating?
Well, that's a great closer. You know, I think it has to do with mindset, and it has to do what I'd like to see from this next generation of dentists, and I think it depends on the leadership in these dental schools, and I really believe dental schools do a great job at this, which is that we're caring for people. How do we improve the lives of the people we treat?
And you know, as a clinician, when dentists have that focus, and it's all about how do we do it at a higher level? How do I develop my skills? Everything falls into place.
The people around you, we are the company, we keep our assistants, our hygienists, our operations team with good leadership and understanding what the vision is and why you're doing what you're doing and your value system. It's like a magnet for great people. You won't have a turnstile where people are leaving, but there'll be a magnet where really talented, wonderful, like-minded people will wanna work with you, which then translates to developing a high level of care.
I like to think of it as two sides of the coin. We focus on our people. If we focus on our people in a very big way, we will be able to deliver our care and execute on all the things we wanna do from diagnostics to treatment to continuous care at an extremely high level.
Fabulous. Well, I love that. And all of the things that you talked about, really build the trust that we need with our communities and the patients that we're treating.
And I can actually almost even say that I think there's been a pendulum shift from when I was in dental school. It was very much everything was in that three or four millimeter surgical field. And we had those loops on all the time.
And while that clinical training is a really important piece, there was very little that was done around the business side of delivering healthcare and also very little done, except for some preliminary classes on ethics around really engaging with the patient. So I think that you're really right to point out a service economy and service businesses that have totally changed the way that people expect to engage with professional and personal services. So I think as long as we continue to listen to the heartbeat of the patients, that will continue to drive some of the changes that you not only talked about, but that you're experimenting with every single day in a multitude of ways.
Look, I think the mindset is one that we're constantly evolving, we're constantly growing, and really very importantly that I learned from a dear friend is we are the company we keep. So if you set a very big vision, you dream really big. When you think you're dreaming big, dream bigger and surround yourself with people you really care about.
That's when the magic happens. And it's a golden age today in dentistry. It truly is because of all the things we're talking about.
The young dentists have a wonderful opportunity to have amazing careers and to do things that will evolve and grow as they grow their own capabilities and skillset. But above all things, what we talked about earlier was that life is a team sport, and so is dentistry.
Beautiful. Well, thank you very much, Jonathan. And I know we will see and hear more from you in all of your lines of business and with the Glowgood Foundation.
And thank you for being an advocate, not only for innovation, but for the patient, for dentists, and for our industry.
Thank you, Carolyn. It's a pleasure to be here with you, and thank you so much for having me.