Jump-Starting Your Dental Career

You earned your diploma and passed your boards. Now it’s time to begin your dental career. Where will you work? What does your ideal practice look like? We’ll discuss some tips to help you navigate your career path.


The good news is the dental industry seems to be faring better than other medical counterparts. The biggest reason for dental practice success is the fact that most offices still operate under fee for service arrangements rather than through managed care networks. Most practices tend to be small, with mostly solo or two dentist operations.

In the past 10 years or so, we started seeing more marketing of the practices to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Billboards, direct marketing, television and print advertisements, which years ago were frowned upon, are now commonplace in most communities.

Today’s economic conditions have changed the way patients are using their benefits. Some patients are cutting back on their office visits, or are having only those procedures they see as necessary. Practices that were built primarily on cosmetic procedures have not fared as well due to the drop in many patients’ disposable income.

Another piece of good news here in Ohio is that dentists are in high demand. For every 10 dentists who are preparing to leave practice, only six new dentists are preparing to take their place.

Gaining Experience

Now is the time in your career to expand the skills you learned in dental school. The most common way to gain experience is to work for an existing practice. There are several points to consider as you begin your career.

Gaining experience and improving your hand speed will be your initial goal, but you’ll also want to consider the larger, long-term goals you would like to reach in your career. If you begin your journey with your end-goal in mind, you’ll be more likely to meet your goals and be happier on the journey.

First, you’ll need to decide if you want to own your own practice someday. Being your own boss is not for everyone, but for those who pursue it, owning a dental practice can be a rewarding career. Even if you’re not sure you want to become a practice owner, you’ll want to discuss with potential employers whether the idea of buying into or purchasing the practice is a possibility in the future. As you learn more about the practice, you may become more interested in becoming an owner.

You’ll want to negotiate a guaranteed salary when you begin your work at the practice. After about nine months, you’ll want to discuss basing your salary on the amount of business that you bring to the practice. If you see yourself as a practice owner later, you’ll also want to begin the discussion of when and how a transition of ownership might take place.

Location and Choosing Your Clientele

Although you may not realize it, you can control the makeup of your clientele. Most healthcare is local. Therefore, the clients you serve will be determined based on the location of your office. If your office is located near large manufacturing or industrial businesses, chances are you will have a large base of patients with union benefits. If you locate in a downtown metropolitan area, you might treat much of the white collar workforce. If your office happens to be in a depressed area, you may find yourself with a large Medicaid patient base.

By paying attention to the location of your practice or one you are considering working with or potentially purchasing, you’ll go a long way in determining what your future patient base and revenue stream will look like.

Developing Your Team

Early in your career, you’ll want to begin relationships with a banker, accountant, attorney, investment broker, and insurance agent, as well as possibly dental practice brokers. By establishing your team of advisors, you’ll begin to establish a strategy that can take you to the next stage of your career.

Another important relationship that you will want to build is with the person who might become your office manager. It can’t be overstated how important this position will be as you establish your own practice. One fortunate part of the dental industry is the fact that it experiences less turnover than other areas of the healthcare industry.

As part of your long-term career strategy, building relationships with dental professionals can be beneficial later as you begin to build your own team, including the office manager and dental hygienists.

Having a Plan

Your dental career doesn’t have to be left up to fate. With clear goals and a vision of what your ideal scenario looks like, you’ll be on your way to a bright future.

In the next issue, we’ll look more in-depth at types of dental practices, financing, management including practice software, benefits and taxes, as well as planning for your retirement.

This article is part one of the series Jump-Starting Your Dental Career. Part two covers planning ahead for your own dental practice.

This article was originally published in ODA Today, October 2009 issue.

Note: This content is accurate as of the date published above and is subject to change. Please seek professional advice before acting on any matter contained in this article.