Every year, thousands of dental school students graduate, many of whom have the long-term goal of establishing their own dental practice. While most will find initial work as an assistant or partnering dentist, the desire to open a dental office of their own remains.
For some, the path to practice ownership will come after years of working and saving. Others may choose to purchase a retiring dentist’s business. While another group of dentists, who would rather establish their own business sooner, will borrow and finance the funds needed to set up a practice.
Recent data indicates the costs associated with opening a dental office today are higher than they have ever been. ‘The average new practice requires $500,000 cash for structural upfit, equipment, and supplies,” notes Dentistry.IQ. “In order to finance this, a doctor has to have a strong balance sheet and display the ability to repay the bank.”
While half a million dollars may sound like an unachievable amount, 3 out of every 4 dentists owns and operates their own practice, making opening and maintaining a dental business a realistic and attainable goal.
With that said, establishing a dental office requires skill sets which are neither taught nor developed in dental training. Business ownership requires one to don many hats in tackling challenges like office management, patient outreach and retention, supply management and others.
“Unfortunately, many dentists open a new practice without clearly understanding the multiple roles they must fill for that business to grow and thrive,” writes Lisa Philip of Dental Economics. “So they miss critical steps that set the foundation for long-term success.”
Two vital components to opening a dental business are location and patient retention/customer service.
Selecting the right location in a market that needs or has demand for dental care will ensure a new business has the patients it requires to pay the bills and facilitate business growth. That means dentists who are looking to establish their own practices should determine whether they are going to rent space in a building or build their own establishments, ensuring the size of the potential dental office conforms to staffing and equipment requirements. The estimated costs of the business plans must follow.
It’s also recommended that dentists take some time to look around at a variety of office locations; even Googling the neighbourhood to see how many other offices are in the immediate vicinity.
“Location is key for dentists, you want something that’s centrally located, visible, and in an area that your target market spends time in,” says Dr. Frank DiCicco, owner of Manhattan-based Central Park South Dentistry.
Developing strong relationships with patients is another key step in building a successful dental office. Ontario-based dentist Dr Cameron Sordi established and ran his own practice from 2004 to 2012 and is adamant that dentists work on their chairside manners.
“Patients that enjoy seeing their dentists are more likely to refer friends and family and keep their booked appointments,” mentions Cameron Sordi.
Sordi also advises dentists to get involved with the community. “I know dentists that sponsor little league and soccer teams or sponsor free dental care days, because they want the community to know they are a part of it as well,” adds Cameron Sordi.
With the current economic uncertainty affecting patients’ treatment choices and the relative oversupply of dentists in large urban centers, it is critical to make good business decisions early on.