US News & World Report has named dentistry one of the best and most profitable jobs, but I don’t believe that is true for most dental professionals. I believe there is a small group of very successful business-oriented dentists who are high earners and a larger group of average earners, with those numbers based on the national median salary of $151,440.
The average cost of a private dental school exceeds $400,000. Depending on your motivation to enter the profession, school duration, cost, stress, and liabilities can make several other occupations look more appealing. If you are driven by money, you can enter professions with lower educational costs and fewer degree requirements as well as higher earning potential such as real estate, financial planning, or investment banking.
Also, smaller, privately owned dental offices may have trouble competing in the environment that is developing with the growth of corporate dentistry. The bulk of the treatment that most general dentists provide is restorative care, referring endodontics, oral surgery, and periodontal care to specialists. Most general practices don’t offer implant surgery or implant-related prosthetic treatment other than the restoration of single units.
Patients don’t like being referred out for treatment, which they see as an inconvenience. Each time a patient is referred out, there is genuine fear that the patient may remain with that specialty office. Losing patients not only is detrimental financially, but also emotionally, because the relationship built between the patient and dentist is lost.
But if you have a passion for helping people and being creative, then dentistry is a great occupation, and it will translate into your practice.
One of the many things I love about being a dentist is the fulfillment I feel after transforming someone’s smile, boosting their confidence, and being seen as one with healing hands. Over the years, I have watched how dentistry has transitioned from “drill, fill, and bill” and making pretty smiles to receiving the credit it deserves for being able to positively impact the quality of the patient’s overall health.
For more than a decade, I have treated patients as a whole, working hand in hand with their primary care physicians. Many patients are initially surprised to learn that the mouth is the pathway to our whole body, and most signs of diseases are evident in the oral cavity. Many systemic diseases have a direct relationship with oral health. These physicians and I work together to treat our patients wholly.
In my practice, I also am always seeking newer, safer, and pain-free ways to treat my patients. As a lover of technology, I have no hesitation investing in the tools and education I need to expand my suite of services to better treat my patients. One of my goals is to keep my patients under my care as much as possible so I can ensure the highest level of care they will receive.
Education is important for every professional. Investing in yourself as the practitioner ensures you are treating patients based on the latest techniques and scientific research, which is also an investment in your patients. Knowledge comes from many places, and I teach the value of education to my colleagues, students, and staff. I grow my knowledge through formal and informal education, as well as by networking with medical and dental professionals.
Knowing various techniques for a particular procedure allows me to customize treatment to the patient, as no two mouths are alike. Being able to clearly and calmly articulate the condition and treatment plan to my patients reduces their anxiety while building their confidence in the care I can provide.
The suite of services I’m able to provide has grown since I began practicing. From the beginning of my career, my goal has been to become a “Super-Dentist,” doing everything from endo, extractions, and perio surgery to full mouth reconstruction and implant surgery in addition to general dentistry.
Dental school only teaches the basics, which take years to master. It’s up to individual practitioners to decide if they want to be able to offer more than basic services. My advice to new graduates would be to learn under a mentor who offers the services and provides the kind of treatment that they want to emulate.
Also, dental school doesn’t prepare you for entrepreneurship, and business courses are rare in the educational experience while you’re working on your dental degree. Working for yourself offers certain freedoms, as well as some liabilities. While you’re working for someone else, your only liability surrounds patient care.
Owning a practice, though, carries the extra stress of hiring, training, and firing staff. There also is payroll, marketing, paying the rent or mortgage, purchasing and maintaining equipment, buying consumables, managing accounts payable and receivable, handling insurance billing and appeals… the list of responsibilities goes on.
Then there are the physical demands. Since you’re the leader, you can’t have a sick day or get hurt because people depend on you, and your reputation as a business owner is on the line.
However, the reward of improving the lives of patients and families through super dental care (as well as the financial upside) outweigh those liabilities. I love dentistry, and if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing!
Dr. Javid received his doctorate of dental surgery from the dental school at the University of Southern California (USC) and is a former member of the USC advanced education in general dentistry faculty. He also is a Diplomat of the International Congress of Oral Implantology, a Fellow of the California Implant Institute, an Associate Fellow of the World Congress Laser Institute, a clinical phlobotomy technician, a member of the Biolase advisory board, medical director of DIO Implant, a DIO Navi investigator, CEO of the Doctor Smile Dental Group, CEO of the Southbay Implant Institute, and a member of the Community’s Child board. His practice is limited to implant dentistry, full-mouth reconstruction, and laser dentistry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.