FOCUS ON: Financial Survival Guide for Dentists

Dentistry Today


Sam Shamardi, DMD, shares a few highlights from his book to help early career dental professionals establish a solid business foundation for their careers.

Q: What is the current dental grad facing in terms of student debt upon graduation?

A: The average student today graduates with $300,000 in student debt, an average that has tripled since 2000 and increases at a rate of approximately $7,000 per year. About 40% of grads have debt that exceeds $300,000, and of course, those who specialize are in an even higher debt category.

Q: What is the most important factor in loan repayment for new grads to consider?

A: The most important factor is managing the interest rate. It’s essential to create a repayment plan from day one and either pay off loans aggressively or opt for one of the Income Dependent Repayment options available. Regardless, focusing on paying off the loans with the highest interest rates first will save you thousands in the long run!

Q: What are the most important aspects of an office contract to consider?

A: The 2 biggest are the restrictive covenant (RC) distance and your payment structure. RC can be crippling depending on the distance and where you live; a 3-mile range in a city like Boston already forces you completely out of town as opposed to somewhere in Texas. Payment percentage varies and needs to be negotiated to industry standards, as do the collection vs production aspect of how you are paid and any responsibilities for materials and/or lab fees.

Q: What are the primary insurances that dental professionals need?

A: Malpractice is mandatory, but disability is equally as important to start from the beginning and build gradually as you progress in your career. Life insurance also can also play a significant long-term role not only for the benefit of your family, but also as a potential future savings asset once you retire. It’s equally important to choose policies that provide own-occupation and/or work provisions so you can collect on your policy while still having the flexibility to work in a different field or different capacity within dentistry (like teaching).

Q: So there are actual differences between the types of disability and life insurances you can have?

A: Absolutely! This is worth doing your homework! Own-occupation riders can be a make or break if you ever have to activate your policy, and as I mentioned, there are different pros and cons of having term life insurance vs permanent life; thus, research both and know the long-term implications to best determine which works best for you.

Q: How can dental professionals benefit from forming a corporation?

A: Corporations act as shields, protecting you personally in the case of litigation. These typically apply more to independent contractors and sometimes associates who work in multiple practices. Corporations also allow you certain benefits and write-offs, like your car payment, gas, equipment, and insurances, but require you to manage your own personal finances. It also provides you with an Employer Identification Number that replaces your social security number and again separates you, the dentist, from you, the individual. 

Q: What about full-time employees? What benefits can they get?

A: As an employee, your office will dictate factors such as your 401(k) savings benefits, health insurance, paid leave, and other factors, and you will fall under the practice umbrella with most litigation issues. Thus, much of the administrative and financial work is done for you, which many professionals find beneficial. However, it depends on the individual practice; some may not provide specific benefits others do, so again, that is an important factor to take into consideration when searching for a new practice to join.

Q: Why do you stress the importance of savings so much?

A: Savings often feel like a burden and something we can’t afford early in our careers, but having discipline and saving a small amount of each paycheck will give you a massive reward in the long term. Some studies suggest saving 20% of each paycheck; the key again is to start saving something from the beginning, and as you progress, increase that amount and continue putting it away for the future. Look no further than what COVID-19 did to understand that the businesses and individuals that survived were those who had saved!

Q: Do you feel it’s time dental programs start teaching finance and management skills?

A: Without question, this continues to be our No. 1 challenge as dental professionals. It does little good to teach clinical dentistry without teaching the business of dentistry, and it’s appalling to think that we still spend time relearning the Krebs Cycle instead of management, marketing, and basic dental economics. Some programs have now put a greater emphasis on this, but overall, the feedback from our colleagues clearly demonstrates that it’s simply not enough. Emphasis should be placed throughout all 4 years on creating a clinical and business professional; otherwise, the reality is we are really only receiving half of an education.

Dr. Shamardi earned his DMD degree at Tufts University and his periodontal certificate at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Financial Survival Guide for Dentists. He can be reached via email at or at the website