When I opened my dental office in 1980, I made a lot of mistakes and cursed the fact that this kind of business knowledge wasn’t available as part of my dental curriculum. But like many of my colleagues, I got through the ordeal, recovered from my blunders, and life went on. I was able to regroup because at that time my school debt was relatively low, as was the cost to start up a new dental office. Today, the stakes have risen dramatically. The majority of dental students graduate with six-figure debts, and the cost to build a new dental facility is much more, due to the complexity of the digital age. Today’s young dentists have less financial leeway than I did when it comes to making mistakes during a new office start-up. Yet for all the risks of starting a new office, training in how to do so is still ignored in dental schools.
For the last several years, as I creep closer to retirement, many of my clients have urged me—even begged me—to get this kind of information out to the dental community. Some have suggested that I teach at the local dental schools, join the lecture circuit, or train someone locally to carry the baton after my retirement. Teaching or training options would certainly help locally, but the problem exists on a national level. The lecture circuit would reach a larger audience, but a six-hour presentation would allow only enough time to scratch the surface and provide only enough information to scare the audience, not truly help it.
A textbook seemed to be the most logical medium available to reach enough dentists to accomplish my goal, which is to clean up the dental industry. Only by empowering dentists with the knowledge and understanding of this complex process can we gain and maintain control of our costs, time frames, and stress levels while opening a new dental office. Knowledge is power. I truly believe that a thorough understanding of the principles offered in this textbook will arm any individual or entity with the knowledge necessary to hold vendors accountable and ensure a successful and uneventful outcome. The dental industry will resist any change that upsets the status quo, because many of the recommendations offered in this textbook will force certain vendors to spend a lot more time than they’re accustomed to putting into these types of projects.
Yes, knowledge is power, but more important, there is power in numbers. The more that dentists have a solid grasp of this process and understand where the pitfalls lie, the more the dental industry will have to respond to dentists’ rising level of expectations. Those in the dental industry who adjust to this new level of expectations will flourish, and hopefully the people and companies that don’t will disappear. If you believe that this textbook has merit in this regard, I have some suggestions as to how we can collectively rally the troops. It is time to put an end to the vulnerable situations that we as uninformed dentists are placed in during the process of opening a new dental office.
First, after decades of neglect, this subject matter needs to be part of every senior dental school curriculum in the country. I urge readers to contact their alumni association or dental school and encourage them to consider offering this information to their students. Required reading followed by online testing would be an effective way to educate without the need for additional staffing. For this reason I have consciously tried to make this textbook and its content repetitive and self-explanatory. The content of this text is also intended to be useful across a dentist’s whole career. Several years after graduation, young dentists will be able to reread and refresh their knowledge before opening their first dental office, and again, a number of years later, when they may stop leasing office space and purchase a building. I created this book on paper, because digital media tend to become obsolete in a relatively short period of time. On the other hand, a hard-cover textbook may gather dust over the years, but it is easily accessible as a reference source.
The appendix is designed with two very practical goals in mind. First, the charts provide focused information that can be easily distributed to vendors to show them exactly what you need. Second, the appendix delivers detailed material that clarifies a range of important concepts, conveniently condensed and summarized for instant access.
I have a suggestion for dentists seriously contemplating a new dental office project. Form a study club made up of dentists who also plan on opening a new dental office within a few years. Assign sections of this textbook to be read by all members before each meeting, followed by open discussions of the content. After all participants have a firm grasp of the material presented, invite a dental equipment salesperson and an architect from the area to attend a meeting and collectively spell out what would be expected from them if they were to be hired. Don’t forget to invite the salesperson’s branch manager or the owner of the company, because the salesperson will need the boss’s blessing in order to spend the time required to perform at the level you expect.
One dentist in the group will need to go first and be the test case, but as that project develops, the group can actively discuss the progress at subsequent meetings, gaining insight and feedback on the effectiveness of the vendors involved. Can you imagine the motivation that these vendors would have to keep your test case happy and gain the trust from the rest of you for future business? New members can always be recruited as they get closer to starting up their new dental office, and your study club can sustain itself and profit by this type of cooperation for many years to come.
If you are a dental director working for a non-profit organization, make sure your CEO reads this text before he or she innocently but inadvertently hamstrings your project and loses out on potential dental equipment donation opportunities in the process. The two of you will both need this knowledge to successfully navigate the levels of bureaucracy that these kinds of projects often require.