A peer-reviewed journal that offers evidence-based clinical information and continuing education for dentists.

Options for Navigating Practice Changes

Options for Navigating Practice Changes


As discussed in previous editorials, the dental landscape is changing rapidly, and the impetus stems from multiple factors — including the Great Recession, corporate dentistry, shifting demographics, and today’ regulatory burdens. As a result, independent dentists are facing increased competition and economic stress. What are these individuals to do?

One option is that if you can’t beat them, join them. Corporate dentistry has a number of positive attributes. Dentists in large group practice typically aren’t responsible for setting and collecting fees, handling personnel issues or maintaining the facility. In addition, corporate practices have the economic clout to market their services and bring in new patients. These are the types of managerial tasks that independent practitioners tend to dislike the most. While it’s nice to know that your business responsibilities end at 5 o’clock and you enjoy paid vacation and sick leave, these perks are not enough to sway independent-minded dentists who simply would not feel comfortable in a corporate environment. That said, corporate dentistry remains an attractive option for many operators.

In some situations, it is now possible to call yourself a specialist without going back into a formal two- or three-year course of study

Another alternative to today’s challenges is to find a new niche by retraining. I spoke with a dentist who was frustrated with the daily grind of restorative dentistry. After working with a career counselor to explore her options (both within and outside of dentistry), she decided to retrain in oral pathology and stomatology. Good for her.

By some estimates, in the future only about 20% of U.S. dental offices will be operated by solo practitioners or small group partnerships. One way for these individuals to thrive is to retool. By becoming a local expert on a specific topic, such as esthetic dentistry, implants or other subspecialties, clinicians can give their practices an edge. Granted, this will take time and effort — although it may be facilitated by recent court rulings on the definition of specialties. In some situations, it is now possible to call yourself a specialist without going back into a formal two- or three-year course of study. There are certainly pros and cons to this approach, but it will help differentiate your office from the competition.

Another option, of course, is to stop practicing altogether. While this may not be viable for young or mid-career dentists, it may be a real possibility for those who have been around awhile. With proper planning — and the necessary financial wherewithal — many individuals can successfully leave practice. Clinicians who are not in a position to retire may wish to consult a career counselor who can help pinpoint their strengths and where they would excel. In this case, my advice is to take your time, plan carefully, marshal your economic resources, and move forward when you can. There are other things in life besides dentistry. Perhaps following a new career path would provide the fulfillment you desire — along with the economic security you need.

Ultimately, the decision is yours. The dental profession is experiencing significant changes, and the evolutionary pace shows no signs of slowing down. The more you understand these changes — and the better you prepare — the happier you will be.

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