Start Your Dental Practice: A Definitive Guide (2024)
Maybe you want to flame your entrepreneurial ambitions and taste the freedom of practicing from your own office, or maybe you want to be the Mr. Rogers of dentistry—no matter your motivation, you will find this guide insightful if you’re thinking about starting your own practice.
In our comprehensive 2024 edition, we cover the essential knowledge and practical insights to help dentists like you set up and grow your dental practice.
Word of caution, entrepreneurship is no walk in the park. Practitioners struggle with navigating complex legal frameworks and managing the financial intricacies of a new venture. That said, dentists who made the switch and are thriving vouch for the flexibility, earning potential, and job satisfaction that comes with it. Our guide aims to equip you with the tools to face challenges head-on and grab the opportunities of the current times.
Before we begin, let’s take a quick glance at the outlook of dentistry for 2024 and explore what lies ahead in terms of trends and expectations.
The Current Landscape: Understanding the Dental Industry in 2024
Valued at $154.96 billion in 2023 and projected to reach a healthy $196.18 billion by 2027, the US dental service market is on a robust growth trajectory.
Emerging technology will play a crucial role in this journey, automating operations, enhancing patient experience, fostering transparency, and minimizing errors at dental offices. The general outlook anticipates improved experiences across the board from patients to practice owners and staff, with an increased potential for revenue development.
6 crucial factors will spearhead dental industry growth in 2024
- Increased awareness fueling the rise of preventive dental care, with more individuals opting for regular check-ups to avert potential oral health issues.
- Technological advancements such as the rise of AI, advanced imaging systems, and digital diagnostics improving both patient care and engagement.
- Expanding access to dentistry with government policy changes and better insurance coverage.
- The shift to minimal invasive dentistry changing patient perceptions of pain and discomfort associated with dental procedures, enhancing the overall dental care experience.
- The adoption of personalized treatment plans within dentistry, making patients feel more in control of their dental health.
- Transitioning to sustainable initiatives in terms of the materials used for dental procedures and energy-efficient designs and practices.
Further, in keeping with broader healthcare trends, dentistry is poised to witness a growing emphasis on patient-centric care, focusing significantly on their satisfaction, overall experience, and engagement. As the new dental practitioner on the block, you can play this to your advantage. Now, let’s explore the essential steps to kickstart your dental office dreams and pave the way for your success.
A Comprehensive 8-Step Guide to Starting Your Dental Practice
1. Create a business plan
The first step to starting your dental practice is to have a solid business plan. This comprehensive document puts into paper your clear objectives, how you plan on reaching them, and the projected timeline.
6 critical points your business plan should cover:
- Executive summary: A brief introduction highlighting your business, patient base, market gaps you aim to address, and financial projections.
- Practice overview: Detail your practice, including its name, location, specialization, offered services, and goals both short-term and long-term.
- Market analysis: An assessment of the local dental market, the demographics of the patients, competition, and strategies to exploit the gaps and opportunities.
- Marketing and sales strategy: Outline plans to attract and retain patients, including digital or offline marketing, loyalty programs, and partnership strategies.
- Employees and operations: Detail hiring and training plans, operational procedures (like appointment scheduling, patient flow, and billing), and a list of required equipment and technology.
- Financial plan: Include estimates of current capital, financing needs, fund utilization details, and projected revenue.
This business plan serves you not only to secure loans and funding but also to pinpoint potential shortcomings, allowing for early corrective measures.
2. Take care of the financials
Costing is a crucial factor to weigh in while launching on your own. According to the American Dental Association, the initial investment to establish a dental practice can range from $350,000 to $550,000. It's important to assess your current financial standing and determine the level of risk you are willing to undertake for the venture.
- What is your current financial situation, including your credit score and student loans?
- How much are you willing to invest in your dental practice?
- Do you want to start from scratch or acquire an existing practice?
- What kind of loan do you need?
- What are your future financial plans, such as starting a family or buying a house?
Once you have a clear understanding of your personal financial plan, itemize the major areas of investment. This helps estimate the costs of your new practice, significantly reducing the risk of overspending.
Key factors influencing the cost of starting a dental practice
- Practice equipment
- Digital assets and tools
Setting a budget gives you a rough estimate, after which you need to explore funding options for your dental practice. Multiple financing options can be considered based on your eligibility and the approval timeline.
Self-funding is an ideal option, but it may not be feasible for most. You could also consider getting partial assistance from family and friends. However, a strategic move could be to partner up with a fellow dentist, allowing you to offer more services and specializations under one roof, appealing to a broader range of patients.
For most dentists, bank loans are the primary choice for financing their dental practice. Some banks even offer discounts on administrative fees for certain dental associations. While the processing time might be a little long, a good credit score ensures eligibility.
Small Business Administration (SBA) loans for dentists offer flexibility in payments and low interest rates. However, they require extensive documentation and have a lengthy processing time of over three months.
3. Choose the right location
Not to lapse into philosophy, but succeeding in your dental venture hinges greatly on being in the right location at the right time. Many dentists end up sweating the square foot prices overlooking the big picture. However, thoroughly researching key factors that can inform your location choice will pave the way for positive outcomes.
- Target market: Knowing the age, lifestyle preferences, and family size of your market helps you determine whether the patient demographics match your specialization. A young and growing population may have diverse dental needs compared to an aging demographic.
- Local competition: Determine the number of dentists in your target locality, the specialization offered, and whether the needs of the patients are already being met. You might benefit more from being a little away from the city center rather than being in a highly competitive urban space.
- Accessibility and convenience: Ensuring you are easy to reach, considerate of patients’ mobility needs, and offer ample parking space can be vital. Based on your patient demographic, you may have to choose an office in the ground floor for easy accessibility.
- Growth : Sketching out your long-term goals can help you better plan for future expansion and the addition of services and specialists while scouting for your current location. This will do away with the need to find a new place with your growing business.
4. Sort out the legalities
Tackling the paperwork is by far the most time-consuming aspect of launching your practice after financial planning. Sorting insurance documentation and verification can be a months-long process. Plus, there's the critical decision of determining your legal entity structure.
Wait, what is a legal entity? It defines the kind of business your dental practice will be. Going on the solo practice route, you get to run the whole show but are personally liable for business debts. In a partnership, you can team up with another dentist and share the responsibilities, decisions, and risks equally or as agreed upon in the contract. Opting for a Limited Liability Company (LLC), gives each owner flexibility in management and protection from certain risks, offering a balance of simplicity and safety. And being a professional corporation lets you keep personal and business finances separate with perks like medical insurance, but you’ll have to deal with commitments like annual meetings, franchise taxes, and additional paperwork.
Following this, you will have to secure all the necessary permits and licenses to operate legally in your jurisdiction. You also need to comply with all healthcare-related regulations such as state compliances, OSHA, HIPAA, infection control practices, etc.
5. Equip your practice
So you’ve secured the right place and set aside the budget for your practice. Now it’s time for equipment shopping! As your dream dental practice starts taking shape, it’s a good idea to create a detailed checklist so you cover all the bases.
Diagnostic and dental imaging equipment
First in your cart should be the appliances to help you make precise diagnoses and give you detailed images for comprehensive oral health assessments. Include X-ray machines, intraoral cameras for diagnosis and panoramic and cone beam CT scanners, digital sensors, and imaging software to clearly distinguish problem areas.
Treatment and surgical equipment
You perhaps budgeted for the dental chair first, so beyond that make a comprehensive list of all the associated treatment and surgical tools like handpieces, probes, tweezers, curing light, sterilization equipment and other essentials that prioritize patient comfort as well as aids you do your job without a hitch.
Operatory and office furniture
Next, consider the elements that contribute to an optimized workflow and an excellent patient experience. Think office furniture for the staff, reception desks, operatory cabinets for treatment tools, and waiting area chairs and accessories to create a functional and welcoming environment for your patients.
Practice management software
You would want easy appointment booking for your patients and the quiet assurance of automated operations helping your staff track and manage all their responsibilities. A good practice management software will help your patients stay informed and get things done quickly while supporting you with daily operations and sharing insights to boost your growth.
While not the spotlight of your purchasing list, consumables are indispensable for day-to-day operations. Stock up on essentials such as gloves, disinfectants, adhesives, endodontic files, impression trays, and other items to ensure the smooth functioning of your practice.
6. Find your people
Your people make your practice. To run a successful dental practice you need a small army of skilled and dedicated staff who will care for your patients and work towards the success of your practice.
Dental assistants play a crucial role, performing a variety of services like taking care of the dental tools before and after treatment, prepping the patient, and working closely with the dentist during procedures. Dental hygienists administer preventive treatments and form the source of dental hygiene information for your patients, thus helping you get more value from your time. Front desk receptionists help improve the patient experience by sorting out insurance and answering any questions your in-practice patients may have.
For your practice to thrive, you need to begin with strategic recruitment. During the interview, look for qualities that align with the values of your practice. It’s also important tp invest in comprehensive training programs to continually enhance their capabilities.
Foster a positive work environment that nurtures professional growth and personal well-being without forcing them into dead-end roles. This commitment to your team results in a dedicated, proficient staff, ultimately elevating the overall patient experience and contributing to the long-term success of your practice.
7. Build your marketing plan & attract new patients
In any business, success depends on visibility, and dental practice is no exception. Dental marketing is the key to not just attracting new patients but also nurturing a loyal patient base.
So where do you start? Using all the market and demographic research from before, start with a website that speaks to your ideal patients. Enable hassle-free online bookings, provide informative content, and optimize for SEO using relevant keywords. Build your social media presence strategically with the right platform and engaging with your audience using contests, interactive content and expert take. List on Google My Business for increased visibility, manage reviews actively, and ensure constant accessibility to gain a competitive edge in the dental sphere.
These tactical steps can help boost your online presence and contribute to establishing a reputable and patient-friendly image for your practice.
You can explore outreach with offline initiatives like sponsoring local community events or school programs. Set up a booth, distribute informational materials, offer limited free services, and engage with attendees. This creates a positive association between your practice and community well-being. Going fully traditional with targeted direct mail campaigns to reach households in your local area is also a good idea. Include promotional offers, information about your services, and the benefits of choosing your dental practice. You can kickstart a referral program and encourage your existing patients to refer friends and family. Offer incentives such as discounts on future treatments or other perks for each successful referral. This helps grow your practice organically through positive word of mouth.
8. Deliver exceptional patient experiences
When you first considered launching your dental practice, you probably had a checklist of essentials. Yet, as you've followed this guide, you may have realized that success goes beyond mere lists and is made up of many nuanced elements big and small. One such aspect is patient experience. Because at the end of the day, your dental practice should be a sanctuary where patients find both support and comfort.
Be accessible: Be it to enable midnight bookings or suggest the best procedure to tackle a cracked tooth, be there for your patients. Dentists in the US are notorious for still only allowing phone booking in this AI age. Be the difference. Investing in technology not only enhances accessibility but also shapes a perception of your practice as modern, responsive, and committed to providing the utmost convenience.
Create a welcoming ambience: Foster a warm and friendly atmosphere by paying attension to patient needs and clearing their doubts. As for the physical space itself, you can incorporate soothing colors, comfortable furniture, and artwork to reduce patient anxiety. As you make sure the practice looks clean and organized all the time, you can also implement warm lighting and play calming music.
Set your staff up for success: In the dental office setting, your staff and their duties so often transcend beyond roles. Your receptionists may have to go beyond finding the best slots for a patient to offer empathy and support. Dental hygienists could have to patiently repeat answers and reassure patients along with being meticulous at their job and dental assistants may have to help put patient fears to rest while prepping them for a procedure. This can only happen by deliberately investing in staff training and fostering a collaborative environment.
Let 2024 be your year of launch!
Starting your dental practice is indeed a lot of work, but armed with the right knowledge, dedication, a patient-centric focus, and technology, you have what it takes to turn your aspirations into reality.
Grab the opportunity, make it happen, and reach out to us for the right tools and technology to support you on this journey. Your dream dental practice is waiting for you.