How to Become a Dentist and Start Your Own Practice


So you want to be a dentist? The road to becoming a dentist is one filled with hard work and dedication. But with dentistry being one of the top ten most trusted and ethical professions in the United States, it’s no surprise that you’re interested in joining the ranks. This guide will discuss what you need to know about starting your own dental business, from receiving an education to marketing your practice, and more.

Dental School

The road to becoming a dentist starts where many professional roads do, at school. Before you even step foot in dental school, you will need to get a bachelor’s degree. A few dental schools will admit students after they have received two to three years of undergraduate study and let them finish their bachelor’s degree while in dental school, but you should plan to receive your degree beforehand. What you study in your undergraduate does not specifically matter, however, something in the science field may give you a leg up on being prepared.

The dental school application process is similar to what business lawyers experience, getting an undergraduate degree, taking an admission test, and then applying for different schools. Once you’ve received your bachelor’s degree, you will have to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). It will assess your academic capacity and scientific knowledge. The better your score, the better your chances. Dental schools will consider your DAT score, GPA, letters of recommendation, and your interviews with them. As you are considering different schools, you will want to look specifically for those who are accredited by the American Dental Association. Some states require a degree from a program with that accreditation to receive state licensure to practice.

Once you’ve been accepted to a school, congratulations. You’re well on the road to becoming a dentist. Dental school generally lasts about four years and you’ll either receive a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). You’ll have plenty of time within the first two years of dental school to take classes and laboratory studies in different specialties to get an idea of what you enjoy and are talented at. Your last two years of school will emphasize clinical practice where you’ll diagnose actual patients under the supervision of instructors, dentists, and oral surgeons. Depending on whether you plan to become an oral surgeon or a general dentist, you will have different experiences and opportunities to study those fields.

After graduating from dental school, you’ll need to obtain licensure in the state you are planning to practice. Requirements vary per state, but regardless of where you plan to practice, you’ll need to pass the National Board Dental Examinations. It’s a two-part exam where you must pass a written portion covering dental science, clinical procedures, and ethics, as well as a practical exam. Some states require additional prerequisites like CPR and first aid certification, a background check, or an interview.

Once you have passed all of your exams and received your state licensure, the road to becoming a dentist doesn’t end. In fact, this is where it really begins. You are technically a certified dentist at this point, but now comes the whole reason you went through the process, actually practicing dentistry. Many graduates start by working in a pre-established practice for another doctor. This way they get extra training and time to prepare to take the big step to start their practice.

Starting Your Own Dental Business

Whether you’re just graduating dental school, or you’ve been licensed in a state and practicing for a few years, starting on the road to becoming a dentist with your own dental business is a big deal. Many people never due it due to fear of failing. But if you take the proper steps to prepare, you’ll be much more likely to thrive from the start. Here are some major factors to consider when preparing to open your dental practice.

1. Consider Your Budget

The cost to start a new dental practice is often the biggest obstacle you’ll have to overcome in the beginning. The total to get things running can often be upwards of $250,000. You may be able to cut back on starting costs by purchasing a pre-existing business if you come across a dental practice sale.

Regardless of whether you’re starting from scratch or purchasing a pre-existing practice, you’ll still need a large sum to start and will likely need to seek additional sources for funding. You could consider sources like business loans or personal loans, people that might want to partner in the business, and could add funds, or business grants. You want to steer clear of credit cards or lines of credit at the start as you may not have a consistent flow of income yet. The best thing you can do is overestimate the funds you’ll need. The last thing you want is to run out of money and be struggling more than necessary in the first few months of your business.

Besides creating a budget for getting your business up and running, you will want to create a monthly budget for your practice. This will include the cost of paying for staff, monthly bills such as heating and cooling services and energy, cost of new supplies, and more. This will also help you to track paying back any debts as well as figure out when you will be able to start paying yourself from the earnings.

2. Create A Business Plan

Any good business, regardless of whether it’s medical or retail, has a business plan. A business plan is like a roadmap for your business. So while you’re on the road to becoming a dentist with their own dental business, your business plan “roadmap” will be vital. It will outline your goals and details on how you plan to reach them. There are plenty of resources online for templates, so take advantage of your options and use your prior dental school knowledge, plus any knowledge you may have from work post-dental school to draft it.

3. Market Research

As you are starting down the road to becoming a dentist, you will need to conduct some serious market research to have a better idea of where you’ll be able to start your successful business. For example, if you are considering one city, but there are already a lot of established dental practices, you may want to consider another area. Once you pick a city, you’ll also want to consider where in the city your business would have the most success as well as what age range of people you’ll want to target. Some dental practices focus on treating younger people while others focus on seniors. It all depends on the results you get for your market research. You may even consider working with an internet marketing service to help in conducting the research.

4. Find An Office

Once you’ve selected a location and a key audience for your practice, you’ll need to find an office. Before you start searching for your office, you may want to take a look at other dental offices and what you like and dislike about their location and layout. Some dentist offices have a more open layout with dividers placed for privacy while others have sectioned rooms and areas. You’ll also need to consider accessibility for your patients. If your office is on the fifth floor of a building without an elevator, that will surely turn patients off from using your services. However, if you’re located directly on a busy road, the noise could be frustrating for patients as well as you.

You’ll also need to make sure the building you select to house your office is updated enough to have the electrical capacity to run your equipment. If you purchase an office that needs updates, make sure to work with a medical building contractor to make the changes. It’s beneficial for you to work with a contractor that has an idea of the needs of a medical office.

Aside from upgrades for equipment, you’ll also want to make sure that your office has basic comfort features for you and your patients. Things such as air conditioning and heating for different seasons, proper plumbing, enough space in the waiting room, and plenty of parking near your office.

5. Staffing

While you’re on the road to becoming a dentist with their own dental practice, you will need to consider extra help. You won’t be able to run a successful office by yourself, so you’ll have to think about staffing. You’ll need secretaries to answer phone calls and assist patients in checking in. You’ll also need nurses to help with patients and procedures. However, it’s more than just hiring qualified people. Spend the time to interview people yourself to make sure that their qualifications as well as their personalities will fit well in your office.

6. Cover Yourself Legally

While you will likely have your accreditation and state license, there is more that you need to get before you are legally covered to practice dental medicine. You will need to get both private and government insurance for your practice, something that can often take months. It’s smart to make that one of your first priorities as you begin working on your business to ensure that they are not the only thing keeping you from opening on time. Along with your state license, you will need to make sure that you comply with local regulations in your specific area. Finally, you will need to register for state and local taxes. You will also want to consider working closely with a healthcare attorney to ensure that you are not forgetting any important steps and to be covered in case of an accident.

7. Bringing In Patients

And finally, no dental practice is complete without patients. Unless you have purchased a practice and have a list of previous clients, you will likely be starting with no prospects other than friends or family. Before you open your doors, you’ll want to have appointments set up so that you can get up and running. Besides simple word of mouth, there are a few options for how to get news of your business out:

  • Online Marketing: Internet marketing is a great way to get news of your dental practice out to people in your area. You’ll want to start by building a good website where potential patients can find information about you along with your credentials. Get in contact with a few website design agencies in your area for quotes and get that site, as well as social media accounts up and running.
  • Advertising: Once you have a website as well as social media accounts set up, you can start creating online advertising. You can also set up some TV or Radio commercials if you have the funds. Don’t forget the power of print advertising. Your local newspaper, magazines, or even billboards in the area can be a good way to get the word out about your business.
  • Referrals: Once you have a few clients, referrals can be a great way to bring in new people. You may even consider setting up a referral program where clients can get some sort of discount or incentive.

The sooner you’re able to start marketing and getting clients signed up, the more success you’ll have from the very start. After all, dentistry is about helping people with health problems, and without people, your dentistry business won’t be successful.

In Conclusion

As you are on the road to becoming a dentist, whether you’re in pre-dental school, preparing for your DAT, applying for dental offices, or preparing to start your own, following these steps will likely find your success along the way. Best of luck on your road to becoming a dentist.

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