You went to dental school to study dentistry and learn how to help patients with their oral health. What you did not study was how to run your own dental practice. Then after earning your degree, you were hired as an associate in a practice where you developed your new clinical skill set. What you do not do is run that practice. But, here you are, and your new dental office is open, and you’re thinking: What now?!
You are a dentist first and foremost, but you are also a small business owner. This comes with new responsibilities and considerations that are suddenly on your very full plate. Let’s piece these things out for this new juncture in your career.
Starting Your Dental Practice: A Helpful Guide
Starting a new dental practice checklist to organize your new role as a business owner can help you visualize the road ahead and move toward success in this new venture.
Six Categories for Your New Dental Practice Checklist:
- Finances and Budgeting
- Location and Space
- Licensing and Legal
Finances and Budgeting
Craft A Business Plan
Running a small business means making decisions that affect your expenses and revenue streams. A business plan is a guiding blueprint that focuses on actionable steps to keep you on track. It is designed to evolve as your practice grows.
It provides an overview of your practice and a detailed analysis on:
- Your market and competition
- Your cash flow projections
- Your management and marketing plans
- Your business goals
Finance Your Starting Costs
You need a few months of operating costs wrapped into your budget.
This includes costs for:
- Lease or mortgage
Plan ahead and avoid the pitfall of additional loans or reliance on credit cards to pay monthly expenses.
Location and Space
Where your new dental office is located has a lot to do with who you are as a dentist. Specify the services you provide to your patient base.
- What makes you unique?
- What special services do you offer?
- What’s your niche?
The answers to these questions help you define who makes up your patient base. Once you know the what and who, you can figure out the where.
Keep in mind that as your practice grows, you can open up additional revenue streams by offering expanded specialty services, such as orthodontics, periodontics, oral surgery, endodontics, or prosthodontics. Working towards contracting these services and being a one-stop shop is also working towards capturing a larger market. When you are planning your office space, plan too for growth and the space required to eventually offer these services.
Research Your Spot
What is the population of your local market? Is the market saturated with dentists who offer much the same type of practice you aspire to? Can you establish a niche in this locality? Once you answer these questions, you can find a space that is:
- Accessible to your patient base
- Within proximity to your patient base
- Within your budget
Space Is Important
The size and feel of your space needs to fit who you are and what you do. Make sure you have reasonable space to provide your services.
You will need to consider:
- A welcoming waiting area
- A sensible administrative space for billing, insurance claims, booking, reception, and records
- A workable room for x-rays
- Optimal space for dental operatory rooms
- Space for sterilization
- In addition, bathrooms, storage, meeting, and break rooms.
Consider all the equipment that is needed in each space as well. Put time into researching best practice floor plans and equipment needs.
Create a plan that utilizes the available space in a logical and essential way. Design it to be welcoming and instill a sense of trust. Most people would not put going to the dentist on the top of their list of places to visit on any given day. Creating a space where your patients feel comfortable and well taken care of goes a long way toward creating patient loyalty. Building loyalty is how you build a practice.
The equipment needs for your new dental office cover a wide range.
- Furniture and office supplies
- Dental supplies, equipment, and technology
Again, research is key.
- What best meets the needs of your practice?
- What’s most cost-effective?
- Will you purchase or lease?
Furniture and Office supplies
Some of the furniture in your office is a part of the welcoming design of your space. Other purchases are more utilitarian. (Think desks, computers, and chairs.) Don’t sacrifice comfort or longevity for inexpensive alternatives. They don’t save money in the long run and can disrupt workflow.
An abundance of dental software is available to help you run your practice, including claims, charting, document management, patient relationship management, business analytics, scheduling, reporting, imaging, billing, insurance, and compliance support.
That’s a long list. Again, research! Talk with other dentists, read up on what’s out there, or hire an expert to help you navigate this area. You want solutions to potential problems and help with streamlining processes on both the business and patient care sides of your practice. Consider the things that affect the cost, including:
- Server or cloud-based
- Level of functionality
- Updates and scalability
- Offered support after purchasing and implementing
- Security risks and safety
Dental Supplies, Equipment, and Technology
Making decisions on the supplies, equipment, and technology you will use to carry out the core functions of your new dental office need to be carefully researched and thoughtfully considered for both cost and functionality. Going back to your business plan and knowing what makes your practice unique shows you what equipment and technology is necessary to be the type of practice you want to be.
Another step when it comes to dental software, equipment, and technology is to make sure to build relationships with suppliers. This helps you obtain the best rates, financing, and training, not to mention deals on upgrades.
Build relationships also with your local dental laboratory to ensure the quality, cost-effectiveness, and timely delivery of your patients’ dental appliances. You may decide that using an offshore laboratory is a better option for your practice. You may even want to eventually learn how to start a dental laboratory business within your own practice by expanding your space and hiring a dental technician.
You are now a hiring manager. This is no small responsibility. The people who make up your practice are the people who meet and greet your patients, provide them with dental care, and help make them feel welcome and cared for. They are also the people who make up the team with whom you build your future.
Go back again to what type of practice you aspire to be and visualize the employee that fits into who you are and what is important to you as a dentist. Emotional intelligence can go further in the long run than technical skills. Skills can be taught, emotional intelligence cannot.
This wraps back to your finances. Personnel expenses should make up about 25 percent of your collections. This means finding a cost-effective balance between a fair market salary and hiring competent staff to fill the necessary roles to serve your patients. Also, consider your employee’s salary, time-off, and insurance benefits when negotiating this balance.
Hiring a competent, reliable, and hopefully long-term staff for your new dental office happens in three phases:
Tips for the resume phase:
- Advertise beyond Indeed and social media channels.
- Reach through appropriate channels to locate the employee you want
- Remember to network
- Join local professional organizations
- Volunteer at the local dental hygiene school
Tips for the interview phase:
- Get a feel for who the person is. You will be working with them for many hours a week for what you hope is a long time.
- Have interviewees meet other employees. Employees not only have to work with you, but with each other.
- Complete a background check
- Check out the interviewee’s social media
- Call their references
Tips for the onboarding phase:
- Create an employee manual with detailed job responsibilities
- Record short videos to explain processes and streamline training
- Schedule regular check-ins with new hires
Licensing and Legal
Setting up the legal aspects of your new dental practice has many moving parts. From OSHA and HIPAA compliance to setting up your tax identification, there is a lot to consider and stay on top of. Be methodical and diligent in this area. It is a foundation that makes your new dental office stand.
A few tips:
- Make a list and check off the necessary paperwork.
- Create a timeline for getting it done.
- Have a matrix for staying on top of renewals and changes in regulations.
- Hire a health care attorney to help you navigate it.
Important licensing and legal matters include:
- HIPAA compliance certification
- OSHA compliance
- Infection control compliance
- National provider identification number
- Registration with the Drug Enforcement Agency
- Legal structure set up and registration for federal, state, and local taxes
- Credentials for private and government insurance
Attracting patients to your new dental office is more than important. It is essential to building a thriving practice. Create a solid marketing plan that is both affordable and effective. Marketing channels include:
- Social Media
- Community Engagement
Hiring a dental marketing consultant to plan, navigate, and implement your marketing goes a long way to ensuring that you are on the path towards success.
More marketing tools and advice can be found here.
Your New Adventure
Running your own dental clinic business puts a lot on your plate, but it is also an exciting and rewarding endeavor. Move through your checklist, and in time you will find that your new dental office is not only up and running but growing and thriving.