Build Your Dental Business from the Ground, Up

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Regardless of the literal structure of your dental practice, you need to picture it as a building with two towers. One tower represents your clinical abilities, the skills you learned all throughout dental school. The other tower represents your business acumen. Which of these towers have you devoted more of your attention to? Odds are, it's the former. To be successful in the dental business, you need to devote time toward expanding your business skills. You can start with this suggested reading list.


In lectures to students, I have said many times that although dental school gives you the fundamental building blocks to become a dentist, the rest is up to you. A long time ago, graduating from four years of dental school was all you needed to hang your shingle, have a successful practice and earn six figures. Those days are gone.

After graduation, it’s time to get serious. It’s up to you to turn those building blocks into bricks, cinder blocks and I-beams. Any dentist or dental specialist should be a lifelong learner who constantly builds and perfects their clinical skill set. If dental school gives you the basement and the first two floors, you should shoot to build a skyscraper — or even better, a skyscraper taller than any other building around you. Each floor represents a new skill set or the perfection of an existing one. Those skills and additional floors come from a plethora of courses and from new information gleaned at postgraduate training and education courses, study clubs, international, national and local meetings, and online continuing education courses.

The day you stop building is the day you should retire.

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From surveys done by the American Dental Education Association, topping the list of subjects in which senior dental students didn’t receive sufficient instruction is dental business practice management. This educational hole gapes especially wide for the dental entrepreneur who wants to begin an independent practice.

Let’s keep with the building metaphor: Because the dental environment has changed so dramatically, you need to think of your building as having two towers. Tower one is built on your clinical skill. Tower Two, however, needs to be your business practice management structure. It needs to be built at the same pace, if not faster, than the one based on your clinical skill set.

I tell the dentists I coach that they need to be the CEOs of their practice. Many dentists are initially reluctant to embrace this role, but they need to realize that the principles of Fortune 500 companies are basically the same as those for dental entrepreneurs.

As the title asks, what are you reading? Most dentists receive The Journal of the American Dental Association, a state dental journal, and a local dental journal. Specialists will also get their respective specialty journals. Further, through membership or subscription, dentists may get the Impact Journal, published by the Academy of General Dentistry as well as other industry journals. These journals apply to Tower One and help build your clinical skill set.

However, to build Tower Two, I believe a plethora of subscriptions to business, business-related and motivational journals is key. And in addition to reading these journals, you should take related courses from universities, postgraduate centers and study clubs.

The list of must-read business journals begins with the imperative Harvard Business Review. Also on this list are Fortune, Money, Entrepreneur and Fast Company. An amazing magazine from a motivational and business perspective is Success. Success also each month has recorded interviews from successful business and entrepreneurial leaders. Make it a habit to listen to these on the way to work. It motivates you and gets you walking in the door with a phenomenal “Let’s make this day a masterpiece!” mindset.

As you begin to build Tower Two, you will discover that certain other business magazines will be very relevant to a particular floor that you are working on. The above group is a great start, though, and an essential ingredient, along with the dental journals, of your practice’s success in today’s dental business environment.

On a personal note, something that I have always found amazingly motivational from a success, business, and ethical perspective is legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success.” It is framed on my desk and I look at it every morning before I start my day.

Dr. Robert Pick is a full-time practitioner in Aurora, Ill. He is also the CEO of his own consulting firm, The Pick Group. He can be reached at 773-402-8933.

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