From Accounting to Dentistry, Prosthodontist Benefits from Business Acumen

Chicago-area prosthodontist Anthony LaVacca, D.M.D., F.A.C.P., F.I.C.O.I., has built a successful practice by creating a full dental destination for his patients. But it’s his undergraduate degree in accounting that has afforded him the business background to effectively grow his practice.

For Anthony LaVacca, the rewards of dentistry aren't just monetary.

From the time Anthony LaVacca, D.M.D., F.A.C.P., F.I.C.O.I., was in fifth grade, he was developing a business mindset. The young LaVacca used his entrepreneurial instincts to make money around the neighborhood, performing services ranging from cleaning cars to developing newspapers to selling clothing at Christmastime.

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His uncle recognized LaVacca’s business acumen and suggested he pursue a career in accounting.

“You’re good with numbers,” LaVacca recalls his uncle saying. “I could probably help you get a job when you’re done with college.”

The plan seemed perfect at the time. But by the end of his college career, LaVacca realized that accounting wasn’t for him.

“I’m a people person,” LaVacca explains. “I love talking to people.”

Enter uncle Santomeno again. This time, building on his nephew’s experience cleaning cars and auto mechanic work, he suggested LaVacca talk to a friend of his, Bill Johnson, who was a prosthodontist.

“He’s like a mechanic for the mouth,” Santomeno said. “He rebuilds mouths.”

It only took one visit, and LaVacca was hooked.

“It was awesome,” LaVacca recalls. “He showed me pictures, and how he made models and casts. And I thought, 'I want to do this.'”

ONE DESTINATION

LaVacca went on to earn his DMD at Temple University, then completed a general practice residency at East Orange Veterans Hospital and extensive post-graduate prosthodontics training at Montefiore Medical Center-Albert Einstein College of Medicine. But it was his work at the Veterans Hospital that had the greatest impact.

“I was in an environment where patients could come to the hospital, and they could be seen for orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, general dentistry or implants, cosmetic dentistry,” LaVacca says. “I loved that model because I never had to refer a patient out for a root canal or for oral surgery. All I typically did was walk down the hall and grab an oral surgeon, the consult was done, and the patient was taken care of in the same place. Patients love convenience.”

That experience has prompted LaVacca to take his practice, Naperville Dental Specialists, located in suburban Chicago, to the next level by creating a full dental destination for his patients. He says that when patients have to go to another office, they need directions, perhaps a referral letter, additional appointment time — all of which add up to a less attractive patient experience.

The strategy has been successful. In 10 years, the practice has grown from six chairs to 35, accommodating more than 25,000 patients. LaVacca says it’s all about creating a positive experience and atmosphere.

“It’s all about keeping the patient at one location for all their dental needs,” he says. “And when you have an environment where all the docs are pretty much in one location, the thought process of the practice puts everybody on the same page. That contributes to a happy patient.”

ACCOUNTING AND DEMOGRAPHICS

LaVacca says he’s often asked how he became so successful. Hard work is essential, of course. But, he quickly adds, it’s most important to love your job.

“Your passion for dentistry has to spill out of you to give patients a pleasant experience,” LaVacca says.

Passion aside, LaVacca says launching a successful dental practice has a lot to do with demographics. Is the practice in a metropolitan area with multiple practitioners, or are you a solo practitioner in a more rural location? And what are the household incomes in that area?

That’s where LaVacca’s accounting background is paying off.

“You just don’t go out and spend $2 million on equipment,” he says. “You build and grow into it. I just invested another $350,000 into my digital dental lab to provide patients with same-day crowns. But that money was reinvested back into the business.”

LaVacca also pays close attention to his profit and loss statement, and knows the interest rate for every one of his practice’s loans. For example, he recognizes that if one machine was purchased with a 3 percent loan and another with a 5 percent loan, he’s going to pay off the 5 percent loan first. And if he has a little extra cash flow, he’ll double up on the loan with the higher interest rate.

But he’s also quick to point out that he’s not an expert in accounting.

“I will spend extra money hiring that expert accountant,” LaVacca says. “And I will pay a premium for an expert who provides great service to grow my business. Because at the end of the day, if it costs me another $2,000 on accounting, I know it’s going to bring me $8,000 in return.”

THE STANLEY CUP

When LaVacca and his wife, an orthodontist, first moved from New York to Chicago, he worked for a large downtown practice. He was soon courted by the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League to become the team’s dentist.

“This is when the Blackhawks were terrible,” LaVacca recalls. “I mean, they weren’t even on TV at the time because Mr. Wirtz (team president Bill Wirtz) didn’t want TV promoting the Blackhawks to the local market. He felt like, if you wanted to see them play, you’d have to come to the arena.”

But then the team turned things around. They became more exciting to watch. And when the Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup title in 49 years in 2010, LaVacca was part of the celebration.

“It was huge in the Chicago area to have them win it,” he says. “And to be part of the team was a lot of fun.”

But LaVacca knows that true success doesn’t come without hard work, and the things that are priceless are the things you can’t put a number on — such as having his practice voted Best Dentist in The Best of Naperville 2011.

“It’s very humbling,” he says of the award. “It’s very self-rewarding in a way that money can’t express, because you can’t buy that.”

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