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Money and a Dental Practice: Staff Salaries from a Recruiter’s Perspective


It's important for dental job candidates to know what salary they're comfortable with, but also to understand that practices operate as businesses.

piggy bank with dentist tools isolated on white background: Image Credit: © Hector - ©Hector - stock.adobe.com.


I like money. Well, that is a loaded statement, but it is at the core of what dental employees truly feel but are ashamed to admit out loud. I don’t feel there is a taboo in talking about something that means a great deal to all of us. I believe those working in the trenches have no idea what the cost of running a practice is. Maybe if we did, we might get it.

Let’s start with new hires. As a recruiter, I usually receive a salary range for open positions from a practice’s office manager. Let’s say, for example, you are paying $18 to $20 per hour for a dental assistant. What happens when an incredible candidate comes along asking for $22 per hour? This is a problem. If you pay the stellar candidate that much, what about the other dental assistants you have in the practice? We do know how much others are getting. You could end up with a revolt on your hands. But applicants do not get this. Instead, they think that the practice is “cheap.” It really has a bigger picture than that.

I’ve seen companies have to restructure the salaries of all employees out of fairness. With the current staffing challenges, this is indeed wreaking havoc on what is fair and competitive in our industry. I know you don’t think you are being paid enough. I feel the same way. But we must think big picture. Contrary to what many believe, it does not all revolve around the individual.

I had one candidate willing to take a $5000 salary cut to work at our practice. She hated where she was and was so desperate to get out that she was willing to make that sacrifice. First, why do I know what she is currently earning? I never asked that question. Most applicants talk aloud when I ask what salary they are looking for. They start with, “Well, currently, I am making $25 per hour, but I would be willing to go down to $20 per hour.” Why? We really are not fans of desperate candidates, and all it does is put you in a negative light. Do not be surprised when you get asked that question. If you’re looking for a new position, practice your answer to that question because odds are, it will be asked. I ask it within the first 5 minutes so that I don’t waste anyone’s time.

Know what you are looking for and find a range that you’re comfortable staying within. Plus, in dental, I always put the salary range on the job description. If you are going to have a screening or interview, go back to the job description and look it up on Indeed or the dental practice website. Do your homework.

The reason I am not interested in someone who will take a $5000 or more cut in salary is because that person will get frustrated over time. I have seen this repeatedly in my work as a recruiter with other clients: The person comes in, might love the job, but gets annoyed that they could be earning more elsewhere. They usually leave in a short while. Turnover costs a practice big time. That is one reason why I stress retention is key to breaking this cycle.

Some play the game of interviewing, getting an offer, and then using this as a tactic to get a raise at their current practice. Please do not do it. If you tell your practice you are leaving, then leave. We have seen in other industries how those who remain with their old jobs are gone within 18 months. You have committed the sin of giving up your loyalty in your office. How committed are you really to your work now? What about to your work family? That eats away at a healthy work environment. It’s something to think about.

You must understand that a dental practice is a business. It has set expenses that keep going up in this economy. Vendor prices continue to climb. Utilities, technology, repair work, supplies—the list goes on and on.

When I first started recruiting, I had a different take on all this. I thought the doctor should just pay more money to get and keep great staff. That thinking changed as I learned more about the pressure and expenses involved in running a practice. The problem is that you don’t hear about the big picture. When you do, then you can be part of the solution.

It’s not always pleasant to talk about money so bluntly, but this is what I see as a recruiter.

Email me at diana2@discussdirectives.com and share with me how much you know about the big picture at your practice. If you disagree with my thinking, let me know. After all, the more we talk about it, the more we all will benefit.

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