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The Dream of Independent Dentistry is Alive and Well


Not everyone shops at Neiman Marcus or Nordstrom's. Some prefer Walmart or Target, or a small, independent boutique. The same holds for dental practices. Anita Rathee, D.D.S., M.P.H., an integrative and cosmetic dentist, says there will always be a market for every type of practice. The key is knowing how to make it work.

Image of a team putting their hands in for a cheer

Expanding your skills and setting yourself apart are key for independent practice success.

The dream of graduating from dental school and opening an independent practice is over. Or is it?

According to the ADEA Survey of Dental School Seniors in 2016, 50.5 percent of seniors indicated their immediate plans following graduation were to work as a private practice dentist. That’s up slightly from 49.4 percent in 2015.

Those figures mesh with the results of the ADA’s 2014 Survey of Dental Practices, which indicates that 70 percent of all practices are sole proprietorships.

And while those millennial dental school graduates may be carrying a sizeable education debt on their shoulders, the good news is the process of owning your own practice hasn’t changed.

“You still have to consider the same things whether you’re buying a practice or starting your own practice,” says Anita Rathee, D.D.S., M.P.H., a West Hills, California-based integrative and cosmetic dentist. “You have to look at the area. Is it growing? Is it stable? What type of practice do you want to have? Lots of those considerations are still the same.”

So, what’s different?


Rathee believes it’s particularly important for young dentists to set themselves apart. For example, Rathee says she uses some unique strategies that allow restorations to last longer. She recommends additional training beyond what was learned in dental school.

“Expand your skills and become more adept at doing advanced procedures,” she says. “But it doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve taken lots of continuing education. It makes me realize that you really don’t know what you don’t know.”

She says that being able to offer patients advanced procedures, and perform these procedures in your own office, are important benefits. Patients like to know they can get everything they need done in one place.

Additional practice management training, she says, is also beneficial. She also believes it’s helpful to have a mentor — someone who can guide you through the process of learning how to run a dental practice.

“The practice of dentistry is also the practice of running a small business,” Rathee says. “I formed a relationship with a mentor by being involved in the Academy of General Dentistry. When you’re involved in organized dentistry, you get an opportunity to learn from dentists who are in similar practices.”

And as you learn, clinical expertise and practice management experience will provide significant long-term dividends.


While Rathee acknowledges she doesn’t heavily engage in social media where her practice is concerned, she recognizes it’s an important element as part of overall marketing.

“Social media is not necessarily going to make or break a practice,” she says. “But it’s definitely an important part of helping people understand what your practice is like.”

What Rathee does engage heavily in, and highly recommends especially for young dentists, is establishing communication with patients. She says that patients don’t understand the services and treatment dentists are providing and the related benefits if time isn’t allotted for explanation.

“When you take the time to talk to patients about things, they get the feeling that you actually care about what’s happening to them,” Rathee says.

That’s crucial, she adds, because patients have choices. But it’s also important to remember that you’re not going to attract everyone to your practice — and you probably don’t want to. Your goal should be to attract the patients who want the level of service you provide—who want the best treatment plan rather than the best cost option.

“You draw the type of people you want to the type of practice you have by communicating well with them,” she says.


Like any small, independent business, addressing the issue of overhead is always challenging. Rathee says one strategy that can help independent dentists is building collective efforts with other independent practices.

“We’re seeing that trend, and I think we’re going to see more of it in the future,” she says. “Small, independent practices are going to have to find innovative ways to manage their overhead.”

But, she adds, the dream of owning an independent dental practice is, and always will be, very much alive.

“They may be fewer in number than they were historically, but we’re always going to have them,” Rathee points out. “In any market, there’s always a demand for different types of services. I think we’ll always have the opportunity to do what we want.”

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