Top 10 tips from the old guy to recent dental school graduates


I practiced dentistry for 44 years, most of that in private practice. I was able to grow my practice to the top five percent of solo practices in the U.S. in the last five years I practiced. I studied with the masters, and had the best consultants in the business help me attain my practice success.

I practiced dentistry for 44 years, most of that in private practice. I was able to grow my practice to the top five percent of solo practices in the U.S. in the last five years I practiced. I studied with the masters, and had the best consultants in the business help me attain my practice success.

Here are the “top ten tips” that I paid consultants and coaches thousands of dollars for.

6 things the dental industry needs to address now: Thoughts from a recent dental school graduate

Be a continual student

Dental school helped you become “The jack of all trades, but the master of none.” How many extractions did you do while you were in school? The first four months out of school, I extracted over 1,000 teeth, without the help of an instructor watching and helping.

Did you do enough implant placements in school for your patient base to trust you? I think not. It is essential to master new techniques throughout your career.

We have new procedures, new materials and even new rules we have to learn every day in dentistry. If you do not keep up, you will be destined to have a mediocre practice. Make a commitment to learn about the things you do most, the things you enjoy, the things you want to do more of, and things that are more profitable.

Set yourself apart from the doctor next door and be exceptional at something. In the early 1980s I attended the AACD meetings and learned more about veneers, porcelain onlays and cosmetic dentistry. I enjoyed doing many of these procedures in my general practice, and had a reputation in my town for being good at it.

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Learn the difference between excellence and perfection

We live in a world of tenths of a millimeter and highly polished composites. Always strive to be excellent at everything you do. That is the standard we all want to have. Striving for perfection will make you crazy. I was preparing my cases to present to the AACD, and I literally polished my anterior composite case for hours, and it still wasn’t good enough to meet their standard.

When I learned the difference between excellence and perfection, I attained a balance between my work and the rest of my life. Live to YOUR standard of excellence, not someone elses.

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Build yourself the best possible support team

Find the most skilled “people people” you can find and train them to help you do the dentistry. I worked the last 10 years with five assistants, with only one having formal clinical assisting training. They had a total of over 100 years experience when I retired.

I can’t stress enough how important a good team is. One consultant told me I needed to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. Then the bus will be going in the right direction.

Two other team members are important. A great lab technician will help you deliver an excellent product to your patients. This will help your confidence when you are telling someone that you can make them a good denture, a cosmetic change or a well-fitting crown or bridge.

The second is the team of referral doctors you send your patients too. Their skill, their attitude, their care and concern for your patient will reflect on YOU. Make sure they work to your standard

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Have a written plan

If it isn’t written down, it is something other than a goal. It is a suggestion, a dream or something that would be nice to do. A plan will have what, how much and when. I have a coach I have worked with for many years that has convinced me to have goals about almost everything in life. This includes income, days to work, vacation, how many new patients to see each month and my budget. For years I would track new patients, production and collections each month. This works! You will improve what you track.

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Find a mentor

Mentors can be life-long, or people who pass in and out of your life as the need arises. My uncle was a dentist who made the profession look interesting and inviting. I credit him as the person who had the most influence on me becoming a dentist. One of my “competitors “ has been a career- long mentor. We attended classes together, studied together, asked each other questions about treatment and have been very close friends. I also have had clinicians mentor me years after attending their classes and seminars.

Solo practitioners are often isolated and need some advice from time to time. Do not let pride stand in the way of asking for help. You will be surprised how many experienced doctors will be willing to share their knowledge if you will just ask. 

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Quit trying to be all things to all people 

I tried to do this early in my practice. I would try to fix almost everything that came in the door. That is not as dangerous as it might sound. “If you are a hammer, all you see are nails.” As a young doctor, I treated a limited number of problems because I recognized a limited number of things.

As time goes on, you will figure out what part of dentistry you really enjoy. As the years passed and I got busier doing things I enjoyed, I would cut out things I did not enjoy. You need to do this very carefully. Do not cut out a productive procedure too soon. You will learn that if you concentrate on a few things, you will soon be excellent doing those things. If you try to be excellent in everything, you will probably end up being an expert in none.

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Make your legacy be integrity

I want my patients to say that I treated them with care, I listened to them, that I did good work and that I had Integrity. 

When my referral doctors look at the work I have performed, I want them to be able to tell the patient my work was excellent and that I had Integrity. I hope that will be the legacy I leave as a professional.

Your patients will know how you treated them, but your referral doctors will know if you treated your patient with skill and integrity. What do you want your legacy to be?

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Learn to listen

Listen to instructors at seminars, to your colleagues’ advice, but most importantly, listen to your patients. People will tell you what they want from you, how they want you to treat them and when they are ready to proceed with the work you recommend.

That is harder for those of us who have so much to say and think that our information is terribly important. As I matured I learned that what I had to say wasn’t nearly as important as what my patient had to say.

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Live with balance

I am old enough that when I attended the Pankey Institute, I heard Dr. Pankey speak. He spoke about balancing our life with the four arms of the cross of life: work, play, love and worship. We have a great profession, but we need to understand that our work should allow us to Play as a result of our labor, to have great loves in our life, and to save time and energy for those we love. He also emphasized that we should have a spiritual component to our life that gives us perspective on what are the really important issues in our life.


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Start saving now

Even if it is only $20 per month, have an untouchable fund. Also have an emergency fund of one month’s salary. You need to sit down with a financial advisor now to figure out how much you will need in 30-40 years to be able to retire. What about the kids going to college some day? These are not small numbers and they get higher the longer you wait.

You need to find a brave advisor, who will give you the hard truth about savings and who you will allow to hold you accountable to them for these savings. I started late and that made it even harder. Make it a habit to save and increase the amount as income rises. A simple way is to make it a percentage of income, so that it will go up as income increases. The key is to start doing something now.

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There are thousands of other things you and I will experience in the years we practice dentistry. These are what I consider my top 10 tips. There is nothing simple about any of these 10 tips. You should read them, reflect on them and decide which ones can apply to your situation right now. Then write down what you want to do with this information, or it will be forgotten by the time you finish reading this.


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