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The desperate need for business education in dentistry

June 20, 2018
It's no secret that business education is lacking in dental schools. This leads to many dentists not realizing how important it is to manage the business side of their practices.

This article originally appeared in the Principles of Practice Management e-newsletter. Subscribe to this informative twice monthly practice management ENL here.

I have experience with all types of people in my business. I may not have seen it all, but I’ve certainly seen a lot. When I talk with other dental professionals, they agree: something is missing in their practices.

I’m talking about the business of dentistry. I’ve had the honor of working with hundreds of practices through my 26-year career, and it’s clear there’s a huge lack of business education in dentistry.

Dental students are smart! They’re embarking on a journey that requires minute attention to detail, artistic talent, and a keen grasp of science. However, with the majority of students intending to enter the workforce as a sole-proprietor either as an associate or partner,(1) they’re often woefully unprepared for the business acumen that these practices require.

During the last 10 years, several doctors have told me their intention was to hire a competent office manager to run the business side because they “just want to do dentistry.” Of course they do! They’ve devoted most of the last decade to learning dentistry and they want to hit the ground running to help patients. Still, I find it shocking when I hear them say this because it shows their disconnect that dental practices are businesses, and as business owners they’re responsible for running them. I also meet doctors who have been in practice for a number of years who still don’t understand the basics of business ownership. Their approach is, “If there’s money in the bank at the end of the month, I’m doing OK!”

Know your business

Dr. Paul Goodman agrees. “Bad business decisions lead to clinical problems. I’ve never seen dentists go out of business because they could not do a good Class II composite, or because they could not take a good removable partial denture impression. It’s often because they never knew they had to do all this ‘stuff,’ such as team management, billing, payroll, and more.”

Dr. Goodman agreed when I said that running a dental practice is vastly different now than it was 20 years ago. He grew up working in his father’s practice and now practices with his brother. His father also acknowledged that the business has changed and is more complicated that in the past.

“Saying that there’s a lack of business education in dentistry is like saying there’s a lack of snow in Southern California!” he said with a laugh. He’s committed to correcting the lack of business education in dental schools and offers several avenues to address the need. In addition to operating two practices, Dr. Goodman is a director at United Dental Brokers of America, teaches implant placement and restoration courses, runs the podcast “Dental Amigos,” and runs the Facebook groups Dental Nachos, and Dental Students, Residents, and Young Dentists’ Support Group. He uses humor and encourages interaction among members, shares his knowledge, and asks for input from other doctors about their experiences.

Until dental school curriculum can be changed to better prepare students for the workforce, it’s imperative for dentists to seek out information on their own. Dr. Goodman recommends that students “rub elbows with other dentists. This means seeking out CE courses so that you can talk with others and learn from them,” he said. Connecting with a mentor and participating in organizations that offer exposure to other dentists and experts are valuable resources, as are social media groups and podcasts.

Consultants really can help!

When the funds are available, work with a consultant or coach to help you develop systems and teach you how to read practice management reports so that you can keep track of the health of your business. By supplying proven protocols and strategies, as well as verbal skills to improve interoffice communication and case presentation, a consultant will help you develop your team and bring the experience of many successful practices into your own business. In essence, consultants keep you from having to reinvent the wheel.

It’s important to find the right consultant for you. Take your time, interview several companies, and ask for references. How will they work with your team? Will your concerns addressed, or will you just be handed another expensive binder of information that hasn’t been updated in years? Will the consultant teach you how to monitor your results? This is an investment, and you want to make sure it’s a good one.

“You must work on the business, not just in the business,” Dr. Goodman said. Spending the money to develop your business will make you profitable sooner rather than later. Allowing experts to share their knowledge gathered from their experiences with other practices is the fastest way to learn small changes that can have big impacts on your business. Dr. Howard Farran, creator of DentalTown, said in a recent LinkedIn post that hiring a practice management consultant is the best investment that a business owner can make.(2)

Regulation, insurance, marketing, science, and human resources have all played roles in the evolution of dentistry, and it’s a mistake to pretend otherwise. Knowing the limits of your knowledge and when to ask for help are key to determining the success of your practice. Whether you learn at a CE course, participate in an online forum, or hire a consultant to teach your team members one-on-one, you will be working with experts. You will discern ways to grow your business and become more profitable while reducing your stress.

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The founder of On Point Dental Consulting, Andrea Greer, RDH, BS, brings more than 25 years of experience in clinical excellence, workflow management, software training, and communication expertise to team members and doctors. She’s committed to improving case presentation, communication, and the dentist’s experience in business, and finds speaking and her work with teams very rewarding. Visit OnPoint.Consulting for more information.


1. Journal of Dental Education May 2017, 81 (5) 613-630; DOI:
2. Farran H. (2018). [online]. LinkedIn Post, 27 April.