Graduating Dental School? Should You Strike Out On Your Own?

If you're graduating from dental college soon, you may be envisioning your future career and wondering what to expect. You're likely already interning with a practicing dentist, but this experience may have you reluctant to seek employment at an office that employs a large team of dentists -- preferring instead to work one-on-one with a dental hygienist or perhaps with a single partner and support staff. Read on to learn more about some types of dental practices that may appeal to your personality, as well as what you'll need to do to get started in these businesses.

Solo dental practice

Launching your own business can be one of the most challenging -- and rewarding -- things you do in your life. However, building a solo dental practice from the ground up can be a significant financial undertaking after funding your way through college and dental school. Your best bet is usually to purchase an existing dental practice from a retiring dentist, which will allow you to obtain the space, clientele, and specialized equipment you need without requiring you to perform the legwork yourself. 

In addition to purchasing a dental practice, you'll likely need to set yourself up as a legal sole proprietorship or other corporate structure sanctioned by your state's government. This will allow you to streamline your personal income taxes by separating all business expenses, as well as protect you from personal liability for professional negligence or malfeasance.

Regardless of which business structure you choose, your state dental licensing board will likely require you to purchase dental malpractice insurance from a company like HMBD Insurance Services to help compensate any patients who suffer health problems due to care you've provided. This malpractice insurance is generally available for as little as $300 to $400 per year for a $1 million to $3 million policy, which can protect you from all but the most severely catastrophic claims. Adding the legal and financial protection of an incorporated business on top of this can ensure that you'll be able to focus your attention on patient care.

Limited partnership 

Another beneficial business structure for an up-and-coming dentist is a partnership. You'll be able to share office space and support staff with another dental professional while still seeing your own clients and setting your own hours. Because you'll have someone else to cover emergencies in your absence, you'll be better able to schedule vacations and other extended absences than if you were a solo practitioner. 

You'll be much more attractive to a potential business partner if you can guarantee your own book of clients -- so your time in dental school is a good opportunity for you to network and build up a loyal client base to help market yourself once you've graduated. You may also want to keep your ear to the ground to discover any rumors or rumblings about a retiring dentist selling his or her portion of a dental partnership.

Dental franchises

A final option that may appeal to you is a dental franchise. With the cost of dental treatment rising and insurance plans becoming more and more complex since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, many providers have found it profitable to invest in a dental franchise rather than navigate these legislative and logistical hoops themselves. Like a fast-food franchise, a dental franchise offers marketing, a business strategy, and a product team in exchange for an initial lump-sum investment. This franchised dental care model is experiencing rapid and unprecedented growth, and the number of dental franchises located in the U.S. is only predicted to increase. 

Purchasing a dental franchise can be advantageous if you're trying to get started in a new town or aren't great at networking. Because these franchises are located in multiple states, they provide a feeling of comfort and familiarity to many patients (both local and non-local. You're likely to find yourself getting a number of walk-in customers who just feel uncomfortable picking a dentist's name at random from the phone book, but don't mind visiting a national and well-reputed dental franchise (even one with a brand-new dentist).