As much as dental school prepares you for success, new dentists often feel overwhelmed when they transition into the real world. To help new dentists start their career off on the right foot, we spoke with 7 experienced practitioners and industry experts to share their tips for new dentists.
1. Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
Dr. Brandon Meckelberg, Lead Dentist, Aspen Dental in Tallahassee, FL
Find a great mentor and don't be afraid to push yourself. The only way to better yourself as a practitioner is to step outside of your comfort zone. I made a move across the country to better my career. I'm the lead dentist at the Aspen Dental practice in Tallahassee, FL, where there are more than 500 patients waiting to be seen. It can be a little nerve-wracking, especially when you're a young dentist, and you wonder “How am I going to see all of these patients and give them the care they need?” You just have to jump in and take it one patient at a time.
Although you may feel like you're barely staying afloat the first few weeks, you know much more than you realize. Dive in and don't let new procedures intimidate you. With the right support and mentality, your possibilities are limitless.
Leadership and personality are critical for success. Have fun and focus on building strong relationships. When I joined the office in Tallahassee, it didn't have the right vibe. It was a matter of stepping in, asserting myself and creating positivity and excitement with the team so we can focus on providing quality care to our patients.
2. Ease Old Fears with New Technology
Dr. Bryan Laskin, Owner of Lake Minnetonka Dental & Founder of OperaDDS
Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. The dental profession has been around for a long time, but there are constantly new technologies and tools being developed that can aid you and improve the level of patient care you are able to deliver.
Think like a patient. How do they feel about going to the dentist? What would make their experience more enjoyable? Are there technologies like virtual reality or easy ways for patients to communicate with you that can make you more accessible to them and improve the quality of their visit?
Don’t be afraid to give those kinds of things a try. A lot of people don’t like to go to the dentist. Some of my own patients have told me about the anxiety they’ve felt when it comes to dental visits. I did a lot of research and decided virtual reality was the answer. It was a totally new concept for a dentist. But, my patients love it. I’ve been blown away by their positive reactions. Thinking outside the box led me to this idea that is improving the quality of my patients’ visits and getting them excited about the dentist.
3. Focus on the Basics
Dr. MJ Rowland-Warmann, Lead Dentist & CEO, Smileworks in Liverpool, England
Don't lose sight of the dentistry that’s right in front of you. It may be tempting to think you’ve failed in some way if you aren’t placing implants 20 minutes out of dental school, but there’s a lot to be said for getting good at the basics. There’s a reason people say "Don’t run before you can walk." The patient in front of you needs your care and attention. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be fancy—you just have to try and be the best you can be in that moment, for them.
All technical skills can be taught—how to place an implant, how to create the perfect crown or composite—these are all skills that will improve over time, or through continuing education. However, there’s something magical about a great communicator—someone who has their patient holding onto their every word. This isn't taught in dental school: the art of the consultation, and the art of listening. It’s not about selling a patient a crown or an implant—it’s about enabling your patient to have a better way of life, about improving their day, making them feel beautiful, confident and successful, and allowing them to live the life they imagined.
4. Plan for Your Long-Term Career
Dr. Steve Golubow, Owner, Zebulon Dental Center in Macon, GA
Be careful accepting any jobs that require a buy-in after a set time period. If you are looking at that kind of offer, really stop and think "Do I see myself working with these guys for the next 30+ years?" I accepted a position like this because it was by far the best offer I received compensation-wise. The downside was a huge buy-in fee, and ultimately, I could not envision myself working alongside the other dentists in the group.
Also, don't accept a job in a town if you don't see yourself living there long term. The longer you are somewhere the harder it becomes to leave. Many of my friends from dental school are facing difficult choices because they aren't where they would like to be but find it too difficult to uproot their lives to leave.
The biggest struggle I had in the beginning was finding the right lab. Eventually I found two out of state after getting advice from friends I graduated with from dental school. If your fixed or removable cases continue to cause you problems, switch labs until you find the right one. Be prepared for a lot of remakes your first year. Eat the cost, and save yourself the headaches.
Understand the practice model you are working in and what it takes to be successful in that setting. We don't learn enough about the business side of dentistry in school and not all employers will be forthcoming in sharing their knowledge. Find a mentor, learn everything you can. If you want to be a fee for service cosmetic dentist don't set yourself up at a fast-paced managed care practice or you won’t come away with the skills you need to be successful.
I started my practice with only 1 year of work experience under my belt. It was a hard road. Six years later I am still working on fine tuning my skill and my business. I have four years left on my practice loan, I wish I would have had a little more experience, but I am thankful to be the one calling the shots.
5. Find the Practice That’s Right for You
Dr. Katrina Wall, Owner, Essex Dentist in Essex, CT
Keep your chin up and stay true to yourself. In that I mean, really think about what kind of dentistry you want to practice. In a group? Private? In a hospital? Keep this in mind as you go through the interview process, and know that your first job may not be your forever job, but you do need that job to keep your student loan payment successful.
Then try to enjoy what you are doing, what you spent all those long endless hours in school dreaming about: REAL patients, with REAL teeth, with REAL insurance (which is another story).
6. Pay Attention to Your Online Reputation
Ted Chan, CEO, CareDash
Running a healthcare provider review website, I can say it's essential from the beginning for dentists to care about their bedside manner and to keep an eye on review sites for feedback. While it can be jarring to receive negative feedback, taking it to heart can result in growth and better patient experience in the future.
From the online CareDash patient reviews, we know that often the way a dentist communicates is just as important as the quality of the care for the patient experience. Dentists should also be prepared to explain the things that matter to the patient, such as the cost of procedures, pain, or risk that an implant or filling may fail and require another procedure. We know that practices are increasingly looking at this as a consideration for future employment.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
Dr. Grace Yum, Owner, Yummy Dental and Orthodontics for Kids in Chicago, IL
I have been in private practice as a dentist since 2004 and a business owner for over 8 years. I have had the pleasure of interviewing several new graduates right out of school. The new dentists that succeed are often very good communicators and understand that being confident in front of their patients and team builds credibility.
My advice to new graduates is to be responsible and to not be afraid of asking questions. Often, new dentists think they are equipped to handle all the clinical skills needed in private practice, but there are many lessons to be learned and built on experience. Not every procedure will fit every patient. When new dentists are faced with circumstances that are unfamiliar it is important to reach out to senior doctors and ask questions!