Starting a New Dental Practice

Section 1. Introduction


Once you’ve determined that you’re ready to start your own practice, it’s time to get the details in order. From your initial research to the finishing touches, starting your own dental practice and becoming a business owner are parts of a comprehensive journey dental school may not have prepared you for.

In this guide, you can learn strategies, skills, and tips that may help make your dream a reality.

Section 2. Market Research


Before you jump headfirst into a new business, you may want to learn a few things about where you’re establishing your company.

Do your homework to learn more about your addressable market before setting any decisions in stone. You’ll need to understand local competition, patient demographics, and other important factors about where you’re setting up shop.

You can learn more by asking some of the following questions:

  • Can you serve a specific customer niche?
  • Is there room for more providers in your area?
  • Are the commercial real estate prices affordable for a new practice?
  • Is the region growing or shrinking in population or businesses?
  • Is this an area where you want to live, work, raise a family, etc.?
  • Are there any major risk factors, such as a history of severe weather, that could make it difficult to run a local business in that region?
  • How easy or difficult is it to work with the local municipality and regulations?
  • Are there additional services, insurances, or niche offerings that can help you stand apart from established local providers?

By answering these questions, you’ve asked some of the questions that may help you to understand whether you’ve selected a good area with an addressable market for your new practice. You may consider reviewing these questions with legal, real estate, and other professionals in the area.

Once you have an established market, you can start planning for the specifics of your new business.

Section 3. Business Basics


While dental practices are highly-specialized kinds of businesses, you may still want to obtain some of the same documentation and licensure that you would find with any other small company.

Some of the most important items may include:

Business Plan

Like any small business, you might want to consider designing a business plan for your new practice. According to the American Dental Association Center for Professional Success, your dental practice business plan should include similar information to most other business plans, including:

  • Service types
  • Pricing menu
  • Payment policies
  • Insurances accepted
  • Analysis of your local market and competition
  • Marketing strategies

It’s often appropriate to have a finalized business plan ready early in the preparation process. Learn more about creating a business plan for your dental practice with our guide.

Licensing and Registration

Dental practices generally have some level of legal requirements, including licenses, permits, and regulatory compliance. Your specific requirements may depend on your location, but they may also include your type of practice and legal entity.

Consult a lawyer and your municipality’s licensing department to understand the full breadth of your obligations early, as these requirements can sometimes take months.

Some issues to review with a legal professional may include:

This is not an exhaustive list, and your business’s needs may vary depending on your state, county, and municipality. You should consider reviewing these topics and any others with a legal professional who can assist you with working to open your dental practice.

Before you do, it’s also important to consider how you present and represent your new practice.

Branding and Logos

Before you open your doors for the first patient, you should consider creating a brand for your practice.

Generally, a logo is the first asset to create. Whether you prefer a complex graphic design or simple stylized text, getting a professional-looking logo can serve as the foundation for your new brand.

You can use the following tips when working with an agency or graphic designer to create your logo:

  • Use a font that’s easy to read
  • Consider whether your logo helps you stand out against your competitors
  • Consider whether someone can understand your logo without an explanation
  • Only use one or two colors at most
  • Consider where the logo works well in color, black, white, and grayscale
  • Consider whether the logo can be enlarged or shrunk depending on need
  • Consider whether the logo looks nice in both print and digital media
  • Get or create a variety of high resolution graphic files to use and repurpose your logo
  • Create a guide for using your logo, including minimum sizing, white space usage, and appropriate brand colors to use

Learn more about brand logo considerations for dental practices

Section 4. Finding the Right Space for Your Practice


Once the above steps are complete, you may want to move on to finding a home for your new practice in the market you researched.

Find a local commercial realtor you can trust to help you find an appropriate location and stay within your budget, whether you choose to lease or buy.

Leasing vs. Buying

Leasing or buying your practice’s building is another major decision that faces enterprising new dentists. So many factors can play a part in this decision, so it’s important to prioritize what matters most to you.

To help you determine whether you should lease or buy your building, you can consider some of the following:

  • Is this an area where your patients would feel safe?
  • Is this an area where new patients could easily find you?
  • Is this where you’d like to commute, potentially for the rest of your career?
  • Is this a location where others would enjoy commuting for employment?
  • Are real estate prices and rental rates increasing at a steady rate in your area?
  • Do you have the ability to buy?
  • Would you have to build or is there already a suitable space for sale?
  • Can you afford to start your practice in a desirable location you’ll want to remain for years?
  • Do you have room to expand?
  • Can you negotiate lease terms?

Section 5. Purchasing Equipment and Choosing Vendors


Because you’re starting a new practice, you’ll need furniture, decor, equipment, supplies, technology, software, security, and more.

This can be a lengthy and costly process. You can search for equipment online or from local retailers, especially if you know other dental professionals in the area. It can help you to find the right vendors, prices, options, and training for your practice.

Equipment may present a particularly tough series of decisions when you’re starting a new dental practice.

While older models and used equipment may be more cost-effective, they may not hold up as long as newer and more expensive equipment. Don’t make a long-term commitment to keep anything that will hinder your ability to stay competitive.

Besides the obvious supplies, there are still other expenses you may need before seeing your first patient:

  • Equipment installation
  • Dental laboratory partnership
  • Medical waste management services
  • Music and television subscriptions
  • Software and training
  • Purchasing and installing a phone system
  • Launching a website

Section 6. Insuring Yourself, Your Team, and Your Practice


One of your most important business considerations may be how you protect what you’ve built. You’ll want to consider certain standard insurances, like malpractice, that accompany any dental practice.

However, a comprehensive insurance strategy for you, your staff, and your practice can include more than just standard insurances that all dentists should consider..

It’s important to understand the available options, what they cover, what they don’t cover, and how different types of policies work together to provide coverage.

Business Loan Protection Insurance

If an illness or injury prevents you from working, business loan protection insurance can help to provide coverage related to your business loan.

Unlike disability income insurance, which supplements your lost wages, business loan protection helps with business loan payments when you’re unable to earn an income.

Depending on your lender, disability insurance may be a condition in order for you to obtain financing. Using Business Loan Protection Disability Insurance may satisfy this requirement while preserving any payments received from your personal disability insurance policy for just that, your personal expenses.

In addition, life insurance may also be required as a condition of the loan.

Learn more

Business Overhead Insurance

When an injury or illness stops you from seeing patients, your practice’s bills don’t necessarily stop. Business overhead expense insurance is one way to help keep the lights on and the bills paid until you can return to work.

Unlike disability income insurance, business overhead expense insurance is designed to cover business expenses until you recover or can sell the business.

Examples of these expenses can include staff salaries, taxes, utilities, office leases, equipment payments, and more.

Learn more

Business Owner’s Protection

Whether the problem is a weather event, fire, or damaged digital files, business owner’s protection may help your practice to shoulder the financial burden of unexpected hazards. Like a homeowner’s policy for your practice, these policies combine business property insurance with business liability insurance.

Coverages may include:

  • Your practice’s building, equipment, furniture, or fixtures
  • Lost business income resulting from loss of a covered property
  • Losses associated with equipment malfunction
  • Collections for lost or damaged accounting records
  • Computers and media
  • Lost customer records
  • Some injury or damage liability claims
  • Legal expense reimbursement for medical waste disposal violations
  • Legal expenses related to court review or review board appearances

Learn more

Data Breach Insurance

Dental practices are typically entrusted with sensitive patient information, including electronic billing and medical records, credit card information and social security numbers. When the privacy of that information is compromised by a cyber attack, lost mobile device, theft or human error, data breach coverage may mitigate the associated costs and potential litigation.

Your policy may also include staff training programs to prevent a data breach and response services. This coverage is typically added to your business owner’s protection policy.

Learn more

Entity Malpractice Coverage

If your practice is named in a malpractice lawsuit, entity malpractice insurance provides protection similar to your individual malpractice policy but for you business. This coverage may be a part of your individual professional liability insurance or purchased separately.

Learn more

Workers’ Compensation

Workers’ compensation may help cover medical expenses and lost wages when a member of your team is injured at your practice. These policies may also pay the families of deceased workers and cover the legal fees in related lawsuits.

Workers’ compensation insurance is typically required by state law, but you should review with your legal professional. While these policies may seem standard, coverage may vary to include safety programs, long-term coverage, employee training, case managers to coordinate care, and treatment plans, among other coverages.

Learn more

Employment Practices Liability Insurance

Employment Practices Liability Insurance may provide coverage in the event of an employment related lawsuit. Examples of employment related issues include sexual harassment, discrimination, failure to promote, and wrongful termination.

Some policies may provide assistance with prevention by providing items such as policy templates, training programs, and legal advice. EPLI may be part of your Business Owners Policy but it is important for the dentist to confirm that the limits are sufficient.

Learn more

Section 7. Hiring Your Team


Your team will service every area of your practice. With that kind of responsibility, every single hire is important. Depending on the size of your practice, you may need to hire quite a few people.

It’s unlikely that dental school prepared you for this hands-on aspect of business management, so it may be worth researching and seeking the advice of experienced dentists as you dive into the hiring process. Job postings, interviewing, and job offers all play a role in acquiring an appropriate employee. Hiring can also be deceptively time-consuming. From determining the duties of each position to crafting a benefits package, there’s a lot to consider.

To assist your employee search, you can outline your hiring process with these seven tips:

  1. Create job ads that adequately detail the duties and expectations of a job.
  2. Incorporate your practice’s core values into the hiring process so that they’re clear with every candidate.
  3. Look for the right personality fit by observing the communication of each candidate.
  4. Use qualification criteria throughout the hiring process to objectively narrow the field.
  5. Conduct thorough interviews with time for follow-up interviews for promising candidates.
  6. Consider a candidate’s attitude at every step of the process.
  7. Stick to your standards and stay persistent in your search for a well-suited employee, even when it’s taking longer than you’d hoped to fill a position.

Filling Specific Positions

Dental Assistants and Hygienists

Dental assistants and hygienists often work closely with you to keep your practice moving forward on a daily basis. You can find candidates for these positions on dental job boards like the Career Center at the American Dental Hygienists Association.

Great benefits, competitive pay, reliable hours, training, and performance-based compensation may all help drive interest from candidates.

Office Staff

While your general office staff may not have a background in dentistry, they still provide essential functions to your practice. They’re often the first person that a new patient meets and the last person a patient sees when they leave the office. Your front-office staff can wear many hats, including scheduling, customer service, payment processing, HIPAA compliance, and much more.

Communication, organization, and professionalism may be important qualities for anyone dealing with patients. This is especially true if patients are in pain, anxious, worried about costs, waiting longer than expected, and more.

You may desire to equip your practice with elite multitaskers who will treat your patients the way you would, without your direct supervision. One way to do that could be by looking for staff with a lot of experience and an interest in professional growth.

Other Important Positions

In addition to the positions discussed above, it’s also important to work through additional needs your practice may have, including:

  • Finding and retaining a lawyer*
  • Hiring an accountant experienced in the industry*
  • Contracting with an insurance advisor*
  • Working with a financial advisor*
  • Creating or sourcing job applications
  • Determining the type of reference checks you’ll need
  • Getting licensing verification
  • Preparing employment eligibility I-9 forms
  • Creating employment policies
  • Sourcing employee medical benefits
  • Hiring or outsourcing human resource support
  • Determining other employee benefits
  • Creating an orientation and training process

* You can identify people to fulfill these positions before your business opens. Ideally, you can start working with them in the pre-planning stages of your dental practice so they can help guide you as you start your business.

Section 8. Cultivating a Positive Culture (on Purpose)


Every self-starter dentist wants the smiling team they’ve seen at another practice or business that seems like a second family to their patients. Those kinds of teams often intentionally cultivate a positive and productive workplace culture.

Just like any other business, dental practices may benefit from creating core values as a guide for hiring and crafting a positive culture.

Often, that culture is one that offers support, opportunity, and personal consideration for the individuals who work at the practice. Each team member truly understands that what they do is valuable to the practice as a whole, appreciates the hard work of their colleagues, and strives to improve the dental practice in any way they can.

For the practice owner, this may mean creating a generous payment and benefits package for anyone hired. For hygienists, it can mean mastering the art of comforting pediatric patients who are anxious about going to the dentist. For front office staff, it can be remembering a patient’s name as they’re on their way out.

When you have a positive culture, it’s easy for your team to genuinely enjoy working at your dental practice. That happiness is noticeable and appreciated by your patients, and it’s a powerful incentive to keep the same patients coming back to your office every six months.

Designing an Environment for Your Ideal Patient

Attracting the right kind of patients to your practice is easier when you understand who those patients are. Patient personas — fictional representations of your ideal patient — can help you determine how to design, grow, and market your practice by helping you empathize with their needs, wants, and concerns.

You can consider these personas when you’re thinking about every part of your practice’s culture. Will you have toys in the waiting room? Will you send birthday cards to patients? Will you cultivate a sleek and modern brand with high-tech amenities?

Everything from your bathroom decor to your communication methods can factor into your culture, especially with how it’s perceived by patients. When you create a culture that’s authentic to your core values, appealing to patients may become easier and even more fun.

Standing Out by Going the Extra Mile

One method that may attract and impress patients is by using unique amenities. That means thinking beyond common handouts like branded toothbrushes and dental floss.

Cutting-edge dental practice amenities can include:

  • Office pets or comfort animals
  • Blankets and eye pillows
  • Sunglasses
  • Comfort-case selection of anxiety-reducing amenities and options
  • Music and video services
  • Video games
  • Digital tablets
  • Play areas
  • Accommodating hours
  • Emergency services
  • Mobile or virtual services

Section 9. How Treloar & Heisel Can Help


Starting your own practice is an exhilarating milestone on your career path. However, dental school doesn’t cover small business management, so it can also be the most challenging milestone.

Treloar & Heisel offers products and services that may help you through this process. Treloar & Heisel has been assisting dentists through every phase of their careers for more than 60 years. We can help you to map out an insurance plan for the future while protecting what you’ve already accomplished.

With a wide range of insurance options and financial services at your disposal, it’s no wonder Treloar & Heisel has assisted over 20,000 dental professionals. We don’t just help you solve a problem here and there — we serve you throughout your entire career to open new opportunities and insure what you’ve built.

To learn more, you can download this page as a PDF for free to take all of this information with you. Click the button below to get your free copy!

Treloar & Heisel and Treloar & Heisel Property and Casualty are divisions of Treloar & Heisel, LLC.

Insurance products are offered through Treloar & Heisel, LLC.

Treloar & Heisel, LLC. and its divisions do not offer tax, legal, or practice management advice. Please consult with a professional concerning these topics.

This information is for general informational purposes only and is not intended as advice. The policy and coverage definitions and terms are not binding. Please consult your policy contract for the binding definitions and terms. Please consult with a licensed insurance professional.


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