Getting Ahead in Dentistry

It Can Take Years to Get Ahead in Dentistry

One of the misconceptions that I had when I first started dental school, or even before I started school, was that I would immediately be well off after I started practicing. I thought that as soon as I started drilling the cash would start flowing.  I mean really why had I put myself through the previous 8 years of education?  I wanted to make a good living.  What I found was not quite what I expected.  My expectations were way too high!

Dentistry is not a get rich quick scheme!  Dentistry is a work for many, many years and time-equals-moneymanage your debt in hopes that some day you will be well off scheme.  This is one of the many things that I really wish I would have thought more about before I graduated.  Many dental students are under the false premise that the day they get out of dental school all will be well.

From my experience, and from talking to dozens of dentists, this misconception is not unique to me.  The reality of it is this.  We go to school for so many years.  We live like peasants for so long that we are simply about burst upon graduation.  We want some reward for our efforts.  We have been living by welfare standards trying to keep our student loans to a minimum and  by the time we graduate we are ready to live life, finally!  Well not so fast.  Let me explain what really happens.

Upon graduation you have hopefully already decided what direction you are going to take in your dental practice.  Associateships are not uncommon for recent graduates.  This allows you to get your feet wet before making the large jump into ownership.  If you associate, as I did, and many of my friends did you will soon get very antsy to buy your own practice so you can do things the way you want and not the way the owner wants.  Well this is all fine and dandy but let me say that this all takes money!

I will not go into all the pros and cons of practice ownership vs. associateships here, but our book “So You Want To Be a Dentist?” talks about the practice options available to you.  Let me just say this.  Generally speaking, at some point, you are going to want to buy a dental practice.  It’s a natural process of most people that go into dentistry.  It’s just the way we are.  We want ownership.  I thought for sure that was the way to get well off quicker than associating.

Well that’s not exactly true.  Did I make more money?  Yes!  Did it all go to debt service? Yes!  Did my headaches increase? Yes!

Along with practice ownership comes large loans.  Loans on top of all of your current loans.  Then comes the house payment, the car payment the student loan payment the payment for the practice and the list goes on and on.  We also can’t forget insurance payments.  Medical, disability, malpractice, and life insurance, etc.  Oh and now we have staff to pay, bills associated with the practice to pay, etc.  And who can forget the wonderful taxes!  There are many things as a business owner that you have to deal with that an associate does not.

What you find when you are out of dental school is that the amount of debt you have is directly proportional to the speed at which you become well off.  With all the other debt that you incur after school, on top of your student loans, it makes it very difficult to come debt-ball-and-chainout and live the lifestyle that you may think you are going to be able to, right off the bat.

Do not expect to come out and start living the high life immediately.  Most business loans are 7-10 year amortization s.  This is something that you need to consider when thinking of the direction you want to go.  Pile on your business loans, student loans and all other living expenses and it doesn’t take much to evaporate a $10,000/mo income in nothing but debt service.  Until you get your debt under control you will still be living under what you may have your expectations set at.  I know I never thought that after being out of school AND in practice ownership for 10 years I would still have debt that is large enough to keep my attention and prevent me from doing some things that I would like to do.

Will the time come that I will be able to do those things?  Sure.  But remember it is a slow process and can take many years to get there.  The quicker you pay off the debt, the better off you are.

Dr. Troy Stevens DDS

Dr. Stevens is a co-author of the book “So You Want to be a Dentist?: What you Must Know to Succeed in Dentistry”.  The book can be purchased at, the iBookstore,, and many other digital retailers.

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