Dental

Partner Blog Spotlight: 5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Becoming a Dentist

Mouthing Off is the official blog of the American Student Dental Association. ASDA members post three times each week on topics such as dental licensure, personal finance and student debt, dental school life and dentistry in pop culture. Mouthing Off is almost entirely student written with the occasional post by a dentist or financial expert. Whether you’re a predental trying to get into dental school or you’re a dental student looking for some career advice, Mouthing Off is a great resource to visit again and again. Here’s a taste of what you’ll find on Mouthing Off:

5 things I wish I had known before becoming a dentist

For fourth year dental students, graduation is just around the corner. In this post, the dentists who wrote “So You Want to be a Dentist?” offer some advice they wish they’d had before graduating dental school.

1. Debt is real

I’ll admit when I was in dental school and signing loan documents for $30,000 or more at a time, it didn’t quite seem real.  I never saw most of that money.  What I did see was just deposited in a bank account and used to live on.
I wish I had taken a little longer to think about that money.  It almost felt like a paycheck.  Just money I was getting paid and that was mine to spend on the things we all spend money on.
But those student loans were a loan. That money had to be repaid–with interest–and so it wasn’t free. That realization is critical as you decide to borrow for school, buying a practice, purchasing equipment or whatever it is.
Those loans will erode your ability to make and take home money.  As you start repaying those loans it will affect the choices you can make. Those loans will slow down how quickly you can enjoy financial freedom and really live your life. (Visit MO’s Money Monday series for more on managing debt and personal finances.)

2. Teeth are attached to people

Again, it’s kind of obvious right? Before dental school and for the first couple of years in dental school, drilling on teeth and fixing them seemed pretty straight forward. It was kind of mechanical.
Just follow the steps. Cut here. Bond there. Pack this. Shape that. Boom! Done. But I started to realize the simple mechanical steps were one thing. The person you were doing these things to was another. That person has emotions. That person has fears. That person has expectations.
Those things and a host of others affect your ability to do the dentistry. The person’s demands and emotions can affect your ability to focus on the task at hand and doing it to the highest degree possible.
When a patient is flinching and squirming its easy for you to get a little nervous. When you are nervous, it’s normal to just want to get it done and get the patient out of the chair. When the patient tells you they hate the dentist, it’s natural to feel a little offended and not feel as compassionate. But these are part of the job and you need to overcome the challenges of working with real people.

3. New stuff does not = lots of patients

Dental suppliers and sales reps will eagerly tell you about the latest and greatest in dental equipment. The salesman at the interior design store will happily sell you beautiful carpets and furnishings. They’ll all insist that you need a beautiful well-appointed office with the latest technology and newest dental equipment.
It doesn’t always work out that way. For the majority of practices, you do need a nice facility with up-to-date technology and equipment. But it doesn’t have to be brand new or 5-star-hotel nice.
In the majority of towns, where the majority of dentists will practice, it’s smart to have an attractive facility that is up-to-date. But there is a strong argument to be made that going all out and having a boutique practice with everything brand new and high end will work against you.
For one, all that high end brand new stuff costs a lot of money (debt). For another, the majority of people want to know they are receiving care in a clean, comfortable office and that the equipment and materials are modern. They really don’t care if your carpets cost you a fortune and if the countertops are Italian marble. In fact most patients will see those things and assume the price of your services are high–even when they aren’t.
Be aware of where you practice and the patient population you serve, then shop for new stuff.

4. Dental insurance limits your freedom

It’s unrealistic in today’s world to think that we can practice dentistry without accepting dental insurance as a form of payment. It has been around so long and so many people rely on it that you pretty much have to accept it.
But know that by signing up as a PPO dentist means the insurance company, not you, will have the bigger influence in a lot of areas.
The insurance company, not you, will determine what is a fair and reasonable price for your services. The insurance company, not you, will “determine” what treatment is best for your patient.
And like it or not, a lot of patients will listen to their dental insurance carrier when deciding what treatment to receive. Many patients look at dentistry as just another commodity or service that you should try and get at the best price. And because their dental insurance “pays” for their dental care, they are likely to do what the dental insurance will pay for.
So signing up with dental insurance companies is likely necessary. But know that in so doing, you will likely limit your ability to practice dentistry on your terms and get paid what you legitimately deserve.

5. Your team can make or break you

People come to the dentist to have their teeth fixed. They want to come to a dentist who is great at what he does and is a nice person.  I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but, you probably aren’t the only reason or maybe even the biggest reason they come to your office.
Patients see you for maybe 10 minutes when they come to get their teeth cleaned. Patients spend a little more time with you when you “fix” their teeth. But, the majority of the time is spent with Judy at the front desk. They spend a lot of time with Paul the hygienist. Even when you’re fixing their teeth, for a lot of that appointment their mouth is occupied. Jenny the assistant is the one socializing with them before you come in and after you’re done.
So it’s obvious that several other people spend a lot of time with your patients other than you, the doctor. Therefore it is critical that these people with whom your patients are spending most of their time be great! Not only great but great in the role they play in your practice.
If your patient walks in the front door and Judy at the front desk is too busy on the computer to greet them by name and offer a warm smile and a handshake, that patient isn’t going to have a great start to their visit.
If Paul the hygienist is rushed and just gets down to business, how will that patient feel? Most patients want to be acknowledged.  They want to feel like they are the star of the show. They want to know that Paul remembers them and is interested in what is going on in their life.
If a patient feels unappreciated and rushed in your office, it will be pretty easy for them to go somewhere else for the smallest of reasons. So, having the right team members in the right positions can make or break you.
Drs. Troy Stevens and Ryder Waldron also contributed to this post

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Marcus Neff, DDS, is the author of "So You Want To Be A Dentist?"