The 5 Phases of The Dental Career Path

Two dental professionals in a clinic perform a procedure on a patient using advanced dental equipment.

Eleven years of education and residency is only the beginning of a successful dental career. Some individuals choose to join a DSO. Others dive into practice ownership soon after completing their schooling. Each journey is unique, and the dental industry isn’t a monolith of professionals. 

Every dental practice or DSO needs top dental talent to serve customers. They also need skilled managers to keep offices running smoothly. In addition, they need leaders to expand and innovate dentistry. They also need business owners who deeply understand the industry. This article outlines five distinct phases that will mark your dynamic dental career.

Read on to learn more about where you’re at on your journey and what your next career move might be!

Phase 1: Entering the Workforce 

Many dentists and dental specialists start their careers by working at a public health clinic. They may also join a dental service organization (DSO). These career options are low-risk. Working in a well-established clinic or DSO provides stability. This helps dental professionals pay down their student loans.

No additional investments (a.k.a. debt) are required for dentists to join a DSO. Dental professionals who are part of a DSO get to focus entirely on dentistry. They truly clock out at the end of the day. Work-life balance is a huge benefit of working at a DSO. Young professionals can establish a comfortable lifestyle. They can start a family and enjoy life after education. 

Dental professionals can also enrich their education while working at a DSO. These organizations are often run by experienced dentists and management staff. They can offer valuable mentorship. New dentists can also learn about practice planning. They can also learn about financial management and practice growth strategies. In addition, they can grow their dental care skills. 

→ Learn more about Why Dental Graduates Choose DSOs here

→ Learn 5 Ways DSOs are Improving Dentistry here.

Phase 2: Transitioning to New Roles 

After two to three years in a clinic or DSO, dentists are usually ready to move on to a new and more challenging role. This helps them further their career goals. At this point in a dental professional’s career, they have developed a foundational understanding of the dental industry. They have also gained some experience managing and running a dental practice. They applied their skills to real-life patient care. 

Many dentists seek employment in private practice at this stage in their careers. This is not when most dentists decide to own a practice. It’s when they have tested their skills and can prove that they are high-quality candidates. Smaller practices would be eager to hire them.

While working in a private practice, dental professionals gain exposure to new dental technologies and specialty skills. Mentorship and guidance are often more intimate and personal in a private practice. Dentists can go on to use their new skills and tech-savvy in their practice. They can also consider partnership as an option. 

→ Learn more about what it takes to become a dental leader here

Phase 3: Seeking Equity Partnership or Practice Ownership 

Most dentists seek equity partnership or practice ownership as the next step in their careers. Dentists and dental specialists need extensive experience in dentistry. They also need some foundational understanding of how to run a dental business and the fundamentals of patient care.

An equity partnership can be advantageous because the dentist gets to join an already established practice. Typically, they get a cut of the profits that’s proportional to the services they provide. If a partner in an equity partnership is retiring, this can be a great opportunity for dentists. They can establish their patient base more quickly. The downside to equity partnership is that you lose some control. 

In private practice ownership, you get to practice according to your own values. There’s also no one else to influence your work hours, what insurance you decide to participate with, or how you run your business. Every dental professional must follow licensure and state practice standards. Owning your practice offers the most freedom to create the practice of your dreams. 

→ Learn what successful dental practice management looks like here

Phase 4: Building and Growing the Practice 

As a practice owner, a dentist takes on new responsibilities. They set the tone for the office culture and determine the care patients receive. They also become CEOs. CEOs must hold their company’s vision, mission, and values. They must also make strategic business moves to ensure profitability, sustainability, and longevity. Building a dental practice requires entirely different skills than being a great dentist.

By the time dentists become practice owners, they’ve seen successful leadership and have developed their CEO skills. They tap into this earned wisdom. They grow their customer base. They decide what new technologies to add to their office, expand their services, and maintain the vitality of their staff. 

→ Learn more about how to hire quality dental associates here

Phase 5: Establishing a Succession Plan 

You have a thriving practice; now what? The final step in a dental professional’s career is creating a succession plan. A quality succession plan will ensure a smooth transition when the dentist retires or sells their practice. Dentists commonly exit their practice by selling it to a DSO or finding a younger associate who wants to take over. It is important to consider staffing, patient relationships, and practice value. 

Staffing should be systemized and managed well so that leadership responsibilities can be passed on to the next owner easily. Patients should also be considered as a part of this transition. Maintaining patient relationships and quality of care are crucial during a dentist’s exit from a practice. Ensuring that both staff and patients are informed and included in the succession plan is a great way to protect the reputation and value of the private practice. 

3 Bonus Tips & Dental Career Resources

1. Enrich Your Career

Continuing education, from an associate degree to a master’s is vital to every phase of a dynamic dental career. You can find top dental conferences to attend in 2024 here.

2. Focus on Growth

Your input and influence can be invaluable regardless of your role in a DSO or private practice. Position yourself as a valuable staff member. Always seek growth. This will build your professional reputation and resumé. Learn more about how to grow a dental practice here.

3. Learn the Business Ropes Early

Get a head start on your business skills. Learn about dental practice marketing and management. It will help you establish a rewarding career. Our top strategies for marketing a dental practice can be found here

Starting your first job at a DSO or clinic, transitioning to more advanced roles, owning a private practice, growing your practice, and planning your exit strategy are the five components of a dynamic dental career. Prodent recruiting experts can help you find employment or grow your staff. No matter what phase you’re in. 

Check out the Prodent Career Portal, or start your hiring process here!


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