What to Do and What to Avoid with a Dental Startup

By: Anna Borden, DDS

My startup journey was one that was somewhat expected, somewhat forced. I had been looking for a practice to buy for about two years, but a lot of practices were overpriced with failing equipment or needed full renovations – or of course, the doctors that wanted to stay on for a minimum of ten years.

With the arrival of COVID, I lost my associateship and my boss told me that unfortunately, he had three mortgages to pay and could not continue to pay me. When I got home that night, I declared to my (ever-loving and ever-supporting) husband that if I were going to fail at this dentistry job thing again, at least it was going to be on my own terms.

As fate might have it, the very next week I found a space where a dentist had shut down shop during COVID in a newly renovated space, talk about great dental real estate just waiting. A note was taped on the front door informing patients that he was no longer in business – what a goodbye. In my overly saturated town, this was almost unheard of.

Bankruptcy had already been declared by him and while I was unable to purchase the contents of the building or the practice itself, the space was already plumbed and equipped for an office. The initial costs still seemed staggering (especially during this joyous period of unemployment during COVID) but I closed my eyes and signed on the dotted line for the lease. While the doctor before me had failed in the same space, I think this really lit a fire under me to be successful.

The Five DO’S of Starting Your Own Dental Practice

One, if you can find something like this, ABSOLUTELY do. I did not purchase the equipment or patient base, but having a shell of a building to start out in saved me a ton of capital.

Two, absolutely shop around for equipment. I did some but got sweet-talked by some of the bigger brands for equipment. I rarely heard from them again after installation.

Three, make sure you have the best team and don’t be afraid to replace people. This was a hard lesson and I myself have struggled the hard way to learn it. Two pearls stand out to me: “Never hire anyone you can’t fire.” and “Hire slow, fire fast.”

Four, spend a ton on marketing that first year. You will build up a solid patient base which will then lead to many internal referrals. We have dropped our marketing 100% since we entered our second year and we have more, not fewer, patients.

Five, treat every new patient like gold. From that first phone call to their time in the chair, make every second count. Most of our referrals are now internal due to existing patients having a great experience. Give each patient the Disney experience.

The Five DON’TS of Starting Your Own Dental Practice

One, avoid doing things in your office that stress you out. I refer out procedures that cause me unnecessary angst or to run behind. You can always add in these procedures after you are confident in your business and do some more CE courses.

Two, avoid having unnecessary people in your office. Whether patients or staff, life is too short.

Three, don’t nickel and dime your staff. Pay them well, give them benefits, and reward those who have stayed with you since day one. It took me a year to get up running to where it was comfortable and it was a great joy to be able to add benefits to my employees. Don’t be the doctor with three homes and a boat but a staff without a retirement account.

Four, avoid the isolation that dentistry often brings. Being a solo business owner is lonely at the top. Make friends with the business owners around you, invite your dentist neighbors to happy hour, spend time with the dental specialists. Work out, eat well, take lunch breaks.

Five, avoid getting so focused on the business you forget what is important in life. As my gross anatomy professor, Dr. Steve Gudas always said- “Spouse. Kids. Work. In. That. Order.” He had many pearls of wisdom but this one always stuck with me and I strive to keep that as my motto.

Should You Start Your Own Dental Practice?

Doing a dental startup is an immense amount of work and so extremely rewarding. I wish everyone reading this the utmost success in their journey.

Anna Borden

Anna Borden, DDS opened her startup Oasis Family Dentistry in Charleston, South Carolina in November 2020- smack dab in the middle of a pandemic, what could go wrong? She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2015 and completed her AEGD residency at the Medical University of South Carolina. She has served on the board of the South Carolina Dental Association as one of its youngest members and is also a past president of the Coastal District Dental Society. When not dentisting, you will find her with her husband and two preschoolers who keep her busy and exhausted.

Up Next: How to Lead an Old Team as a New Dentist

Photo by Daniel Frank from Pexels

Anna Borden

Anna Borden