A common misconception is that your dentist is rich, right? He must be, he’s a doctor! Well, you are correct in part of that, the doctor part. What the general population doesn’t understand is the expense it takes just to get started in becoming a dentist, let alone if you want to open your own practice. Let’s explore.
In the “olden days” dentistry was a trade, a one or two year apprenticeship program. Now it is the most expensive professional program to attend. It is not unheard of for some graduates to exit dental school with student loan debts in excess of a half million dollars! Yes, these new doctors will make a decent salary upon graduation, but they just left with the equivalent of a mortgage payment for a mansion they can’t even live in! Opening up their own shop right out of school is rarely an option for most new dentists. It will take most dentists several years of pinching pennies and living off of ramen noodles to pay down debt to go into more debt to be able to afford their first make-shift practice.
Once they do open their own practice, it is not going to be the glitz and glam of the high end boutique dental spa. It is going to be one chair with one assistant and they will be doing their own hygiene. Most likely he or she will be picking up a day or two a week at the dental school covering clinic, the health department or the county jail working on inmates until patient workload picks up, if it ever does. Hopefully, he or she has a good marketing plan or it could all go away in a hurry.
Most dentists won’t start to break even in their own practice until about year ten. To put this into perspective, this dentist will have spent about five years working for someone else, then about ten years before they are breaking even in their own practice, all the while carrying a very heavy student loan debt and then a heavy practice debt.
Once in practice, and it starts to grow, the dentist will have overhead. It costs money to run the business side of dentistry. The greatest cost of this is staffing. Many young dentists will work long hours doing “extra” work around their new office to keep cost low. These are things most people don’t think about like: sweeping floors, cleaning bathrooms and washing windows, just to name a few. That new practice is their baby.
One must remember, this individual has put their life on hold for at least eight years if not more. Some specialists will have gone to school for fifteen years or more. Dentistry and dental medicine is a commitment to the love of the practice, not a search to get rich quickly. It is a nice lifestyle once one has “put their time in,” but don’t let that fool you. There have been many years of a ramen noodle diets and rusty Ford Escorts to get that gray haired dentist in the Lexus to retirement. He is probably just now getting there.