Many dentists reach a point in their careers where they are done with owning a practice. Some are tired of managing the financials, dealing with payers, chasing down suppliers, and all the other headaches of practice ownership. Others have physical limitations that make daily practice difficult. And some want to capitalize on a hot market for practice sales.
These doctors are not always done with patients, though. They love the art and science of dentistry. They still get a thrill from solving a tough case or restoring a smile. They just don’t want to do it five days a week, or they don’t want to manage a business anymore.
However, they know that if they start scaling back production in their own practice, the bottom line will decrease. Staff may leave if they’re not needed — and we know how hard it is to find/retain good staff right now! Patients will go elsewhere if they can’t be served in a timely manner due to a reduced schedule. All this will eventually lead to a lower sale price.
That’s why some dentists choose to sell sooner, while the value is high, and continue to work in some capacity. This can take many formats:
Sell the practice, but stay on to work part-time as an associate
Work in a community clinic, FQHC, or other setting on a more relaxed schedule
Teach, mentor, or pursue less physically taxing ways to practice
At ADA Practice Transitions (ADAPT), we speak with many dentists contemplating their next steps and trying to plan how and when to retire. If you’re thinking about retiring in the next five years, consider exploring some of these options.
The Great Resignation has reached dentistry — especially as hygienists choose not to return to the profession. In fact, a new study co-authored by the American Dental Hygienists’ Association and the American Dental Association found that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a contraction of about 3.75% of all hygienists, representing a loss of approximately 7,500 hygienists nationwide.
Without these critical staff, many dentists aren’t able to see as many patients, especially since new COVID-19 infection control protocols require more staff time than before the pandemic. 32.3% of owners say that trouble filling vacant staff positions prevents them from running a full schedule — leading to longer wait times for patients who may wind up skipping preventive care altogether or allowing simple problems to become serious. Over time, this may lead to more dental emergencies and a potential increase in heart disease, digestive trouble, and other serious health problems.
And the problem is only getting worse. In October 2020, 51.8% of owners said that it was “extremely challenging” to recruit hygienists. By November 2021, 75.6% of dentists made the same claim.
Meanwhile, driven by COVID-19, many dentists are choosing to retire earlier than planned. The average retirement age for a dentist has dropped to 67.9, down from a peak of 69.1 in 2018. Through my work at ADA Practice Transitions, I help these retiring dentists find like-minded buyers to ensure patients continue receiving care. However, buyers taking over a long-standing practice have their own challenge: retaining that long-term staff through the transition to provide continuity for patients.
That’s why it’s essential that owner dentists take steps to retain their most valuable resource: long-tenured, knowledgeable staff who have built trust with patients.
Why hygienists are leaving the workforce
When dental practices closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020, many staff were sent home. Even as practices began reopening, many of the 98% of practicing dental hygienists who are female found themselves juggling child care challenges and needing to stay home. Dental work has no “remote” option, and dental schedules inherently lack the flexibility to pivot when a child has to stay home unexpectedly due to a COVID exposure.
As a result, many hygienists began to exit the profession entirely. Even as the pandemic has eased, many hygienists have not returned — nor do they plan to. An August 2021 study found that 74% of hygienists not working had left the profession for voluntary reasons. While some say they are “waiting out” the pandemic, a full 37% say they have decided to retire.
Some of those remaining are leveraging the shortage to improve their circumstances, whether finding jobs closer to home or negotiating for greater flexibility, higher pay, or better benefits. By May 2021, 70.7% of practice owners had raised pay for their dental hygienists.
Hygienists’ career changes mirror the larger Great Resignation in which an October 2021 Gallup poll found that 48% of US workers were actively job searching or watching for new opportunities.
By Dr. Suzanne Ebert. Dr. Ebert built a successful dental practice from scratch. After selling her practice, she became the dental director of a federally qualified health center where she provided high quality care to underserved populations. She joined ADA Practice Transitions (ADAPT) as the ADA Advisor to provide real and tangible benefits to dentists as well as helping to address access to care issues across the country. She is currently ADAPT’s VP of Dental Practice & Relationship Management.
In 1994, Kiss.com, the first modern dating website, created an entirely new type of experience. When Kiss.com launched, we could not have imagined how our routine interactions would change from face-to-face to digital over the years. Artificial intelligence (AI) was still science fiction. In less than 20 years, AI has changed how we shop, how products are delivered and how we find our life partners.
Dental practice transitions have traditionally been accomplished by a low-tech process, just like dating used to be.
By using a primarily digital environment, today’s dentists can now find the perfect match (whether practice or person), manage the evaluation, and complete a transaction with greater efficiency and success. AI has the potential to uncover great opportunities a dentist may have overlooked, similar to Netflix, StitchFix, Priceline, or other tech-first companies.
By integrating AI into practice transitions, dentistry can achieve three goals:
Reducing the cost of the average practice transition
Providing coaching to help dentists navigate their transitions
Why it’s vital to find the correct match
Picture your dental utopia. Now imagine what happens when your utopia clashes with established office norms. Perhaps you expect the office to run highly efficiently with shorter appointments, but your patients and staff expect you to listen to all the details of their personal life. With that kind of mismatch, someone is bound to be unhappy. You may dread going to work, your staff may quit, or your patients may go to another dentist.
It is why a dental practice transition model should be rooted in matching dentists with shared philosophies of care.
In talking with dentists, I have heard far too many stories of those who settled in a practice that wasn’t quite right, only to leave a year or two later. When that happens, everyone loses: the practice, the staff, and the patients.
Blending technology with a human touch
At ADA Practice Transitions (ADAPT), when you create a profile to buy, sell, join, or hire, you fill out an in-depth questionnaire that enables you to share your personal preferences. A series of filters then process the profiles to show the (human) ADA Advisor several potential matches and rank them according to how well the profiles align. Next, the Advisor validates the suggested matches, applying feedback and additional input they have received from you and the other dentists, ultimately enhancing the matching algorithm with a transition expert’s human touch.