Content Dam De En Articles Print Volume 108 Issue 2 Practice Half Full Or Half Empty Dental Student Life Defined Leftcolumn Article Thumbnailimage File

Half full or half empty? Dental student life defined

Feb. 14, 2018
David Rice introduces the Pathways to Practice column, which will look at ways new dentists can create their ideal practices.

David Rice, DDS

Welcome to the Pathways to Practice. In this monthly column, we will share the mindset, pathways, and strategies harnessed by today’s top new dentists. The goal is not only to show what’s possible, but to reveal why one path may be better for you—and how to make it happen.

Our answer to the age-old question of “Is the glass half full or half empty?” has always corresponded to our innate perspective on life. Today, dentistry has multiple generations—baby boomers, Generation X, and millennials—coming together with multiple perspectives. But it’s all too easy for each generation to view the others through its most familiar lens—its own.

What is a generation anyway? What defines it? We could say that a generation is a group of people who grew up under similar conditions during a set period of time. Generations share everything from music, to politics, to professional resources—or in this case, Dental Economics.

Ponder that definition for a moment and ask yourself, “What if we simply substituted the word ‘culture’ for the phrase ‘group of people’?” What if we are all just foreigners in others’ generations? And what if it doesn’t matter if the glass is half full or half empty . . . if we all know the glass is refillable?

In asking these questions and making you think, our goal in this column isn’t to make you drink our Kool-Aid. The goal is merely to make you thirsty.

Today’s dental student has an interesting set of circumstances. Those circumstances are neither good nor bad. They are simply different than the circumstances of 10, 15, and 20 years ago.

What, specifically, does today’s dental student face? Let’s take a look at some of the major distinctions:

  • The “millennial” label—When Time magazine brands your generation as “lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents,” there’s little question about how other generations will perceive you.1

  • Massive student debtAccording to a 2017 survey by the American Dental Education Association, the average graduating senior walks across the stage with $287,331 in debt.2

  • A shrinking supply of traditional associateship opportunities—The American Dental Association estimates that fewer than 10% of 65-year-old dentists can afford to retire.3 In fact, the average age of a retiring dentist as of 2016 statistics is 68.8 years old.3

  • An increase in DSO opportunities—The dental climate has changed. Today’s young dentists can choose between a traditional practice, a larger DSO model, or a fast-growing, middle-market DSO. According to the American Dental Association, the DSO market currently weighs in at 7.4% market share.4

What does today’s dental student crave?

  • Balance—Generationally, we all view “work” a little differently. Many boomers, as they say, live to work. Today’s generation works to live. Neither is incorrect. That said, culturally we are quite different. When our boomer friends were new dentists, a great day was a long day. Success was built on the quantity of time invested. But millennials value family, friends, and fun far more than long hours. For today’s millennials, success is about maximizing all the digital tools they have to work smarter.

  • Safety—With many new dentists carrying nearly $300,000 in student debt, a paycheck one can count on is valuable. Getting paid on collection is a frightening proposition to today’s dental students.

  • Mentorship—Feedback is more important today than ever before. Today’s dental students are also known as the Generation Y (or “why”). My generation taught them not to simply accept our word for it. We taught them to think and to question. That means today’s dental student has a strong desire to learn more than what works. Why does it work? Why wouldn’t an alternative work?

What is our opportunity?

  • Maximize our strengths—If working with multiple generations has taught me anything, it’s this. When we focus on our strengths, we shift from 9% engagement to 73% engagement.5 High engagement equals high performance.

  • Create pathways to practice—We at IgniteDDS offer a mantra to our Dental Economics readers: “Together we rise.” I challenge you today to join us in our thirst for better lives and better practices. Take the time to connect with us. This is our profession. United, we have the power to create our ideal pathways to practices.


1. Stein J. Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation. Time website. Published May 20, 2013. Accessed January 18, 2017.

2. Dental Student Debt. American Student Dental Association website. Accessed January 16, 2018.

3. Workforce. American Dental Association website. Accessed January 16, 2018.

4. Garvin J. HPI: 7.4 percent of U.S. dentists are affiliated with dental service organizations. Published March 7, 2017. Accessed January 15, 2018.

5. Gallup’s Leadership Research. Gallup website. Accessed January 15, 2018.

Author’s note: To connect with igniteDDS, visit

David Rice, DDS, is founder of the nation’s largest student and new dentist community, igniteDDS. Dr. Rice travels the world speaking and connecting today’s top young dentists with tomorrow’s most successful dental practices. In addition to igniteDDS, Dr. Rice maintains a team-centered restorative and implant practice in East Amherst, New York.

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