Graduating from Tufts Dental School in May 2002 was an exhilarating time for me, and I was eager to open my own practice. Along with the excitement, though, came a healthy dose of uncertainty. I was confident about my ability to practice outstanding dentistry. But there were many other questions, choices, and decisions about which I was less certain. Would I make the right decisions about my practice? Who would I turn to for assistance? One of the biggest questions that loomed over my head - and the one I believe every new dental school graduate thinks about - was, “How am I going to afford all of this?”
I was lucky that I had an established, close network of dental professors and other colleagues to call upon for advice and ideas. When it came to money, the consensus was pretty much the same. Finances may be on the top of a new dentist’s mind, but don’t let that be the focus. Instead, take a deep breath, look at the big picture, and tackle one thing at a time. Interest rates were (and still are) at historic lows, so there has never been a better time to consolidate large debt into small monthly payments. I turned my $236,000 student loan into an affordable $1,000 monthly payment. Rather than questioning how to repay debts, think instead of ways you can market your new practice, and attract and retain new patients. How can a new dentist gain a competitive edge against existing, well-established practices?
My answer was technology. I was fortunate to enter dentistry during a time of great technological growth and change - a time when there were great improvements in dental equipment, practices, and procedures. New tools brought fundamental changes in the way dentistry could be practiced. I say “could be practiced” because some dental professionals do not share my opinion about incorporating high-tech dental equipment and treatment in their practices. For them, it’s an option. For me, it was a necessity.
Technologies such as CAD/CAM dentistry, digital radiography, intraoral cameras, and integrated practice management software were a few of the reasons why I was so excited to start a practice. While many dentists I spoke to thought of these technologies as “the future of dentistry,” I thought of them as my “future in dentistry - right now!”
While in dental school, I worked as a licensed hygienist at a practice. While there, I was able to take a hard look at how the office operated. After all, dentistry is a business, so you need to employ sensible business practices to run an office that is productive, efficient, and profitable. I observed that many of the “traditional ways” of doing things were just not cost-effective as compared to some newer methods. In fact, the old ways were often far more labor-intensive. Take, for example, the tedious process involved with conventional X-rays - the costs of film, processing agents, chemicals disposal, time spent waiting for developing, mounting and possible retakes. Compare this to digital radiography, which uses as much as 90 percent less radiation (so it’s safer for the patient), uses no chemicals, and produces immediate results (which lets you retake immediately). With digital images, I can zoom in on certain areas, and improve the contrast with a click of the mouse. This allows me to see lesions with far better resolution as compared to traditional X-rays. This translates to better treatment for the patients.
I also noticed that this office had a sizable lab bill each month. This made a big dent in its bottom line. Not wanting to go this route, I decided to implement CEREC3 (www.sirona.com) into my practice from the very start. CEREC seamlessly integrates with my practice-management software. Combined with my intraoral camera, it has helped tremendously in gaining patient acceptance. What better way to help patients realize the need for treatment than to show them an image of their tooth at 100 times the size, in living color, and on a monitor right there in the operatory? What better way to gain immediate acceptance than to say to the patient, “This system will help me design, create, and place your custom restoration in about an hour. You won’t have to come back for a second visit, and your new restoration will look so real you won’t even know it’s there.” This gets patients involved in the procedure like never before. So, it becomes their decision and not just mine. I always say, “Increase your patients’ dental IQ, and increase your case acceptance.”
I saw firsthand the many reasons for using computerized practice-management systems in a dental office. Being able to incorporate a patient record in the computer eliminates lost-record syndrome. Records are easier to keep current, and treatment plans are always available. Computer practice management allows me to maintain a close watch on my numbers. I can watch trends and know what is happening, sometimes even before it happens! Be sure to take a look at Dentrix (www.dentrix.com), EagleSoft (www.eaglesoft.com), and PracticeWorks (www.practiceworks.com) to see which system best fits your practice needs.
I also discovered how important magnification is to precision dentistry. I always thought that I could see my patient’s teeth just fine - until I tried some loupes. Wow! What a difference! With the loupes, I can really see what I am doing. I have not found the magnification to be limiting at all. There are so many systems available today, such as Designs for Vision (www.designsforvision.com), Orascoptic (www.orascoptic.com), and Surgitel (www.surgitel.com). There are also systems available that magnify a tooth and project it onto a monitor. This enables you to operate on a tooth much as a surgeon operates on a gall bladder. Try www.headsupdentistry.com or www.magnavu.com for more information about this new system.
I think it is imperative to have both an intraoral and an extraoral camera system in your office. This enables a patient to see exactly what is happening in his or her mouth. A picture is truly worth a thousand words! Visualization helps “needs” become “wants.” This will increase your case acceptance. It is extremely important to choose a system that your staff can use easily because this is a procedure you may wish to delegate. One system to investigate is the Kodak 7590 digital camera system.
Incorporating high-tech dental equipment should be embraced and accepted by the new dentist as a way of practicing dentistry in the most efficient, productive, and prudent means possible. Starting up a new practice can be daunting at first. Money is definitely a valid concern. If you truly love what you are doing, and treat your patients the way you would treat yourself or a member of your own family, you are already well on the way on the path to success. Be true to yourself; the money will follow.
Dr. Alex Adeli is in private practice in downtown Boston, Mass. He may be reached by telephone at (617) 267-3889, or via e-mail at email@example.com.