Purchasing, Starting or Expanding a Dental Practice: Investments in Technology are Key for Entrepreneurs

In Innovation by Dental Entrepreneur

By Dan Croft, Head of Healthcare Practice Solutions at TD Bank 

The next decade in dentistry will be full of change, as 42 percent of dentists over age 55 are estimated to retire. This gap in professionals, combined with a renewed focus on technological and equipment investments to update practices, creates a prime opportunity for change. Younger dentists are especially well-positioned to make such investments, which should translate into better customer service and more valuable practices overall.

These predictions are based on a recent survey from TD Bank, which asked dentists about their practice management plans and overall business confidence. According to the survey, dentists are optimistic about the future, with more than two-thirds (67 percent) expecting their practice revenue to grow over the next two years. This confidence sets the stage for strategic investments in technology for their practices.

In terms of priority investments, the survey found that upgrading equipment is top of mind for dentists. Nearly half of respondents (42 percent) plan to invest in new equipment over the near-term, trailed by marketing (27 percent) and hiring (26 percent). It’s no surprise that dentists are ready to give the equipment in their offices an upgrade, which will improve the overall health of their practice. The survey also revealed that dentists are concerned about ways to keep up with the latest technological advances, with 27 percent of dentists pointing to this as a top challenge.

In today’s competitive marketplace, new dentists should prioritize efficient technological investments to help enhance the overall customer experience and add value to their practices. From the get-go, younger dentists have an advantage over older practitioners when incorporating tech into patient care, because they have been trained on new technologies in dental school and throughout their residencies. They already have had greater exposure to and seen the benefits of the latest tools and devices, giving them a significant head start.

From a treatment perspective, investing in the most modern equipment is critical for providing patients with the most accurate diagnoses and treatment options. These technologies present opportunities to drastically save time, improve the quality of care and expand a practice’s procedure mix, all of which allow a dentist to see more patients and take on more high-end procedures and subsequently increasing the business’ revenue potential.

There are many innovative technologies that will help give dentists an advantage among competitors. For example, Digital Radiography provides detailed, low-radiation X-rays that appear on a computer instantly. Intra-Oral Cameras allow patients to see their dental work and issues like a decayed tooth on a flat screen, resulting in better treatment planning, acceptance and patient education. There’s also CAD/CAM technology (computer-assisted design/computer-assisted manufacture) that help practitioners produce an accurate and safe dental crown, inlay or bridge in just one visit. This same-day dentistry option responds to the generational demand for faster, efficient services and eliminates a follow-up procedure visit, creating a happier patient and saving the practice time and money. 

Other technology to consider includes Cone Beam or 3D CAT scans that offer the most effective diagnostics to establish the patient’s suitability for dental implants, while also enabling many general dentists, for the first time ever, to make precise placement of the implant possible. Finally, Panorex Digital X-Rays, dental lasers, air abrasion, magnification loupes, digital photography and digital practice management software that save the office time and money while increasing quality and comfort for patients.

Investing in these emerging technologies will of course present a relatively high start-up or expansion/replacement cost (especially for a young practitioner), but will result in performing dental procedures with greater precision, comfort and efficiency than ever before.

While using the newest tools in patient care is critical, dentists also need to make patient communication a priority. First and foremost, a dental practice should be accessible across a variety of communication channels. Tech-savvy dentists are well-positioned to take this into consideration and meet the strong demands and expectations of millennial patients. Dentists should ensure that patients are able to communicate with a practice through all major social media channels as well as via e-mail and SMS messaging. It is also worth taking the time to create a mobile-friendly version of a practice’s website so patients can check in while on the go.

On top of expanding communication capabilities across all online channels, dentists should also continue to be responsive over traditional ways of communication, keeping the phones manned at all times and making it very clear to patients how to communicate outside of general practice hours. By keeping a variety of communication channels, dentists will be able to keep in closer touch with patients and cultivate stronger relationships. Connecting with patients in a variety of ways and making investments in the latest dental technology and gadgets are keys to patient retention in the dental industry. 

When considering buying or leasing new equipment, dentists should first speak to a financial partner with specialized dental industry expertise. A strong, reliable advisor will understand the short and long-term implications of technological outlays, and can help dentists plan for a prosperous future. They will be able to provide strategic advice on how to stagger dental investments appropriately and break down the high costs of initial investments, facilitating the needed loans and lines of credit for practice owners.

In addition to highlighting plans for equipment investments, the survey also uncovered a current buyers market within the dental industry. More specifically, nearly one-third of respondents (29 percent) are considering selling or merging their practice in the next few years. However, relatively few millennials are stepping forward and buying up the practices for sale, instead choosing to remain as employees of other practices. What could be the reason for this?

The myriad of financial challenges faced by millennial dentists likely explains why they have so far been more hesitant to replace older generations. Increasing student loan debt and start-up practice costs are the biggest drivers pushing dentists into working for Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) and putting off owning a practice. The survey data reported that younger dentists are apprehensive about being held responsible for rising overhead costs, in particular wages, dental supplies, lab and rent. At the same time, they are often attracted to work at DSOs by certain positive attributes, such as the potential for higher incomes, more flexible work schedules and the mentorship options available within larger corporate practices.

While there are benefits to working at DSOs, as independent practitioners retire, millennial dentists will be presented with an opportunity to embrace their ambition, autonomy and creativity through practice ownership. Investments in new dental technologies and greater familiarity with modern communication channels will help them to reach the burgeoning millennial audience and build a strong and loyal client base. Now is the time for the younger generation to see the available practices for sale as an attractive opportunity to slowly reinvent the next-generation dental practice and create a long-term relationship with a strategic financial partner who can help boost their success.

Dan Croft is Head of Healthcare Practice Solutions Group, TD Bank, overseeing the bank’s practice finance segment, which specializes in working with dentists, optometrists, veterinarians and physicians. He has 20 years’ experience working with medical, pharmaceutical and CPA businesses. Croft holds a bachelor’s degree from the College of the Holy Cross. He is based in Cherry Hill, N.J.