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From Basics to the Long View

Over the last forty years in Dentistry we have seen “change” as the only constant. The first thing to happen was that the “practice” of Dentistry evolved into the “business” of Dentistry. The shift was subtle, but over the decades we found our patients moving from “seeking” treatment that they needed to “buying” treatment they wanted. We went from basic bread and butter dentistry to elective cosmetic services. During the same period of time, Dentists moved from the third most respected profession to number 24, which is just above a used car salesman. We crossed a line that I am afraid may never be reversed: We wanted the dentistry more than our patients did. We went from serving to selling. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see anything wrong in cosmetic dentistry and systems that are both efficient and effective, but for some of us, our expectations have changed to an entitlement mentality: We think that as a graduate of dental school, we deserve a good life and financial certainty. Nothing could be further from the truth. As in any business, we earn that right by understanding who pays our salaries: The consumer who shows up, pays for the treatment, and refers everyone they know. I want to give you a few quick down and dirty “laws of business” or in this case, the Laws of Dentistry.


1. Grow or Die: Every business is faced with the reality of needing to continue to grow, show profit, and control overhead. Growth is the natural progression of a business that is meeting and exceeding the expectations of their potential clients (patients). If you are not growing, you are not meeting your patient’s needs. You are either fulfilling your potential, or failing to meet the requirements of a healthy business. Do this long enough, and you reap the mediocrity of the average life: Falling short of your expectations and potential while basically settling for what you can get rather than becoming the practice and doctor you always thought you would be.

2. Whatever you sell now, won’t be there tomorrow. Over the course of forty years, I have seen lots of changes in materials, systems, and clinical treatment. So much so that I would venture that there is not one system or clinical item I have not changed in the last few years. Too many of us learn a procedure, or system, and assume that they are done. If you are still doing amalgam fillings, you are fifteen years behind the technology you should embrace. There will never be a time when you actually arrive and don’t have to keep changing and learning. In fact, when you decide you are done with change, you’re done. You are finished. You can’t depend on what you knew or what you are learning now to carry you more than a couple of years. What you do today, will not be there tomorrow.

3. Whatever you sell today, someone will sell for less tomorrow. Insurance companies started this trend twenty years ago, and corporate practices have made it popular today. The public has decided that dentistry is a commodity and once that happens, price and convenience becomes the major determination as to where to buy. What are you going to do? How are you going to cope? In what way will you be able to differentiate yourself to a public who chooses a dentist based on convenience, price, and location? You’d better have a plan, because corporate practices sure do.

It’s as easy as one, two, three: Three paradigms that have described businesses for decades. When dentistry changed from needs based to wants based, we signed on to running our profession like a business. From this day forward it will all be about meeting the consumer’s needs in an ever-changing environment of insurance, corporations, and federal programs.

Michael Abernathy, DDS
972-523-4660 cell
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