To be or not to be…a dental practice owner

Being a new dentist, you’ve had to overcome the proverbial odds! You have had to work harder than most. Often being the first to show up and the last to leave, a dentist will sacrifice time with buddies and friends so that we can cram in one more anatomy lecture review, wax up one more canine, or even cast some dentures. But this dedication did not just magically appear overnight…when you were in D1, everyone knew that you were going hit the books; when you were in your D3 year of dental school, everyone knew that you were going to be a successful practice owner and up until 5 minutes ago, you had thought that owning a practice was the only sure-fire way to be a success.

But is it?

Being just over five years removed from graduating from Howard University, my travels and experiences have taught me otherwise. Born in Toronto, attending dental school in Washington, D.C., further honing my skills in Spokane (and by extension, most parts of Washington State) and settling with my wife currently in Southern California, it is fair to say that I have been exposed to a multitude of practices catering to varying strata of society. To this end, I have worn many hats during my career that have often provided me with rewarding aspects that would not be afforded to the practice-owning dentist.

OK, OK…I guess I should address the elephant in the room – money – many believe it makes the world go round! It should be noted that there is a fair bit of more money that could be made by being the owner of a practice.

But there are certain tax advantages given to traveling locums (one of my former professions). Even with amendments to the tax code, the costs of travel, room, and meals are considered tax-deductible. Not only will you have the opportunity to see different and unique areas of your state or other states, it can be a profitable venture with an additional present waiting for you at tax time.

However, success can be measured in so many other ways than through merely monetary means. Profits may feed the body — not to mention paying off those student loans — but service to others will feed the soul. This service can also include sharing your knowledge with others. Being in Spokane, I was fortunate enough to get involved with Eastern Washington’s restorative hygiene program and RIDE collaboration with the University of Washington School of Dentistry. Being heavily invested in their restorative program, it was rewarding to know that I could share all the little tricks of the trade with the next generation of fine doctors and hygienists. I would tell them all the secrets that I did not know working my way through this arduous journey. For four years, these kids were like sponges absorbing every piece of knowledge that I could give them. It’s nice to know that years from now, when I am old and gray, trying desperately to hold on to “good ole chopper,” I have helped out a younger colleague learn how to offer the best care of their ability.

Please note, these sentiments are not to detract, to denigrate or to deride the very real and viable pathway of practice ownership as a viable career path. It is a path, a financially very sound path – but, it’s not the only path!

I am just stressing the importance of having confidence that this journey of ownership is well thought out and planned. In the purest sense, dentists have the potential to become small business owners. Most dentists generally do not have the luxury of having been endorsed or financially backed by a large organization such as a hospital or family clinic. The success, or possible failure, of businesses, is often born out of the blood, sweat and tears of the owner. To that end, vacations, time with the family, or even “rest and relaxation” are often hard to come by, as you are married to the practice. It should be even further noted that with the COVID-19 pandemic, the flexibility of the non-owner should be highlighted. Although we all have bills, such as groceries, dental malpractice and, license fees, owners had to be saddled with concerns of commercial insurance, payroll and, making payments on expensive Panoramic/ CT Scanners.

Business tycoon John D. Rockefeller has gone on record stating that, “If you want to succeed, you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success.” Honestly, this paradigm should be taken to heart as we venture forth in our new post-COVID world. Maybe instead of having a major high-flying practice with the fanciest laser or cutting-edge equipment (see what I did there), success will be defined as a multi-avenue income based on a series of mini-dental jobs such as teledentist-dental-insurance-reviewer-restorative-associate-professor-dental-software-developer-associate-dentist? At the very least, this is my version of success! Well, whatever your path in life is – I wish you success and wellness on your cosmic quest!

Any advice or questions for me – feel free to reach me amir.e.kazim@gmail.com

Dr. Amir Kazim was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He completed his DDS at Howard University in 2014 and an Advanced Education in General Dentistry Program in the subsequent year at Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic in Spokane. During his time in Washington State, Dr. Kazim took on roles in many varying capacities such as working in Federally Qualified Health Centers, private practice as well as insurance audits and adjunct professor of restorative dentistry. To this end, Dr. Kazim played an integral role in bringing the merits of teledentistry to Washington by being one of the founding members of their established task force. While keeping busy with dental–related issues, Dr. Kazim enjoys traveling and experiencing new cultures and foods. Having recently moved to California, Dr. Kazim is excited to continue his efforts into this exciting new aspect of dentistry. He is a member of the ADA, the California Dental Association and the Harbor Dental Society.

2 comments

  • Great information! The field of dentistry is increasing day by day. Many freshers are entering this field. This question regarding becoming a dental practice owner or not is always there. Thank you very much. You have explained a lot of useful things here.
    Family dentist La Grange KY

  • Dr. Kazim, the great thing about dentistry is our paths are our own. We are independent in so many ways even as an associate dentist. I have seen this particularly in this past year as I have transitioned from owning a dental practice for 35 years to becoming an independent contractor for the new owner, Dr Choi, an experienced dentist of 10 years. I have enjoyed mentoring him in his new venture as a practice owner. In the first six months after graduating from USC Dental School back in 1985, I saw so many versions of how dentists provide dental care for patients that I chose to pick my own path and version of comprehensive dental care that is not saddled by other dentists, insurance, or government health plans. I purchased my first practice in January of 1986 from a 77 year old dentist who practiced old time dentistry with his own casting lab, one employee who was assistant and front desk, and two operatories. Seven years later in 1993, I built my own dental office facility with 4 operatories with modern equipment that has continued to be upgraded over the years including adding two more operatories and a private lab work area. It has been a satisfying career.

    Feeding my soul, my altruistic tendencies have been satisfied both in our practices working for such great organizations as Donated Dental Services of Dental Lifeline Network or the Dental arm of the Whittier Assistance League as well as donating our time in local clinics such as we see in the San Gabriel Foundation for Dental Health. I find separating our volunteer time from the office is helpful and gets us out into the community and beyond. As you have experienced, I also found teaching and mentoring predental and dental students has also been very fulfilling. Many of my local dental colleagues also go on dental “missions” with organizations that take them to the Pacific Island countries, Mexico, and other dental health challenged regions. As a dentist who is semi retired, I am now open to change and how I can continue to be relevant in dentistry beyond patient care. My experiences and knowledge may lead to more teaching opportunities as well as helping provide assistance and knowledge to others in public health as well as private practice.

    I applaud your openness to change and also joining me along with four other colleagues on the California Leadership Counsel of the Dental Lifeline Network for Donated Dental Services. Welcome to Southern California and our collaborative network of dental professionals belonging to our local dental societies of the California Dental Association and the American Dental Association.

    Congratulations and a Happy and Successful New Year,
    God Bless,

    Dr. John Sudick

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