19 Qualities & Habits of Successful Dentists
by Tyson Downs
*This post was originally published September 02, 2016 and extensively updated August 08, 2021.
Dentistry isn’t an easy profession. You spend years and a fortune learning the craft, and it all pays off if you can build a successful career and a profitable practice.
But here’s the truth:
You can spend hours pondering how to be a successful dentist, but what really matters are the habits you have in your day-to-day life that make success happen.
Here’s advice from some of the most successful dentists -- 19 daily habits you can adopt to get your career where you want it.
1. Have Foresight
Luke Wolniak, D.D.S., M.A., is a successful private practice general dentist. He says the most important daily ritual for his practice is foresight.
“The team meets every morning, and we review the schedule and patients. We discuss financials, treatment needed, and opportunities to see emergencies.”
He also mentions that foresight is a lot easier to achieve with the help of well-designed systems. At his practice, everyone knows what they’re supposed to do, making it easy to measure results and adjust as needed.
2. Look for Opportunities to Learn
Any dentist knows that continuing education is necessary for success in the long term. But it simply won’t happen unless you’re always looking for opportunities to learn.
Zia, Bachelor of Dentistry, says that the best way to be a good dentist is to:
“Be hungry for knowledge, constantly update yourself with the latest techniques and materials used in dentistry. Attend seminars, conferences, and hands-on courses.”
3. Be Flexible
Running your dental practice comes with a lot of responsibilities. If you want to grow your dental practice, you need to be flexible and adapt to the different needs of each day.
Ryan Dulde, DDS, owner of Eagle Family Dentistry, illustrates the point well:
Ryan Dulde, DDS
“As the owner of a start-up business, my day-to-day schedule varies greatly! Some days are very busy with patient care, while slower days are spent meeting with vendors, marketing the practice, or handling administrative duties. I am surprised how much of my daily job isn't performing dental treatment and how much of my work follows me home at night.”
4. Be Ready for Medical Emergencies
Dentist Vinita Shishodia highlights this one important daily habit of successful dentists that many overlook.
She told us that she believes it's important to:
"Be ready to manage any medical emergency, always, while you are in the clinic. Every morning before starting, check your emergency tray."
This is important advice because every dentist has had the experience of a routine visit turning into something urgent.
5. Think Frugally
A successful dentist has a good salary, but that’s not always the case in the beginning. Douglas Carlsen, DDS, highlights the importance of frugality for long-term success.
“Track your spending -- at least for your weak areas. Think “frugal” for the first few years out of school and don’t buy the huge house until you have all your other personal and practice debt paid off.”
6. Never Stop Caring
John Fenn, BDSc, spent many years pondering what makes a successful dentist. After many ups and downs in his personal and professional life, here’s the conclusion he came to.
“I think if you want to be a successful clinician it would help if you actually cared about people. If you care mainly about the money, your patients will know that and stay away. If you can balance both of those attributes you can be a successful dentist and a successful person.”
7. Be an Entrepreneur
Dr. Bill Dorfman is an iconic celebrity dentist. He was the founder of the million-dollar practice “Discus Dental,” and went on to fix the smiles of many A-list celebrities.
In an interview with Dentistry IQ, he was asked to offer advice to the next generation of dentists. He said:
“Don’t wait for opportunities. Create them. If you are just waiting around and waiting for people to knock on your door, you’re going to go broke. You need to create opportunities and when you get those opportunities, you need to really take advantage of them.”
Gaining knowledge through continuing education is important for success as a dentist, but it’s what you do with that knowledge that matters.
Dr. Sarah Khattak says knowledge helps you practice, and practice leads to success.
“Dentistry Practice is basically a skill. The more you practice your skill, the more efficient you get, and your success rate increases.”
9. Let Your Support Staff Help You
You’re the dentist, which means all the responsibility of your practice boils down to you. but shouldering responsibility doesn’t mean shouldering all the work.
“Many offices struggle in this area. Some doctors do the entire examination process. The problem here is that often when the assistant is involved, case acceptance increases. The more the assistant does, the more the doctor can have a handpiece in his or her hands, doing those things that only a doctor can do.”
She recommends allowing your dental assistant to:
- Review the health history
- Take the necessary X-rays
- Discuss cosmetic dental needs with the patient
- Use the intraoral camera and discuss oral health with the patient
These simple changes will help free you up to see more patients and perform more dental procedures over a day.
10. Maintain a Healthy Work/Life Balance
Jon Aronson, a retired dentist with over 40 years of practice, stresses the importance of creating a balance between work, family, and the things you do just for yourself.
“Find hobbies that you enjoy, learn to play an instrument, and that will help with the stress and also help to keep your hand(s) learning new things. Treat the old as if they are your parents. Treat the young as you would want your children treated. Remember you have a family and spend time with your family.”
11. Look for Opportunities to Network
If you want to make it to the top of the career ladder as a dentist, networking is a must.
Zia, Bachelor of Dentistry, says:
“They say sometimes it is not what you know but who you know and that is very true in dentistry. Networking, like in all career fields, is just as significant in dentistry for creating new opportunities and help in times of need.”
12. Stick to a Plan
William W. Oakes, DDS, is a successful former practitioner. He now edits The Profitable Dentist Newsletter and lectures about high-tech advances in dentistry.
He says one key to success is to develop a vision and a plan. But for the day to day, you need to follow it:
“One of the greatest problems I had in my 24-year career as a dentist was not staying focused on my plan. My practice would be doing great. Then, I would attend a weekend course and come back on Monday and try to change everything. My weary staff finally learned, ‘Just ignore him... he'll forget about it by Friday.' And they were right! I usually did. Oh, I incorporated a few good ideas, but I never really implemented the entire package and thus I never got the desired results
It is helpful to break down the goals you have to help you be a great dentist into actionable steps, so you can track your progress.
13. Practice Ethically
Dr. Richa Singhania stresses the importance of always practicing ethically for success:
“Remember that you can save lives and improve the quality of life of your patients. Practice ethically and genuinely. Treat the patients nicely and provide them all the explanations they deserve regarding their treatment. They have the right to know why and what treatment they need to have. Have regular follow-ups [as] needed. Complete the treatment procedures as they should end. This would be enough to achieve your goal.”
In many ways, this is the ultimate secret to how to be a good dentist. By putting the dental care, health, and comfort of your patients first, you are fulfilling your oath and building the reputation of your practice.
14. Be proactive
Dr. Vladimir Chistoprudov is a full-time dentist, entrepreneur, and inventor. He penned a book on habits of successful dentists. His first recommendation for building a successful practice is to be proactive.
“Proactive dentists are dentists who are open-minded to new techniques and procedures. Have you ever heard of a dentist that always says, ‘No, that can’t be done’ or ‘No, that won’t work’ when you mention a new dental procedure or talk about an oral health care product? If you want to be an effective dentist, be proactive! Be up for more challenges that will help you become the most competitive version of yourself.”
15. Have a Good Attitude
Jon Aronson is a retired dentist with over 40 years of practice. He offers some wise words about the importance of a good daily attitude for success as a dentist.
“A good attitude... sometimes requires divorcing oneself from home or family or business issues, but every day should begin (and not just practice, but also life in general) with thoughts of thanks for another day above the ground, alive and cogent and ready to face another day of practice with a great attitude. Nearly 50 years ago, when I was in dental school, I had a professor who when he would have contact with any of the students would ask, 'How’s your PMA?' At first, I looked down to see if my zipper was down, but an older student said that PMA was Positive Mental Attitude. PMA is essential for dental success and, really, all success in life.”
Ultimately, your patients and staff will sense it if you don't have a good attitude and it will affect every area of your practice.
16. Become a Jack-of-All-Trades
Jin Lin, DMD, of Hurst Pediatric Dentistry, believes that the key to becoming a good dentist is understanding every aspect of your practice. He says:
“As a dental practice owner, you are no longer just a dentist, but also an entrepreneur. There is more work that needs to get done than you can possibly do yourself, and you need to outsource plenty of tasks, but you cannot properly supervise your employees and independent contractors if you know nothing about the work they are doing. Take some time to learn a bit about proper billing practices, tax and financial accounting, healthcare law, marketing strategies, etc. The more you know, the easier it will be for you to make informed decisions about who to hire and to quickly catch mistakes when reviewing others’ work. You’d be surprised how much money that can save you.”
Dr. Lin also mentioned that when you own a practice, it won't always make sense to hire dental industry experts. It can be expensive to hire a lawyer, so it pays to have a working knowledge of service and equipment contracts. He points out that "a shocking number of contracts include patently unfair or even illegal provisions. Knowing your legal rights as a small business owner can help you avoid expensive legal disputes in the future."
17. Be a Servant Leader
Joseph Salim, DMD, of Sutton Place Dental Associates, brought up a point that often gets overlooked even by good dentists who strive for excellence and success. He says:
“Rather than a policy, there is one key habit that I apply relentlessly, irrespective of cultural, language, and racial diversities. This is servant leadership. Servant leadership has helped me promote equality, but also build a successful dental office and motivate my team of dentists and auxiliary staff. Effective leaders serve best when they show humility and compassion towards those whom they seek to lead. They build relationships based on trust. They are always ready and eager to help others, as they coach and mentor their team members to be the best they can be. Every person is unique, with different characteristics and skillsets. A strong leader realizes that no two persons are alike, and thus is able to respect others while tapping into the potential of his or her team members.”
He also points out that any truly great leader will recognize themselves as a work in progress and work toward identifying their own shortcomings and striving to evolve and improve. He adds, "The better we become as people, the better we can lead others."
18. Reinvest in Your Practice
William E. Crutchfield, DDS, is the owner of Orthodontics by Crutchfield. He believes that every dentist must dedicate themselves to keeping their practice up-to-date and relevant.
“Save and spend wisely. Even when you've been in business for 20 years, you have to continue to reinvest in your practice. We pride ourselves on our technology and our patient experience. You can't be successful if you're not dedicated to continuous improvement.”
A practice where dentists educate patients about new techniques and technologies will stay relevant and outlast the competition."
19. Prioritize Tasks on a Checklist
Chris Lewandowski, DDS, of Princess Dental Staffing, believes that staying on task is essential if you want to provide excellent dental services and dental care.
“Every dentist who’s also a business owner knows there's a lot to do outside of seeing patients. In the early days of my career, I can't tell you how many times I’d sit down at my desk and start work by checking my email. Two hours would pass, and I’d gotten nothing done. Well, not today! As a successful dentist and business owner of 20 years, my best advice is to avoid opening your inbox at all and work from a task list so you may stay focused and avoid the distractions waiting in your inbox.”
If you go into the workday knowing what you need to do and with a list in hand, you'll stay on task and have the time you need to provide excellent oral care and compassionate treatment to your patients."
Final Thought on Habits of the Most Successful Dentists
If you are a dentist, what advice would you give to a new dentist when they ask, How can I become a great dentist?
We’d love to hear what daily habits help your practice succeed and what success means to you.
Is it free time?
A consistent stream of new patients?
Hitting certain revenue goals?
Let us know in the comments below.
Dental SEO is the key to effective dental marketing. Contact us today to find out how Titan Web Agency can help.
About the Author
Tyson Downs, the owner of Titan Web Agency, has years of experience working with small businesses and helping them meet their revenue goals. Prior to starting Titan Web Agency, he freelanced in SEO and Web Design while working in the corporate world. Tyson is a graduate of Brigham Young University, the father of 5, and enjoys spending time with his family. Particularly on the baseball field.