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A Guide to Buying a Dental Practice

June 03, 2019 · 4 minute read

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A Guide to Buying a Dental Practice

You’ve worked very hard to become an exceptional dentist. Through your intense focus in dental school and a relentless dedication to expertise, you now feel ready to take the next giant step toward building your future­—striking out on your own and buying a dental practice.

There are a lot of big questions you need to ask yourself to ensure you are creating the best possible circumstances for success in your new endeavor. Each decision can bear tremendous influence on your future success, your earning potential, and, probably most important, the impact on your overall job satisfaction and quality of life. Are you ready for the challenge? Let’s dig in to the details to help make sure you know what you want to know.

Buying a Dental Practice

When considering how to buy a dental practice, there could be a number of scenarios that would characterize your circumstances. Have you just graduated or are you about to graduate from dental school? Have you worked as an associate for a time and now feel ready to make the big move? Maybe you’re looking to add to your existing practice by buying a second business. Each situation requires a somewhat different approach.

The first decision is usually whether to start a new practice from scratch or to purchase an existing business from another dentist, possibly one nearing retirement. A brand new office with shiny new equipment, just as you’ve always imagined, might sound very appealing, but there could be disadvantages.

Such an investment could cost you a lot more across the board, including hefty loan payments and business expenses right from the start, few patients, limited cash flow, and slower progress growing the business.

An ongoing practice will likely already have equipment and a business infrastructure, a base of paying customers, and a foundation to build upon. To that end, we’ve compiled some essential questions you can ask before buying an ongoing practice.

Questions to Ask When Buying a Dental Practice

When considering buying a dental practice, you might feel compelled to draw upon your best entrepreneurial instincts. And it can also help if you align yourself with experienced professionals who know the ins and outs of purchasing an ongoing practice. They can guide you through the labyrinth of questions and decisions you’ll be facing. You may want to interview several dental practice transition agents to get an understanding of how their methodologies compare.

On a personal level, you’ll want to define the fundamentals of what your vision for a practice should be. What areas of dentistry do you want to focus on? What locations would be best suited to your customer base?

What overall philosophy embodies the values and standards that you aspire to? It could be helpful to write down these principles as a guide to refer back to throughout this process. You might prepare to pace yourself and to take a thorough and patient approach rather than rushing into decisions.

Once you’ve refined a mission as a guide and determined ideal target areas where you would want to be located, you could develop a personal budget for your living expenses, plus any student loans or other major obligations, to help gauge how much income you’ll need to generate from your new situation. Once you’ve identified a practice that you are interested in buying, you’ll also probably want to work out the costs required to maintain that particular business.

Buying a Dental Practice Checklist

Working with a buying agent can help you prioritize the due diligence necessary to make an informed decision. Here is a checklist of some questions to consider asking when buying a dental practice, and some potential issues you might want to understand in order to make an informed decision.

•  Start with getting some insight into the history of the practice and why the dentist is really selling it. Are they simply retiring or are there other driving factors?

•  Determine how many active patients the selling dentist actually has and what are the demographics (age and ZIP code) for the patients, how many of them are new, and how many of them are insurance patients.

•  Review the practice’s fee schedule and consider how the fees compare to industry standards, the competition, and insurance reimbursements.

•  Obtain a practice valuation prepared by a qualified professional (certified valuation analyst).

•  Ascertain the age and condition of the equipment, the software systems, and premises.

•  Review any and all leases and/or real estate valuations and determine benefits or obstacles for renewals, as well as the possibility to expand the space at some point in the future.

•  Review the performance of the staff and the staffing model and identify what team members will be the strongest practitioners to join your new venture.

•  Conduct a thorough review of the hygiene appointments per month and average monthly revenue, as well as the doctor’s and hygienists’ schedules.

•  Develop a thoughtful and comprehensive plan for transitioning. Keep the patient experience front of mind as you introduce changes. How involved will the selling dentist be in helping ensure a smooth and optimum changeover with staff and patients?

•  Consider what opportunities there will be to improve the efficiency of the practice—staff productivity, billing, processing, etc.

•  Evaluate what ongoing marketing efforts exist and develop a plan and a budget for going forward.

•  Connect with dental supply companies, healthcare-focused accounts, and a small business banking specialist to gain additional insights for your practice.

You may also want to enlist an experienced accountant and attorney to help you sift through the layers of financial information related to the business you are hoping to purchase.

Among other things, the accountant will likely want to review several years of business tax returns, the cash flow model, and aged accounts receivables for gauging the competence of the collection policies, collection reports, and procedures. The lawyer can help with evaluating associate agreements, equipment and building lease agreements, or real estate appraisals and the potential for purchase.

It could also be a good idea to take note if a selling dentist pushes you to use a particular professional resource—that could be a potential red flag.

While this is a fairly extensive tips list, things are likely to come into focus once you’ve found a selling dentist with whom you connect.

Your membership in professional organizations such as the American Dental Association or the Academy of General Dentistry can provide extensive additional information regarding specifics related to buying a dental practice.

Getting Your Finances in Order

Finally, you’ll likely want to make sure that you have a reasonable handle on your finances going forward. That may include reviewing your dental school loans and making sure that they are as manageable as possible as you enter this new chapter of your career. Refinancing student loans through SoFi could lower your interest rate or potentially save you thousands of dollars.

Consider SoFi student loan refinancing to help you be proactive about advancing your career and realizing your ambition.


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