hygienists wearing gloves in 1989. There was a bit of push back during that time, but looking back it seems a bit silly. I don’t hold a crystal ball for what the new normal will be, but I’m confident we’ll find one soon enough.

What practical business steps should dentists be doing now to help regain productivity and profitability as a result of the negative impact of COVID-19? First, dentists should make sure their patients are aware of the practice changes that have been made to improve the experience and safety in light of the pandem- ic. Many doctors have had success filming a short video to reassure patients, as research has shown that videos can be more impactful than written communications.

Second, dentists should make sure they have clear scheduling goals and ensure staff mem- bers are working toward meeting those goals. Dentists will need to be extra careful about 6 month recalls, as many patients being moved from their original appointments have cre- ated a gap in the system. Consider creating a bonus system for the staff members to encourage them to fill empty chair time.

Third, dentists need to make sure they are operating at a 40 percent profit margin or better (percentages can fluctuate depending on specialty). Sometimes it takes a pandemic to shine the light on problems within a practice. When times are good and money is flowing, many problems can remain intact without being identified. Dentists should take this wake up call as an opportunity to reset and make changes to improve their practice profitability as necessary. Some of the most common mistakes made by dentists are too many staff members, high lab and supply bills, purchasing too much equipment and overbuilding. Dentists should concen- trate on spending less money, and more time improving the patient experience which is key to growing their practice.

Is there any particular financial strategy you would recommend dentists follow in light of the pandemic and have your basic recommen- dations changed as a result? Before becom- ing a tax and business advisor for dentists, I spent a bit of time in the investment world working for David Booth’s company. One of the simplest yet most impactful quotes

he had was as follows: “The most important thing about an investment philosophy is that you have one you can stick with.” While a dental practice might not be a stock or bond, it produces the cash flow to pay the bills, cover personal monthly living expenses and save for retirement, making it the largest investment a dentist owns. Our recommen- dations represent the investment philosophy that dentists carry with them into practice and we’re happy to report that our basic recommendations have not changed due to the pandemic.

We maintain that dentists should seek to own a practice, keep overhead low, avoid bad debt, live a lifestyle below their means, and maximize their tax-deductible retirement savings. If a dentist can accomplish these five items he or she will be well on the way to financial independence. Furthermore, dentists who maintained this program and followed our recommendations didn’t face the same financial hardships as some others. Due to their low debt, most had easy access to capital through either a home equity line of credit or a practice line of credit, making the pandemic an emotional strain rather than a financial strain.

On the other hand, many of the dentists who found themselves in trouble had high debt, high lifestyle, and little equity to tap in either their home or practice. To make this problem worse, many banks stopped offering lines of credit during the pandemic. If you found yourself in this camp, take the pandemic as an opportunity to change for the better. I tell my clients most problems start at personal spending. While I would never tell anyone that having a few nicer things or extra vaca- tions won’t make them any happier, I do tell them that spending is an exponential equation. Or in other words, eventually, the incremental benefit received by each dollar is no longer making you any happier. Use this information and sit down to create a budget, deciding which spending items are contrib- uting to your happiness and which dollars are falling through your pockets.

Follow this up by creating a true financial game plan. For most dentists, the fear of the unknown is much worse than the known. The biggest obstacle standing between a den-

tist and financial freedom is the willingness to drink the financial truth serum.

Some new, as well as seasoned practitioners, are questioning the future of dentistry as we know it. Can you share your thoughts on dentistry, in general, going forward? Will it continue to be evaluated as one of the con- sistent best jobs or has the pandemic funda- mentally changed that? The pandemic has fundamentally changed how almost every aspect of one’s life is accomplished, striking fear in most regarding their future. For some companies, such as home gym manufactures, this pandemic has been a boom. For others, such as restaurants and retail, this has caused many to go out of business. Fortunately for dentistry, most areas were quick to add dental services to the list of essential services. Between government help and a relatively short shutdown compared to other business- es, most dental practices remained intact, even if it wasn’t an ideal year. For dentists fearing for the future, I recommend they take a deep breath and find one or two things to be thankful for.

Looking into the future, demand for dental services should continue to rise as the public becomes more and more concerned about their health. Furthermore, patients being more informed and educated about their health should lead to better relationships between providers and patients. Safety precautions may change for dentists moving forward, but the relationships with their patients and the reward of helping people will remain intact. f


Practice Perspectives is contributed by Dr. David Thein, a periodontist, associate clinical professor at UMKC School of Dentistry, where he advises students/residents/recent grads in professional career development and is course director for the practice management curriculum. He invites your feedback at 816-835-7480 or Wes Lyons is a tax and business-planning advisor for John K. McGill & Company, in Charlotte, NC, specializing in helping dentists and specialists nationwide. He is a graduate of Virginia Tech with degrees in both accounting and finance. He has obtained certificates

as both a CPA and Certified Financial Planner™. Contact him at or 704-424-9780.

ISSUE 5 | SEP/OCT 2020 | focus 25

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