All of us have heard dentistry referred to as an art and science. The science determines things like the thickness crown margins must be to achieve a predictable successful result and the light curing times for hardening of various composite materials, for example. The art is manifested by the fact the anatomy and physiology of every tooth and of every patient attached to those teeth is unique, requiring a degree of artistic instinct and experience to determine how to modify the scientific applications to meet individual needs. Dental practice on the other hand, is not synonymous with dentistry, although it too is both art and science. It is critically important that anyone entering the practice of dentistry understands that, although closely related, dental practice is completely distinct from the pure science of clinical dentistry. Clinical dentistry deals mostly with the technical aspects of performing dental procedures and is more science than art in its make up. Dental practice is the process of application of dental procedures for the purpose of improving the quality of life for patients, in a manner that is financially profitable for the dentist and his/her staff, and is spiritually uplifting to everyone involved (dentist, patients and staff). In other words, everybody gets what he or she wants and feels good about the process. It is much more art than science. The science of dental practice is manifested by the proper use of the office building, computers, instruments, materials and equipment necessary to provide dental services. The art is contained in the social interaction between the dentist, patients and staff that takes place to facilitate the successful provision of those dental services. IT IS WHERE SUCCESS IN DENTISTRY LIVES AND DIES, and is the most difficult endeavor anyone could take on. The satisfaction gained in succeeding in dental practice is equal in magnitude to the difficulty in achieving it, as one might expect.
The dental school community is charged with providing its students with mastery of the art and science of dental procedures and has not the time or money to do more than give honorable mention to the art and science of dental practice. Consequently, most young dentists going into practice do so with more misconceptions than facts about what they are getting into, and more often than not, fly by the seat of their pants in the process of actually learning how to practice dentistry. They learn by the painful lessons of experience, which frequently involve bouts of severe financial distress, unpleasant encounters with their state dental boards and lawsuits from patients and staff. What I hope to do here is provide the reader with the time tested facts and sequence of steps required to organize a successful dental practice. I will do this in a way that dental patients, staff and dentists of all levels of experience can understand and easily apply to what they are doing in dental practice. I will call on the experience of over forty years of private dental practice in a variety of venues, active participation in organized dentistry including becoming a district president of the North Carolina Dental Society at its highest point and twelve years of service on the North Carolina State Board of Dentistry, as the primary reference for the things I am about to tell you. This will include facts and statements given to me by mentors I have engaged over the years, including Dr. Paul Homoly, Dr. Dick Barnes and Dr. Carl Misch.
After reading this material, you will understand how to structure the practice of your choice. You will learn how to select and organize your staff, how to effectively manage the enormous flow of information that passes through a dental practice on a daily basis including insurance processing and event documentation, medical-legal requirements and finally, the psychology of the interaction between patients, dentist(s) and staff.