Career Advancement

6 Tips for New Dentists: What to Expect from Your First Year Out of Dental School

Career Advancement

6 Tips for New Dentists: What to Expect from Your First Year Out of Dental School

A dentist performs a routine dental cleaning on a pediatric patient.

There are so many hurdles to becoming a dentist: you had to finish your Bachelor’s, perform well on the DAT, and undergo the rigorous application process to get into dental school. Not to mention those four to six years of dental education. For recent dental graduates, life has probably felt like one challenge after another for a long time now. So what happens after you graduate? Your first year out of dental school can bring its own challenges and surprises. Here are six tips for new dentists that you should keep in mind for your first year.

1. Finding the Right Place to Work Can Be a Challenge

Dental jobs are projected to grow 3% over the next several years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is slightly lower than the national average for all jobs. There are more new graduates each year and less dentists leaving the profession, which means you may find a competitive environment ahead. COVID may have also shifted the job market, with some private practices going out of business and others facing difficulty finding applicants. Your job search may be more complicated than it would have been a few years ago. Evan so, you still deserve to find a great launching pad for your new career.

Sadly, many first-year dentists have a hard time finding a positive work environment. Large corporate dental entities frequently fail to maintain a culture that will help you achieve a fulfilling career and work-life balance. It can be difficult to become an associate in a private practice without at least 3-5 years of experience, too.

This is a huge loss for dentists. CDP believes in cultivating the energy and enthusiasm of new dentists in our practices. Teams like ours can offer opportunities for incoming clinicians with the positive work culture you need as the foundation for a great first year as a dentist.

2. Financial Reality Check

While a positive work environment and effective mentors should top your list, a benefits package is definitely something to consider. Currently, dentists graduate with an average student loan debt between $200,000-500,000. That kind of debt can be intimidating, especially when trying to go into business for yourself.

Another benefit of seeking out a group practice setting like Community Dental Partners is that we offer student loan repayment assistance as part of our benefits package. That can help relieve a lot of stress in your first few years while you find your feet. Stressing about repaying your student loan shouldn’t distract you from doing your best work for your patients.

One of the most important tips for new dentists: as you approach the beginning of what will certainly be a long and fulfilling career, keep in mind that dentistry is not the luxurious job some people believe it to be. General dentist jobs can be demanding. You won’t be working from ten to one, three days per week, and making a million dollars, at least not right out of the gate. Dentistry is a trade that takes hard work and dedication.

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If you decide to become a practice owner, it can be difficult to step away from work completely. Even on vacation, you’ll need to check on the business and make sure everything is running smoothly. You will need to manage overhead, supplies and materials, and often play mediator between team members. At CDP, our doctors are able to step away while knowing a team is here to support your practice. For new dentists, gaining experience and learning the best way to run a practice is time well spent before you make the decision to become a practice owner.

3. Location, Location, Location! 

Another one of our tips for new dentists: practice type is not the only decision you need to make. For many, location ends up being the deciding factor. You may need to stay close to family, or perhaps you are in a relationship and your partner has a career of their own to consider. If you have the option, we highly recommend seeking out positions in rural and underserved areas.

Rural dental practices offer amazing opportunities for growth, as opposed to the oversaturated markets in urban areas where it can be hard to find new patients. There are so many places in the US where people do not have access to dental care. Working as a dentist in these areas not only means more opportunity; it also means making a real difference in your patients’ lives. Rural areas also tend to have an amazing sense of community, meaning they’ll help make you feel right at home!

A new dentist works with her mentor, who is teaching her how to use the machinery in their dental practice.

4. Seek Out Mentors

For many new dentists, the long-term goal may be to go into business for yourself. However, you will need experience and guidance in your first few years as a clinician, which is why most dentists start out working as an associate. Ideally, you will work for a practice with a great mentor at your side.

We cannot overstate the importance of mentorship in setting you on the best path in your dental career. Their experience and guidance will help you in everything from treatment planning to team leadership. Community Dental Partners believes in the value of mentorship, and we strive to match incoming dentists with the support of an experienced mentor.

As you look for your first dental job, think beyond the benefits package you see on paper. What other benefits could this practice offer? Can you see this practice leader as someone you can learn from, and is their working lifestyle one you want to emulate?

A child playing in the dentist chair at the dentist. Sometimes, working with patients can be difficult, and that takes experience to know how to deal with.

5. Reality Check: Working with Patients Is Hard 

Dental school works differently than practicing. Gone are the days of a three-hour block dedicated entirely to a single patient. The reality is that dentists need to be able to multitask while still giving each patient their undivided attention in the operatory. Oh, and don’t forget about your hygiene checks! Most new dentists find that time management is a major problem when they first start practicing. It can feel overwhelming at first and you may find yourself in the weeds more days than not.

Take a breath. There is some good news here: no matter what type of practice you work for, they know you will start out struggling to manage your time. Some will be more helpful than others in helping you learn to navigate these challenges and become more efficient, but you’ll get there. This is another area where working with an experienced mentor can really make the difference.

But just when you think maybe today will be the day you don’t fall behind or forget to check a hygiene patient, that will be the day a patient comes in who is so anxious you can’t get them to stop flinching every time you move. Or a patient who keeps metabolizing their lidocaine and just won’t stay numb. Or one who comes in, sits down, looks you in the face and says “I hate dentists.” Learning healthy conflict management strategies for these situations will be essential in your first year.

6. Patients May Not Trust New Dentists Right Away

In your first year of practice, we can almost guarantee someone will ask how long you’ve been a dentist. Having a strategy in advance for navigating that question is important so you don’t seem completely flustered when it happens.

No matter how experienced you are, patients always seem to be able to throw curve balls when you least expect them. On the plus side, it keeps the work interesting! However, there is a learning curve to patient management. Learning to communicate with your patients is one of the best investments of time in your first years of practice. That may mean talking to a mental health counselor, taking communication classes, or reaching out to your mentor.

Effective patient communication will help you gain your patients’ trust. At the end of the day, the patient is your boss. They determine what procedures you will be doing and whether or not you get a ton of word-of-mouth recommendations. Ultimately, you became a dentist to improve your patients’ wellbeing. With the right resources and great communication, you can show your patients that you are not “working on them,” but partnering with them to address their oral health concerns.

These six tips for new dentists are just the beginning. Here at CDP, we believe in investing in talented new dentists like you. Schedule a call with our recruiting managers today to find out if Community Dental Partners might be the perfect way to start your dental career.

Dr. Craig Copeland
Dr. Craig Copeland Chief Dental Officer Community Dental Partners

A graduate of Brigham Young University’s Business Finance department and the University of Florida’s College of Dentistry, Dr. Craig Copeland, DMD first joined Community Dental Partners (CDP) in 2010, after co-founder Dr. Chad Evans invited him to an interview.

He instantly fell in love with CDP’s mission to elevate dentistry, make great dental care accessible, and provide unique and amazing experiences for underserved communities. The organization’s culture aligned with his own beliefs and he knew that CDP would offer him the ideal environment in which to grow.

Today, Dr. Copeland is the Chief Dental Officer of Community Dental Partners and focuses on helping CDP’s doctors exceed in their careers, through mentorship, training, and strengthening CDP’s support systems.

Dr. Copeland lives in Texas with his family: his wife and four children. He’s an avid sports fan, and supporting his children in their activities, such as basketball, gymnastics, and soccer, keeps him busy. He also likes to travel to new places with his family whenever he can.

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