Professional Courtesy: I’m a Dentist—Now What? by Dr. Thomas Giacobbi

Professional Courtesy: I’m a Dentist—Now What? 

by Thomas Giacobbi, DDS, FAGD, editorial director, Dentaltown magazine

By now, you probably know the first rule of life as a dentist: It’s a small world, and you will likely cross paths with your fellow professionals in unusual ways. I encourage you to live your life with a willingness to make adjustments along the way.

Are you a good dentist?

It’s fair to say that we want to be successful no matter what path we choose. While we measure success in many different ways, you must develop an ability to recognize great dentistry. Your patients usually can’t tell and you won’t really know how good you are until you’ve practiced in the same place for more than two years. Some will argue you need to practice for a longer period, but the point is the same: Once you have the opportunity to see your work over time, fix things that fail and change treatment plans that didn’t work, you’ll know your strengths and weaknesses. This is one of the reasons that I’m a big fan of doing a GPR/AEGD year—it’s additional experience without the pressure to produce. It also provides access to specialists and the opportunity to learn with your peers. If you choose to skip this step, then you’ll need to replicate these items in other ways, such as taking CE, visiting with specialists and learning from your peers on Dentaltown.

Should you own a practice?

I believe most dentists are hardwired for autonomy, whether through their materials, practice style or pace of schedule. When you’re working for someone else, you’ll rarely have all of these in perfect harmony, but it’s possible to get close. If you decide to own, some items will still be out of sync but you’ll have the power to work on a solution.

This is not a decision that can be made on graduation day, unless you’re one of the lucky few who have a practice waiting for you to graduate. In most cases, the best way to answer this question will come with experience through GPR, associateship or working with a DSO. You will develop a list of the things you like and dislike about procedures, office size, materials, compensation, etc. When your list is complete, you’ll discover the best practice fit for you.

When can you retire?

Every new dentist who graduates with debt can find that number overwhelming. For the first 10 years of your career, you’ll need to live modestly and work hard. Many dentists will practice for 40 years before they retire, which means you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy yourself. The decision to retire is based on many factors, but financial stability is an important one.

Albert Einstein was not a money manager, but he is credited with the following nugget: “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.” It is critical that you focus on contributing to a retirement fund on Day One, because once you reach a point in life where you could retire, many of your daily stresses will disappear.

The dental profession is filled with opportunity and variety. I sincerely hope you will make the most of the early years as a dentist, because you’re setting the stage for a long, happy career.

If you have any questions or just want to talk, feel free to email me at


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