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Associate dentist's salary vs a dental practice owner's salary

When you qualify as a dentist, two paths open up in front of you. You can take one path that leads you down the road to opening up your own dental practice and working for yourself. Or you can take the other path and work as a dentist in someone else’s practice. 

There are many pros and cons to both choices, but one major factor that is likely to sway your decision significantly is the salary you can expect to take home. To help you determine which path is right for you to follow, here’s an overview of how much an associate dentist makes compared to a dental practice owner, along with a few of the benefits and disadvantages.

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While the role of a dental practice owner is self-explanatory, let us be clear about what we mean as an associate dentist to avoid confusion.  

What is an associate dentist?

An associate dentist is someone who works in a dental practice as a dentist, but doesn’t own the practice. They are usually either an employee or an independent contractor. There are some associate dentists who invest directly into the business with the plan of buying the practice from the owner in the future. But for this article and for the sake of clarity, we’ll only be focusing on the first two types of associate dentists.

Read: "What is the salary of a traveling dental hygienist?" >>

For an employee associate dentist, there will be a contract in place stating employment clauses, such as how they will be paid, how much vacation time they get, which insurance benefits they receive, etc. An employee is under the supervision of the dental practice owner, but the owner must also take responsibility for the employee, the work they do, ensuring their work-related taxes are paid, etc. 

An independent contractor associate dentist provides their services on a freelance basis and isn’t an employee of the practice. They have more control over the hours they work, the type of work they do and the tools they use. 

How much does an associate dentist make?

According to indeed.com, the average salary an associate dentist in the United States earns is $210,663 per year. This figure is based on 2,396 salaries collected and submitted anonymously in 2018 and 2019. 

However, according to ziprecruiter.com, an associate dentist in the US takes home a significantly lower average of $158,142 per year. Their numbers revealed that while some associate dentists receive salaries as high as $250,500, others get as little as $36,000, but the majority receive $128,000-$182,000.

The bottom line

Corresponding to the figures provided by ZipRecruiter, most associate dentists’ salaries vary by just $54,000. This suggests that regardless of location within the US, the opportunities to receive a pay increase, even with many years of experience, are few and far between. 

Because of this, it can be incredibly tempting for associate dentists to consider opening up their own practice for the chance to increase their salary. But being a dental practice owner isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and comes with a lot of responsibilities and overheads.

How much does a dental practice owner make?

Unlike how much an associate dentist makes, it’s not as easy to determine how much the average dental practice owner makes. This is primarily because of the different things that need to be taken into consideration before an owner can issue themselves with a wage. 

Essentially, a dental practice owner’s salary should be a personal combination of W-2 wages and business distributions. In most cases, the W-2 wages are largely determined by how much someone can take home without incurring an extortionate tax bill. And if the determined wage isn’t enough to make ends meet, it’s wise for an owner to take additional funds in the form of business distributions to further minimize taxes.

It’s important for a dental practice owner to find the right balance between business and personal cash flow, factoring in expected lifestyle changes and ambitions. The goal is always to determine a salary which lets them live comfortably today, meet tomorrow’s obligations and build an affluent future all at the same time. Because of this, a dental practice owner’s salary is very personal and varies hugely. 

According to ada.org, the average net salary for dental practice owners working as general dentists in the United States in 2017 was $197,190. For dental practice owners working as specialist dentists in the US in 2017, it was $320,990.

The bottom line

Whether you work as a general or specialist dentist, on average a dental practice owner does make more than an associate dentist. But a lot of this extra cash is earned by taking on the additional responsibilities and working hours of a business owner — not just a dentist. 

Read: 5 Ways to have it all as dental practice owner >>

Although the above statistics are for the average dental practice owners in the US, how much a dentist actually takes home varies hugely according to various factors, including the state in which their practice is based, whether or not they’re running a retirement plan, how much their services are in demand...the list goes on and on. 

Things to remember

While working as an associate dentist comes with very minimal overheads, there are many additional costs linked to owning a dental practice. From paying for the dental office itself and keeping up-to-date with the latest equipment to taking profit cuts when treating patients with insurance plans to paying staff the wages they deserve, running a dental practice is expensive. 

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As a dental practice owner, one way you can save yourself cash (as well as time and a lot of hassle) is to use a cloud-based digital platform for messaging and booking dental staff on demand instead of working with a traditional dental temp agency.

With Cloud Dentistry, you can browse the profiles of hundreds of qualified dental professionals in your area and choose the ones you think will fit in with your practice the best the next time someone in your office goes on vacation or is sick.

Our messaging system lets you chat to prospective employees directly so you can get to know them a little before you hire them for the specific hours you need, keeping your costs down to a minimum. And if you find someone who’s such a great asset to your business that you want to take them on full time, you can do so without paying any permanent placement costs.