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Dental hygienists: The pros and cons of opening your own practice

While the majority of dental hygienists enjoy their career and the incredible flexibility it provides, there are some dental hygienists who have grown tired of working for someone else and want to move in a different direction. If you want to take control of your professional life and become more independent, consider opening up your own dental practice and being your own boss. 

You can open your own practice

Most states in the US allow dental hygienists to provide their services without the supervision of an onsite dentist. You might be required to have certain qualifications, a written agreement with an established dentist permitting your practice or be limited to a degree, depending on where in the country you’re registered.

For example, a dental hygienist in Colorado can practice without reporting to or receiving the supervision of a dentist. But in other states, hygienists can only directly treat a patient if the patient is seen by a dentist every 12-18 months for an exam. 

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As of 2019, 42 states in the US allow dental hygienists to provide direct dental care to patients without the authorization of a dentist. This means your chances of being able to open your own dental practice are incredibly high. This figure has grown significantly over the last few years and more states are expected to get onboard in the near future. 

The only states which do not currently allow direct patient access to dental hygienists are:

  • North Dakota
  • New Jersey
  • Delaware
  • North Carolina
  • Alabama
  • Mississippi
  • Louisiana
  • Hawaii

Pros and cons of going it alone

Like with any major professional change, leaving your current place of employment and launching your own dental practice isn’t something you do on a whim. Running a dental practice is different from running any other type of business and there’s a lot you need to consider before you make the move. To help you be certain you’re making the right choice, here are the pros and cons dental hygienists need to examine before opening their own practice. 


You’re in charge

When you become a dental practice owner, you get to choose in which direction your business is going. You have total control over how your practice works, the people who make up your team, the type of treatments you provide and even the patients who treat. If you ever find yourself unhappy with any aspect of your practice, you’re in the privileged position of changing it.

Although working as an independent contractor dental hygienist via a platform like Cloud Dentistry rewards you with a huge amount of freedom, you have even more control over your career when you run your own dental practice.

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Increased work-life balance

Finding the perfect work-life balance is tricky in any profession, but when you’re a business owner, things get a little easier. When you’re in charge of your own practice, you get to set the days and hours your office opens. If there’s a special event coming up you don’t want to miss, you can restrict scheduling patient appointments during that time frame and close your practice early so you can attend.

Alternatively, you can keep your doors open and hire a temporary dental professional to fill in for you while you’re away. You’ll never have to apologise for missing a birthday or anniversary ever again.

Potential to earn more money

Most dental employees in full-time employment take home a set amount of money each month. This is a figure they’re unable to change. While independent contractor dental hygienists have more control over how much money they make, they’re still limited by the number of hours in the day. You can increase your hourly rate, but you can’t increase how many hours you can work before you’re exhausted.

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By contrast, if you’re unsatisfied with how much money you’re taking home as a dental practice owner, you have plenty of ways to increase your income. You can hire additional staff so you can treat more patients, you can offer a broader range of treatments to appeal to more people, you can test out new marketing techniques...the options are almost endless.

You can create your dream practice

If you’ve ever daydreamed of owning your own dental practice, there’s a good chance you’ve pictured it in your mind. When you set up your own dental office, you can turn that dream into reality. While it’s critical your practice maintains a professional appearance for your patients, it’s a great idea to add a few personal touches to give it some character. 

You can create an environment that encourages your patients to feel relaxed and happy in just a few easy steps. A new paint job, some colorful artwork, a bunch of fresh flowers and some comfy cushions on the sofas in the waiting area go a long way to reduce patient anxiety. 


You’re the individual responsible

No matter how excellent your team is, you’re the one who’s ultimately responsible in your dental practice and your accountability stretches far beyond your patient care. You’ve got to juggle numerous roles, from dental hygienist, office manager and boss to business owner, marketer and accountant.

If you want to run a successful dental practice, it’s important you master all these roles or delegate them to others who can take them on. Sometimes you’ll feel like there simply isn’t enough time to get through your to-do list and you need to learn to accept that and find a way to make sure everything important gets done by the end of the day. 

It can be expensive

When you’re a dental practice owner, you’ve got a lot of overheads you need to cover before you begin making a profit. From your practice lease and your employees’ paychecks to buying state-of-the-art equipment and ensuring your supply cupboard is well-stocked, you need to have a decent capital to pay for all these essential extras before you can open your doors to patients. 

Limited flexibility

Even though owning your own practice rewards you with enhanced flexibility in some aspects, it restricts you in others. For example, if one of your employees wants to take time off, you can simply hire temp dental staff to take their place in the interim. But if you want to take some time out, there isn’t going to be anyone to replace all the jobs you do. You can hire a temp dental hygienist, but you can’t hire a temp business owner. 

If you do find a way to take some time off, you need to make sure your dental practice stays profitable, as you’ve still got overheads to pay. This pressure can sometimes lead to dental practice owners forfeiting vacations entirely because it’s cheaper and easier than finding a solution. 

Your earnings are uncertain

When you’re employed in a dental practice, you know how much money you’re going to take home each month. If you’re not happy with your wages as an employee, you can always increase your income by offering your services on a freelance basis. You don’t have to choose between being an independent contractor or an employee — you can be both.

Read: Struggles of being a dental hygienist >>

While this is also true of a dental practice owner, it’s highly unlikely you’ll find the time to be a freelance dental hygienist when you’re a business owner. If your dental practice isn’t as profitable as you first imagined, you can’t just take on extra work. You need to be truly motivated and skilled enough to turn things around and make your practice a success. 

Should you open your own practice?

Owning your own dental practice isn’t for everyone. While there are many reasons to stick with your job and forget about your work when you clock off, the rewards of running your own dental office are too considerable for many to ignore. The choice is ultimately down to you. But it’s important you consider all the pros and cons and make sure you choose the right time to make the move if you decide to. You don’t want to rush things and damage your career in the process.

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