Is solo practice still possible for new dentists?

The combination of dental school debt and pandemic challenges has made things uncertain for new dentists.

Before new dentists get the chance to fully enter the industry, many are burdened with massive debt. The average debt for dental students who graduated in 2020 was $304,824, according to the American Dental Education Association. This makes ideas such as owning a private practice seem like a lofty dream.

"The cost of becoming a successful dentist is becoming too high," Ali Jazayeri, DDS, a dentist at Oceansight Dental & Implants in San Clemente, Calif., told Becker's. Overcoming a half-million-dollar loan to begin your career is a tough obstacle. The sheer bulk of this loan will discourage many dentists from owning their own practice."

Instilling hope in new dentists can also be difficult as established dentists leave the field. Those remaining in the field face significant challenges because of the pandemic, such as staffing shortages and supply chain issues.

DentalPost's 2022 Salary Survey indicated that 11 percent of dentists are planning to retire in the next two years.

"Two-plus years of pandemic-related issues such as staffing challenges, increased costs for [personal protective equipment] and new processes all mean that dentists are now unable to see as many patients," Suzanne Ebert, DDS, vice president of dental practice and relationships for ADA Practice Transitions in Chicago, told Becker's. "In fact, data from the ADA Health Policy Institute show that a third of owners say they now need more staff to see the same number of patients as before COVID due to heightened infection control processes. As a result, many owner dentists who might have otherwise worked a few more years are choosing to retire early, and they're not waiting around to find buyers."

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