Welcome to the third interview of the Dentistry Unveiled project! A story about challenging the status quo: one dentist’s journey to true personal success and happiness.

Today’s episode follows an unusual format: it’s an article, and it is anonymous to protect those who cannot handle the truth (corporations). Our goal is to identify the true meaning of our guest’s success and failure through her own experience of starting a private practice in a suburb of Chicago. We will discuss how the enticing excitement of owning a dental practice can quickly turn into a nightmare and the inevitable obstacles that one may face as a business owner with family obligations. Our guest will challenge the stigma of failure when forced to close her practice and will highlight the importance of listening to your inner voice when making difficult decisions to reach true personal success. We will discuss decisions that many may be seen as failures and we will talk about what it means to be a female dentist while raising a family. We’ll discuss if owning a practice is always the right path to happiness in dentistry. At the end, you must decide for yourself if dentistry is truly unveiled.

Q: When did you open an office?

A: Spring 2011

Q: When did you actually start planning an office?

A: I graduated from dental school in 2008 and started planning opening my own office in 2009 while working as an associate. My main motivator was that I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t open my practice and the way I wanted to run it. As an associate, I worked at several offices where patients were mistreated and some offices had “quota” to meet in dental procedures. It was important to me to be able to work in an environment where staff was treated respectfully and patients were provided with quality dental care, and unfortunately I had not had that experience yet. I thought the only way I could make that happen was by opening my own office.

Q: How did you start the process of officially planning to open an office?

A: Many people suggested “This is what you should do”. Many colleagues were encouraging and set the expectation nothing would go wrong with opening a practice; I would be “successful”.

Q: Did you do any research?

A: That was one of the first mistakes I made. I didn’t really do research and just went with who was recommended to me. I’m a very trusting person and thought everyone wanted only good for me. At the end, I thought that people in the industry are all well connected and all they wanted was “to get the deal done” without really thinking or asking is this what is going to make me happy.

Q: How did you vet people who you wanted to work with?

A: I didn’t. I trusted the people that were introduced to me and went by their word. Now it feels that everyone was connected, it was like a network. It feels like people were more

helping each other than helping the doctor. I don’t think people had my best interests in mind and I ended up being an easy target.

Q: What was your gut feeling during the process?

A: I’m not from Chicago and didn’t have a community of people to go for advice. It felt like there was no other way. I was alarmed that the whole process was too easy, all I kept hearing was “dentist do not fail”. I heard only positive things and reassurance that I can hire consultants for all other business aspects.

Q: Did you reach out to your family for advice and see what they think about you opening an office?
A: Family is the reason I went into dentistry. I knew I’m going to have flexible hours, can start a family and devote time to my kids to be a better mom and a wife. My family was supportive of the idea based on what I told them.

Q: At this point in your story, what advice would you give?

A: Balancing everything in life is really hard. Can you be a supermom and have an office, family and kids? It’s important to understand your limitations; female dentists in particular have a lot to think about. Understanding personal happiness and self- awareness is very important. There is nothing wrong with starting your own office, but it’s important to evaluate your personal goals, plans to start and raise a family, and how your inner happiness will be impacted by the amount of work it takes to start a business.

Q: What suggestions would you give dental students before making a decision to open a dental office?
A: There are a lot, but I will try to summarize it in 2-3 questions:

First, will it make you happy? Running an office and doing dentistry are two different things. Be honest with yourself. You will be wearing a lot of different hats.

Second, are you financially prepared to start besides having student loans and not taking a paycheck for a year or two? I’m not sure if it’s a norm to make money the first year. But I know that many offices don’t. Are you willing to sacrifice your personal finances until your business profits? Do you have others, kids, etc. that will depend upon your income?

And third, how much time will you have at home vs. the office? As an associate, you close the doors at 5 and go home to your kids. However, as a dentist who owns the practice, even on Sunday you think about work, payroll, the number of new patients, etc.

And finally, do not open an office if you do not know what makes you happy! Do not do it if there is any doubt, because it’s not as easy as they make sound like. It’s really hard to undo it, so don’t rush if you are not 100% in.

Q: Who most failed to ask you the right questions during the planning stage?

A: Dental consultants. As far as my personal happiness, it is consultants.

Q: Why?

A: All I kept hearing was “dentist never fail”. I’ve done it and it’s terrible.

Q: If you were a dental consultant, what would you do differently?

A: First of all, it’s not anybody’s fault that this didn’t work out and I don’t blame anybody. I just trusted the wrong people and didn’t do my research. With that being said, I wish I asked better questions to understand if the consultants had my best interest in mind or just wanted to get the “deal done”. There are two types of people that you work with: ones who have your best interests in mind and others who see you as just another client. I would want to work with someone who has my genuine interest in mind. When I present a treatment plan to my patients, I genuinely want what is best for them and never think how much money I’m going to make off of this. I guess not everyone is like that.

Q: During the process, did anyone advise that opening a dental office is like starting a business: it can fail, go bankrupt, or there is more to it than just hanging a “Dentist” sign on the front door?

A: No one. Everyone has the “dentists never fail” mentality. I failed to ask myself important questions: Why did I go to dental school in the first place? Why did I choose this profession? Especially being a female dentist, I didn’t take kids nor how much time it take to be a mom into account. When you have kids, they grow up really fast. I wasn’t around the first two years of my four year old’s life and it breaks my heart that I can never get that time back.

Q: What is success in dentistry? Who determines what success looks like?
A: To me it always seems that success in the dental field is measured by how much money you make. I feel like that with everybody I talk to.

Q: How different it is to be a female dentist?

A: In general, female dentists can have more empathy and are more caring. On the downside, it’s easier to take advantage of us. We are more trusting of people. The biggest difference is kids. It is a constant battle between having to send an emergency 5PM walk-in to another dentist because you have to pick up your son from day care at 5:15.

Q: What was your biggest challenge during the four years you ran your office?

A: Financially generating enough money to pay the bank for the loan while meeting payroll. Working five days a week wasn’t enough to make ends meet.

Q: Were all four years difficult?

A: During the first two years, the pressure was building up and every month was a struggle. Then you hit the two-year mark and you still don’t take money home. Then, you get a job as an associate too and instead of taking that money home, you start using it to pay for your office.

Q: At what point did you start considering bankruptcy? What was your decision- making process?

A: Well, this time it was a well thought out decision. We had our first attempt at the 2.5 years mark when we reached out to our bank and asked for help. The bank came back with a very “helpful” option to lower payments for 12 months but increased the interest by 2% and asked for an additional co-signer. I should’ve closed the office at that point, to be honest with you.

Q: Wow, that’s not very helping?

A: No, and we felt we were being cornered by the bank. Again not to blame anybody, it’s just what happened. We made our position 10 times worse and I think they knew what was going to happen and took advantage of our situation.

Q: What happened next?

A: Then, closer to the three year mark, we started consulting with a CPA who I really felt had our best interest in mind. It was decided to proceed with bankruptcy and close the office. We were four years in and still owed the bank close to half a million dollars in loans.

Q: How did you take this decision emotionally?

A: It was really hard. It was easy to open the office: sign papers, get people, and then open your doors. Then all of your “consultants” go away and you are on your own. I felt that I let my staff down; I felt that I let my family down. I failed. I made the decision for my kids and that’s the only thing that kept me moving forward at that point. At that time, I was expecting a second child and I didn’t want to miss even a day of my second child’s life.

Q: Why did you fail?

A: I failed because like I said, I let my staff down. Also, in the dental industry, everyone acts like no one fails. No one talks about the industry’s business process that may not work out. I’m still a good dentist and make my patients happy. But for some reason, I feel that everyone judges me and takes me as a failure. That’s why I avoid CE courses so I don’t have to explain it to people and be judged again. I’m still being harassed by the bank and still have to deal with a lot of shit. I’m still trying to figure this out.

Q: What did you learn from this process?

A: Know myself. Understand priorities. Not to be trusting and naïve. Not everyone has your back. I’m still learning to focus on what I think of myself rather than what others will think. I’m learning to put my failure aside and keep moving forward. My biggest success is how much time I spend with both of my children at home.

Today I’m one thousand percent happier, healthier, less stressed, spend time with kids, and most importantly, I do what I like the most in dentistry. I care for my patients.

Q: Do you have any last thoughts on this topic? What will help you put your thoughts about failure aside?
A: It will be wonderful to not think like that. It took me time to learn not to worry about what others think. In our industry, why are we so judgmental and quick to call someone a failure just because an office closed? Can someone challenge the status quo? Who defines success?



Well, in my eyes, this is a success story. How many dentists are out there struggling to make ends meet and, at the end of the day, put on a happy smile, go home and feel pressured by the industry that success is having an office, having an expensive car, and living big? Is this really internal happiness or are most dentists just trying to keep up with the Jones? Can we at least start a conversation about what is real success in dentistry?

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Hi, loved your story. I had to close my doors and go through bankruptcy 3 years ago. Sold everything else, kids are grown. Doing Locum work here and there and making money. Trying to heal from my son’s death 4 years ago. It’s hard. You ARE doing well.



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About Dentistry Unveiled

Dentistry Unveiled is a project that aims to learn the personal stories of some of the most successful dentists. In this video series, we go deeper to uncover what drives and motivates dentists each day to do what they do. We break down their personal path to success from dental school to today. I ask doctors to answer the challenging question of “why dentistry?” and analyze what it is they are passionate about in the profession and in life. I ask thought provoking questions and get unconventional answers. It’s now up to you to decide if dentistry is truly unveiled.


Dentistry; Dentist; Dental Life, PEOPLE