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Rethinking dental practice management

Group of people standing around a whiteboard with sticky notes

Many dental practice leaders focus on providing excellent clinical care to achieve success. However in the last 10 years, I’ve noticed a movement within dentistry to address the business of dentistry. More practices are fine-tuning fundamental business concepts to improve practice performance. However, some private practices haven’t embraced this shift in thinking and still operate as they did 20 years ago. And while clinical techniques and technology have advanced dramatically, business management has not made the same strides. This has caused some dental practices to experience a plateau or even a decline in production, profitability and doctor income — key indicators that business performance is lagging behind clinical performance. It’s time for today’s practice leader to rethink dental practice management and start concentrating on sound business fundamentals for practice success.

Using metrics to understand your practice

First, have a clear analysis of practice performance. This analysis should be based on numerical data that can be easily derived from most dental software systems. The dentist should start by developing a key performance indicator set of metrics. There are probably about a dozen or so numbers that filter into key performance indicators, allowing the practice to develop a better understanding of its daily and monthly performance. They would include the most important numbers that should be tracked regularly in the practice, like production, collections, overdue accounts, 30/60/90 day overdue account analysis, number of new patients, average production per patient, average production per new patient, revenue per service, number of overdue patients, number of inactive patients in the last three years, and hygiene revenue. 

Next, benchmark each key performance indicator against the goal. For example, your practice might have a 4.7 percent no-show rate when the target should be at or below 1 percent. This immediately indicates an opportunity to improve performance by implementing a new set of scripts and systems to reduce no-shows. Reducing no-shows to less than 1 percent increases your patient show rate by 3.7 percent. When this is translated into revenue and production, it’s a substantial number. 

This is how successful businesses function. They look at their monthly financial information and key performance indicators to determine where their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats lie. They then follow fundamental business principles that allow them to target specific areas for improved performance.
Once you’ve seen this type of improvement, it may be tempting to address every area of concern all at once. In my experience, however, most dental practices are equipped to take on only one specific action at a time. Trying to do too much all at once is overwhelming, and, ultimately, very little gets done. It can also lead to staff confusion, burnout and resistance to new ideas. I recommend making one improvement a month. For example, once you’ve reduced no-shows, then address redesigning the entire scheduling system in the next month. The month after that, tackle collections. Just imagine the benefits in production, profitability and doctor income if 12 key areas are improved over a year.

Bringing the team on board

One of the essential elements of improving your business fundamentals is to help your team reach their highest level of potential. In today’s business world, employees cannot keep up or reach their potential without ongoing training. The day of the generalist worker is coming to a close, and team members who don’t continually improve their skill set will fall behind. 

While you may be eager to provide your staff with a wealth of information to help enhance their performance, it is best not put too much on them too soon. Evaluate all team members and identify the next skill set that each of them should learn to improve their performance and the overall practice. After learning one skill set, they can move on to the next. For your front-desk person, it may mean addressing additional skills in telephone management including customer service, followed by working with a trainer to improve performance on the practice management software and scheduling module. Whatever areas you identify, you should provide training to help evaluate if the staff member is hitting the key performance indicators that demonstrate his or her mastery of the skill set.


When dentists rethink how their practices operate, the practices perform at higher levels than ever before. While great clinical care will always be a priority, dental professionals now recognize that in today’s competitive dental industry, it’s more important than ever to keep continued focus on business fundamentals for practice success.

Dr. Levin is a third-generation general dentist and the founder and CEO of Levin Group, Inc. Dr. Levin speaks internationally on dental practice management, and has written 65 books and over 4,300 articles. He is also the executive founder of Dental Business Study Clubs. Learn more at