My First Month as an Associate Dentist

This is a long overdue update! I’ve been working my tail off as a new associate dentist for just over a month. Read about my first month on the job below!

Where I Work

I am an associate dentist in a DSO-supported de-novo office. The practice is just 5 minutes from my home. I love that I am serving my community; everyone is a “neighbor.” It’s a brand new office, with new equipment and technology, which I love! We have 13 (!) operatories and plan to expand our practice to include specialists in the near future. Currently, we have an office manager, benefits coordinator, owner doctor, an associate (me!), and two assistants.

On a day-to-day basis, I see 4-5 patients per day. Since we are a new office, the vast majority of my appointments are new patient exams. We build in time for same-day treatment, so appointments are generally 1.5-2 hours long. As a new dentist, this keeps me on my toes, because I never know what a new patient may need treatment-wise!


As a new dentist, in a new office, there are certainly challenges. I was forced to quickly transition to working with air-driven handpieces (they.keep.rotating.) and unfamiliar dental materials. The entire staff is new, so we are all learning together. We currently have 2 assistants for 2 dentists…we really need an additional assistant (ideally, there should be 1 assistant per doctor, plus a floater for sterilization).

Neither of our assistants have their radiology certification yet. This eats up a lot of my time, especially when taking FMX’s for new patient exams. One of our assistants is completely new to dentistry, so she is still learning materials, procedures, etc. Oftentimes, I work without an assistant.

Most days, we work past close. Although we are scheduled for 9-hour days, I often work 10-12 hour days with no lunch break. This definitely took some getting used to (OK, honestly, I cried after my first day, LOL)! But, I’ve adjusted to my new tempo. Honestly, I am just so thankful to have a job as a new grad during the COVID pandemic. I remain positive because I feel privileged to work, despite the long hours.

I am still learning about how production/collections and insurance work. There are days when I seem to work REALLY hard, yet not make much in production. Luckily, I have a daily minimum right now, but I am always cognizant of what I am producing. Not only do I strive to “earn my keep,” but I want to maintain a steady income when I transition to production-only pay. Plus, my owner doc is great, and I really want our office to be a smashing success! ⚡️

Lessons Learned

I’ve learned A LOT so far! The first few weeks, my training focused on treatment planning and patient communication. After x-rays were taken, I met with my owner doctor to formulate treatment plans. Instead of creating a laundry list of treatment, my owner doc suggested I focus my treatment plan on the patients’ top 3 urgent needs. This ensures that we do not overwhelm them. If they need more treatment beyond the top 3 needs, I tell them they have additional treatment needs that we can address in the future (and note them in the chart).

When presenting treatment, I picked up some bad habits in dental school. I am actively trying to replace, “I recommend…” with, “This tooth needs…” This is a daily struggle! I also try to incorporate the patient’s own words when discussing treatment rationale. For example, if they want straighter teeth/ortho, but have periodontal disease, I explain that it is important to establish optimal bone health before beginning orthodontic treatment. I’ve also learned to emphasize the consequences of doing nothing in terms of esthetics, chewing function, etc.

In addition to focusing on treatment planning and patient communication, I’ve also had the opportunity to learn how to use diode lasers, the Wave One endo system, and CAD-CAM! I am so fortunate to be able to incorporate the latest technology into my practice… plus, patients love it! I also have access to a digital library of free CE, but honestly, haven’t had much time to delve into it yet. Thus far, most of my learning has been on-the-job! 

Looking Ahead

As I reflect back on this past month, I am amazed at how quickly I am growing as a dentist. In school, we had WEEKS to scour patient records to formulate treatment plans. Now, I can create one in 5 minutes! Every now and then, I still bounce ideas off my owner doc, and sometimes she asks for my opinion of an x-ray too! It’s REALLY nice to have another doc in the office. In fact, I really can’t imagine working on my own.

So far, I have done a ton of SRP, some operative, some extractions, an onlay, a couple crowns, a couple pulpotomies, and one singe root RCT (basically, all of D3 in a month’s time, LOL). I’ve had good days, and bad days. Extractions have never been my favorite, but luckily my owner LOVES to extract! She has been super supportive of me taking on extraction cases with the understanding that she’s happy to jump in, if needed.

Moving forward, I hope to continue building my skills/speed with extractions, crown preps, CAD-CAM scanning and designing. I would love to become Invisalign certified and try my hand at bone grafting too! Most of all, I am grateful to have a position where daily growth is inevitable! Each day brings new patients, and additional opportunities to expand my skillset. In fact, I have two young pediatric patients next week…so stay tuned! 😛

What advice do you have for new associates? Comment below!


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