Recently, in Chicago, the ADA held a meeting focused on Transitions.  There is a video of the entire meeting available to members here.  It is an excellent explanation of the nuts and bolts of selling a practice.  However, we believe that the dentist can’t be ignored in transition considerations and, when we introduce the dentist to the discussion, one important question needs to be answered: “Why?”


The process of transitioning into retirement is life-changing, and has innumerable variables.  One, for instance, is owners vs. non-owners.  Their transition plans are very different. Regardless, at all stages of a dentist’s exploration of retiring, the first question should be “Why?” Answers will always influence how a transition is envisioned and what it takes to get there.  Generally, the best answer is one which allows the most freedom because no one knows what lies down the road.  Someone said “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” Let’s explore a few times when the question “why?” should be asked.


First day of practice

“Why should I should I think about retirement now?” Answer, “Since I know I won’t live forever, the sooner I start planning my transition, the greater the chance of success.  It is certain that I will stop practicing dentistry at some point, and it will either be on my terms or not.  Regularly putting money now into a retirement plan enables the power of compounding to grow substantial funds that can allow financial freedom at the end of a career. Even with the large debt that encumbers young dentists, retirement funding should have a similar discipline for payment.  Also, the routine and discipline of putting money away becomes automatic, and nearly subconscious. It will reduce anxiety about ‘having enough.’  Lifestyle needs to be adjusted to allow this discipline.

Also, the type of practice you are in determines your future.  It influences your values, your value, and the practice value.  Think of where you’ll be at the end of your career, and looking back.  Are you proud of your journey? Look at your first steps. Are they going in the right direction?

In addition, be aware that a form of retirement is disability that can happen suddenly, without warning, and has profound effect on your life and those dependent on you.”


Becoming an associate or employee

“Why should I think about retirement now?”  Answer, “Because it will influence whether or not you want to become an owner. As an associate or employee, there are advantages and disadvantages that need to be considered.  Disability is still a consideration.”


Major life events, such as marriage and children

“Why should I think about retirement now?” Answer, “Because major events will require time and money which otherwise could be devoted to the practice.  Larger homes and education expenses require considerable resources.   Families also significantly influence decisions about where to live in retirement.”


Becoming an owner

“Why should I think about retirement now?”  Answer, “The way your ownership agreement is structured requires that your financial interest is protected as well as that of the corporation, however it is defined when you depart. This may be the first time that a person defines how to exit the practice.”  Creating the most flexibility and freedom allows more choices.  We, and many psychologists, suggest that moving gradually into retirement provides a healthier experience that can lead to more productive and joyful years after active full-time practice.  So, we suggest creating an exit plan that allows gradually tapering off, rather than locking the door and walking away.

As soon as one becomes an owner, it is important to create management and delivery systems to create efficiencies in the practice.  When the right systems are in place, understood by the staff, and managed well, there should be minimal stress in the office, and high productivity.   The metrics of the office will reflect these efficiencies if a disability suddenly creates the need to sell the practice quickly.  A well-run, productive practice will sell for a higher price than a non-productive, inefficient one.

Don’t wait until a few years before selling to try to get the numbers up.  That creates stress for all involved, may lead to more fatigue, and will not assure a higher price.  An efficiently-run practice should be a pleasure to work in, and will have a higher value when sold.



“Why should I think about retirement now? Answer, “Because your life experiences have likely influenced how you look at the future, which is approaching more and more quickly.  Your professional experience can be either invigorating or stressful.  Managing and growing a business, as well as treating and caring for patients, affects dentists in different ways. This is a time for evaluating what you like and dislike about dentistry, which influences your view of the future.  For instance, if you dislike the business side, perhaps that piece can be given to a partner so that you can devote more time to what you enjoy.   You may also be developing other interests and hobbies.  Children may be out of the house or away at school, giving you more time to think about what’s next.”


Late career

“Why should I think about retirement now?” Answer, “Huh? If you are just starting now, we’ll need to sit down and talk.  At this stage in life, there is less freedom to make decisions, and there are fewer choices.  Health issues, unanticipated events, and stress may force rapid decisions with less-than-ideal results.  Succession plans may be complicated by unqualified candidates, market conditions, or inadequate time to find the right brokers or attorneys. Lack of planning can lead to irreversible situations, such as inadequate finances or poor health.”


In addition to these important times to ask, “why?”, it is wise to annually assess progress toward retirement goals and fine-tune them as needed.



Neil S. Hiltunen, D.M.D., F.A.G.D. President,

Association of Retiring Dentists

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