By DR SIMON HOCKEN
In my experience there‘s always been an uneasy relationship between dentistry and money and watching this week’s BBC 2 show Inside Harley Street, the editors certainly intended to highlight the uncomfortable truth of doctors’ earnings.
One said, “I earn less than half a million,” presumably expecting this to sound modest.
In Breathe’s client portfolio we have practice owners earning around half a million a year and some struggling to earn £40k. We have associates earning between £40k and £300k a year.
I suppose the average earnings we see is around £120k a year for a practice owner, around £90k a year for an associate and £60k a year for a hygienist. So, still very significant earnings in the context of the £27,000 average income in this country.
There are many different ways for a practice owner to earn £120k a year from owning a modest, £400k turnover practice and doing a large proportion of the clinical work to owning a large, £1.2m turnover practice and not doing any clinical work.
This gives practice owners a lot of freedom and choice about how they spend their time and offers a route for principals who have fallen out of love with clinical dentistry.
One problem is that dentists still seem embarrassed about how much they earn and seek to hide this from their support team and patients.
Another is that many dentists are nervous of the word “private”, believing the public sees it as meaning expensive. This may have been true for the last 30 years but these days, private medicine and dentistry can be a trophy purchase and aspired to.
Remember that blue-collar workers, not the stretched middle classes, buy the majority of cosmetic dentistry.
Recently, the Breathe team was presenting a workshop to 20 private dentists, all from the same county, and it soon became clear they were all charging roughly the same fees. It was if there was some safety in charging the same, removing any chance of a challenge on pricing by their clients – a bit like a cartel.
What we do know is it’s hard to make any dental practice work (in terms of either turnover or profits) if the dentists gross less than £1,000 a day or the hygienists gross less than £550 a day, whether that’s from low fee or high fee dentistry. The high earners work in practices where the daily gross is substantially higher.
Patients really don’t mind how much their dentists earn, what they do care about is being in a practice where they can find people they trust and like, solutions to their problems, transparency on pricing and easy accessibility to the service.
As I write this, it sounds like a simplistic recipe for success, but it is still surprisingly hard to find in UK dentistry. It shouldn’t be. You can use this formula with any number of propositions, whether it’s positioning your practice as reassuringly expensive or focusing on value. Either way, you’ll always start by selling trust, solutions, transparency and access.
That means being open about how much you charge and how much you earn, if it comes up. It means being proud of your service and happy to explain the value you are providing, because you believe in it.
If you’d like help getting your dental team to sell themselves and consistently build relationships with patients through trust, get in touch.
With all good wishes,