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12 September 2023

California Dental Association helps members navigate buying a practice

Mary Guiden

With 27,000 members, the California Dental Association (CDA) is the largest state dental organization in the U.S. The association hosts multiple educational events for its members each year, including “CDA Presents The Art and Science of Dentistry,” and has a robust practice management support system for its members.

The team of experienced staffers can discuss one-on-one what early career dentists should do if they want to purchase a practice. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the team can also discuss transition paths for dentists who aim to retire from private practice. CDA offers checklists and other helpful resources on its site. 

In August 2022, Dr. Jacqueline Lim, DDS, purchased a practice in Benicia, California, located in the San Francisco Bay Area. In an email, she told Dentistry33 that this took place five months after her wedding, which sounds daunting. But fortunately, she had support from the CDA before and after the process. Learn more about her practice, Benicia Bay Dental

CDA’s experts were “a very valuable asset,” she said. “I have a small family practice so saving any money and time is incredibly helpful.” 

Lim said that she had been practicing at the office she now owns for six years prior to purchasing. 

“I already knew a lot of the patients,” she explained. Lim named the practice Benicia Bay Dental as an homage to her family’s restaurant, Gina’s Benicia Bay Restaurant, which served customers in downtown Benicia for over 20 years.

When she started working at this practice in 2016, Lim said that she spoke with the owners — one of whom was quite active in the CDA — about the future of the practice, with an eye toward her becoming the eventual owner. 

In 2019, the dentists talked about a possible purchase the next year, but once the pandemic hit, all talks were put on hold. The following year, they picked back up on the conversation and a deal was finalized in 2022. 

Lim said that even before buying the practice, she consulted with CDA’s Katie Fornelli, director of Early Career Dentist Engagement. After the purchase, some of the questions they discussed included: 

  • How do I transition previous employees to my new practice?
  • How do I create an employee manual?
  • How should I calculate vacation days for the remaining year since the transaction was completed in the middle of a year?
  • How should I bill as an owner dentist with associate dentists?
  • Should the practice be designated as a sole proprietorship or a sole corporation?

“I used CDA practice management for everything and anything,” said Lim. “It was helpful to have a contact that I had worked with and who knew me in Katie. It doesn't hurt to ask any question. Even when Katie didn't immediately know the answer, she would point me in the right direction.” 

Fornelli said the CDA offers educational sessions on purchasing a practice at “CDA Presents The Art and Science of Dentistry.” It’s becoming popular enough that the CDA may eventually host a standalone conference on the topic. 

The team of CDA experts field up to 6,000 questions and requests for assistance from CDA member dentists each year. 

“We recognize most early career dentists aren’t going to go straight into purchasing a practice,” she said. But statistics show there’s real interest; some 80% of CDA dental student members say they see themselves owning a practice. 

Early career dentists also have the challenge of joining the workforce at a time when many are carrying a debt of hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans. 

“If they become a specialist, it’s even higher, as much as $800,000 in debt when they finish their residency,” said Fornelli. “We’re able to talk with these dentists about their options.” 

Learn more about the CDA at https://www.cda.org/

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