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The Best Place to Start a Dental Practice

Disclaimer: This isn’t my ordinary oral health-related article… But, if you’re interested in some of the things that dentists look at when choosing an area to practice, you may enjoy it!

We took a trip up to Vermont on Thursday and have been up here in the Burlington area for the past few days – that’s why I didn’t write a post yesterday!

Vermont Sunset Over Lake ChamplainMy wife and I are still pretty undecided on where we want to live after dental school.  My wife is from Boston and I’m from Detroit.  We think we’d be happy living anywhere from Michigan up to Maine.  Burlington, Vermont was named the #1 place to raise a family a couple of years ago and Vermont appeals to us, so we thought we’d check it out.

We’ve had a lot of fun driving around the Lake Champlain Islands, going on a Ben & Jerry’s tour, and swimming a lot at the hotel.  It’s been a much-needed getaway from dental school for a few days!

How Dentists Choose Where to Practice

There are a number of things that dentists take into consideration when trying to figure out where to practice dentistry.  Some people want to practice in the same city where they grew up or near family.

One key consideration that most dental students look at is what is known as the dentist to population ratio.  I found an article that listed the average national dentist to population ratio as 1 dentist per 1,851 people.  I even found a map showing the ratios of each state.

Some further research into Vermont helped me find this 2009 Vermont Department of Health Dentist Survey (PDF) which shows that Chittenden County, Vermont (its largest county and home of Burlington) has 125 dentists.  With its population of 156,545, that gives it a ratio of 1 dentist per 1252 people — a lot more dentists than the average place!

Does the Dentist to Population Ratio Really Matter?

An interesting article by Edgar Radjabli called Why the Dentist to Population Ratio does Not Tell the Whole Story points out that what really matters is whether or not the people living in a particular area go to the dentist.  Basically, it doesn’t matter if there are 3,000 people per dentist if only 100 out of those 3,000 people are actually going to the dentist.

In my opinion, a good dentist can set up practice anywhere and have a successful practice.  My wife and I have realized that a lot of the “good places to live” already have a high number of dentists.  Although the dentist to population ratio is a good indicator of how difficult it may be to find patients, as long as you care about your patients and really want to help them, word will get around and you will have a successful dental practice.


We have enjoyed Vermont, but we’re still not sure where we’ll end up.  We want to keep researching places and probably make a few more visits to potential areas soon so that we can figure out where to go when I graduate in May of 2012.

Do you have anything to add?  I’ll be back with my regular oral health post on Monday.  Thanks for reading!



  1. Another consideration is licensing. I’m a former Maine dentist who was unfairly “disciplined” in 2002 and my practice was destroyed, not to mention my being forced to leave the state since I couldn’t work without my license. I did nothing wrong, harmed no patient, committed no fraud. One of the seven board members had reneged on an agreement with me over office space, leaving me without a facility. So I had to start looking for another, meanwhile having no place to see my patients. So it was a business setback that harmed me, but the board attacked me and claimed I’d abandoned a patient, that I was blaming others for my problems (all I did was tell the truth of what happened) and that I must have a psychiatric condition, and other bogus charges. I had no place to turn for any assistance and found out the hard way there is absolutely no such thing as due process for licensees there. Later I found out many other dentists have been unfairly treated in Maine. So you have to be very cautious about what state you pick, since it can severely harm your career and it’s almost impossible to move to another state later on. I had to spend a lot of time and money keeping my license in my current state only because of the “discipline” I’d gotten for no legitimate reason in Maine. A dental education is long, arduous and costly, and students need to know how abusive the licensing system is.

    • Hi Krista – I had never thought about that. It can be hard when someone who is supposed to be impartial is actually holding a grudge against you. We went to Maryland a week ago and we’re leaning towards practicing somewhere in the DC area.

  2. Hi Tom –

    Your article was very interesting. Did you and your wife decide on a place to practice dentistry after graduation?

    My girlfriend and I are probably in a similar situation as you and your wife when you wrote this article. We will be graduating from dental school in 2015 and, to be honest, we haven’t decided on where to practice after graduation yet. My girlfriend’s from NJ and I’m from TX. We have been looking around and doing online research regarding where best to practice dentistry after graduation (and pay back our loans). Any tips you have would be much, much appreciated. If you have time, I would love to hear your story on how you finally made your decision. Please, by all means, feel free to email me. I hope you can see my email address.

    Thanks. I hope you and your wife are doing excellent 🙂

  3. Hi Tom,
    I have a young family. I am thinking of relocating from California to east coast. We are thinking northern Virginia as we have family in Alexandria. I am seeing managed care model and corporate dentistry really take hold in California. What is it like where you are? How is the dental IQ amongst the population. Are you happy with the potential in Bridgewater?


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