Are you a professional, a specialist or a business?

This one’s gonna get me in hot water. Why, you ask? You’ll see…

Early in my career, I had mentors who chose to create very rigid parameters on what they would and wouldn’t do because of “professional” ethics. Some were very clear (recommending cleanings on regular basis) and others were more ambiguous (not doing any major restorative work on Class II patients because “it would fail prematurely”). Right or wrong, these clinicians chose to draw “lines in the sand” that created the guidelines by which their offices operated.

I also saw great clinicians struggle making a living and I saw crappy clinicians own 5 locations, care nothing about the patients and make huge profits. I was torn about the happy medium that fit me best, and I’ve seen many clinicians feel the same way.

Now, consider the following:

  1. a person’s regular occupation, profession, or trade.
  2. the practice of making one’s living by engaging in commerce.
    “the world of business”
  1. a pursuit, area of study, or skill to which someone has devoted much time and effort and in which they are expert.
  1. a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.

So, I ask you: Which one fits you best? Is your practice a specialty, a profession or a business? What drives your “line in the sand” and more importantly,  how do you think the public views us?

But the bigger question is: Why does this matter at all?

The world is changing very quickly and with the advent of companies that offer tooth moving options directly to the public as well as through GPs, how we view ourselves can make all the difference. For instance, if you view the profession from the point of view of being a business owner, simply providing a service to your customers, you could offer deep discount options and compete directly with the companies trying to currently gain market share of the orthodontic market.

You could look at it simply as a way of making more money and say “If other companies are doing it, then I can do it too.” You could offer a baseline of care that “does no harm” (whether or not you believe that to be true” and actively compete.

However, the overwhelming majority of orthodontists would say that there is a “profession” to keep in mind. After all, we didn’t go to school until Grade 23 so that we could just give our services away for next to nothing, We’re “specialists” and we’re different than clinicians and businesses that only care about making a profit. We need to educate the public about what it is that we do so that they can make a choice with their heads and not their pocketbooks. No good ever comes from us cheapening our profession.

Are the two mutually exclusive or are they tied together? Can we compete as a business and do things to play an active role in growing our businesses while not being tied to the idea that we’re limited because we’re “professionals”? Could you offer $1800 aligner therapy to just straighten teeth with no bite correction (like other businesses)  if a patient knew what they were getting into or would you be “unprofessional”?

The idea behind this post is to make you think about what it is we do and question the limitations we place on ourselves. In 25 years in Dentistry, I’ve found that I can bring up almost anything without a problem (except maybe occlusion) but if one starts a conversation about “professionalism” and thinking as a business owner, not a specialist, arguments ensue (which is perfectly OK).

You can choose to stand on a podium, pushing out your chest and telling the world you’re a professional or a specialist while market forces around you (which couldn’t care less about you and aren’t going away) disrupt the environment you think you work within, or, you can act as a business owner and still keep your patient’s best interests in mind, all the while thinking like a CEO and keeping your business growing in turbulent times. One thing is for sure: Where we are today as a profession is most definitely not where we will be in 5 or 10 years. I you don’t believe me, look backwards and compare it to today.

So, how do you see your business/profession/specialty? The choice is yours.

All the best,

If you’re not a member of our geographically exclusive OrthoPreneursRD Facebook page there are only two prerequisites: You’re an orthodontist (yes, you can be an associate) and you want to contribute to a group of like-minded peers who have come together to share our practice ideas and solve our common business, leadership and management issues. Email me at to learn more and to see if your region is available.