What is the Difference Between a Dentist and an Associate Dentist?

When looking towards your dentistry career, you will want to embrace all that it means, including whether to be an associate dentist or just embark on the adventure of owning your dental practice. So, What is the Difference Between a Dentist and an Associate Dentist? First, you should understand the difference between a general dentist and an associate dentist. Then an associate can make informed decisions.

The Differences between an Employer and Employee

Although there are several similarities between a dentist and an associate dentist, there are things you should understand that are significantly different. A dentist commonly owns his or her practice and hires other dentists to work for him. Associate dentists work in practice but do not own the practice. They are hired under contract either as an employee or independent contractor. Associate dentists have many more restrictions than dentists; they don’t make as much money as the owner (obviously), and they don’t have as much freedom. But let’s look at the pros and cons of each.

The Pros and Cons of Each Job

When you work as an associate dentist, you only wear your hat as a dentist. You care for your patients; that is all you must worry about. You don’t have to manage other employees or office duties. You can take extended time off if needed because the owner or other associate dentists are usually in the office to treat patients.

Of course, there are cons. Your schedule may be less flexible as the owner may want you to work particular hours or days. You must play by the owner’s rules and have less flexibility in the materials you use or the time to treat patients. Of course, your financial potential is less. It doesn’t mean you can’t make it happen to become very successful, but it doesn’t happen for everyone.

The Benefits of Owning a Practice

The Pros are many. You have much freedom when you are a dentist who owns the practice. You can create your team of associate dentists and office staff under you. When you don’t like something, you can change it. You have a schedule of your creation. However, on the con side, you have to be many things, not just a dentist. You must be a marketer, a boss, and a business owner. You have many more financial responsibilities, such as paying the bills, payroll, and buying equipment.

All in all, there are pros and cons to any career. But one important thing to remember if you are pursuing the associate dentist role is to have any contract reviewed before signing it. This way, you can ensure you are going to be treated fairly. Here is a comprehensive guide by the American Dental Association that might help you.

How Much Do They Make?

Starting in the industry, you have several choices, so many ask how much does a dental associate make? The standard choice among dental school graduates is to become a dental associate and eventually move up to own your practice. Keep reading to give you some salary-wise as to what you’ll be earning.

When entering the dental field, you commonly start as a dental associate. This means dental associates will be an employee or an independent contractor. Starting salaries for dental associates vary greatly; you must investigate different positions to see the possibilities. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics provides useful information about dental careers and wages.

General Salaries

A dental associate’s salary is all over the map, and it depends on where you work and who you work for. Some say the salary can be as high as $480,000 a year; others say it ranges between $36,000 and $61,000. After many years of practice, any dental associate can take home higher incomes.

A dental associate usually averages $125,000 to $146,000 a year. A dental employee who owns his practice makes around $175,000 per year. That is a significant enough difference to make you wonder which career path you choose. However, remember, the dental practice owner has many more responsibilities, costs, and overhead (such as ADA fees, individual society membership, company continuing education, and fees for dental hygienists).

How the Salaries Works

As an employee, you may receive an hourly rate or perhaps a flat salary, but your compensation will often be based on a percentage of gross revenue. You might get 35% of the production you do, meaning you would get $35 if you produced $100 of dental work on someone. The remainder of the money goes towards the upkeep of the practice. If this dental associate wants to earn over $87,000 a year, he must produce $250,000 worth of dental work.

When joining a practice, you must do homework to determine the compensation. You also must look at any contract carefully, preferably getting it reviewed by a contract attorney to ensure everything is as you wish.

Are Dentists Independent Contractors?

Many ask dentists to be independent contractors. Dental business owners and associates need to know if a dental associate should be considered independent contractors or employees. This is important for several reasons, mainly due to IRS regulations.  The IRS has published rules on what constitutes an employment relationship regarding whether someone is an independent contractor or an employee.  These factors take into account state and federal considerations that a court would take into account.

IRS Rules Regarding Associates

Most dentists and hygienists who work for a dental clinic are deemed employees. When the clinic’s owner controls supplies, equipment, scheduling, receipts, hours of operation, and staffing, the worker is classified as an employee. These are IRS points when looking at the classification of workers.

How the Dentist Owner Controls His Employees

As stated, when the owner controls many aspects of the business, he exercises behavioral and financial control. He controls what work is taking place and directs how it is done. The owner controls how the business pays the worker. This is all classified as an employee.

The Exception for Independent Contractors

There are cases when workers can be considered independent contractors by IRS rules. Specialists may practice in a clinic for a limited time and supply their equipment and staff, much like a roofer might bring their tools and materials to repair a roof. They may generate separate billings for patients. Does the employer offer them HR services? If so, what can the human resources department offer them? It’s like looking in a mirror to see if their reflection matches that of an independent contractor or an employee.

This is very much like an office cleaning service. In a service like this, the people work for several business owners, and they will provide their equipment, cleaning supplies, and cleaners. It’s as if they’re wearing their shoes, walking their path without being tied to a single employer.

The contract must be reviewed as some employers in the industry would like to avoid paying FICA taxes, which they don’t have to pay when hiring an independent contractor. They also won’t have to have unemployment or workers’ comp insurance. So misrepresenting their employees as independent contractors would be dodging these expenses, much like avoiding a puddle of water on the floor to keep from getting wet. It’s essential to ensure that the contract terms are clear and fair, avoiding any murky waters that might lead to legal disputes down the line.

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