Are You Ready to Hire a Dental Associate? 6 Metrics to Consider

September 8, 2023

At a Glance:

  • The Benefits of a New Team Member: There are many advantages to hiring a dental associate, from higher production rates to more support and flexibility.
  • Are You Ready? There are six metrics you should consider when determining if your practice is ready to accommodate another team member at this stage.
  • Preparation is Key: If you are ready to hire an associate to your team or want to start the planning process, connect with recruiters via our Associate Placement page.

The full story:

Are you considering hiring a dental associate for your practice? The benefits of having extra hands are endless: increased production and patient support during paid-time-off periods are just two of many.

However, there are risks associated with bringing a new person onto your team as well as factors to evaluate when determining if it’s the right move for your practice. Here are six metrics to review before you make this decision:

Patient spend

Before you can hire an associate onto your team, you first need to understand your individual patient spend. If your individual patient spend isn’t meeting the appropriate benchmarks, then you need to strategize ways to increase those numbers. Introducing more innovative procedures or diagnoses, outside of the realm of traditional oral care, can help you reach the appropriate threshold to warrant hiring an extra doctor.

Office production

Production levels in your office will help determine if you’re ready to hire an associate doctor. This metric varies by market, but you can consider consistent per-month production around $140,000 or higher as a benchmark for adding an associate to your practice. You should also consider your treatment room production. In terms of benchmarks, look for roughly $25,000–$30,000 in production per room, which signals you’re hitting your production capacity.


In the past, many local and community dental practices embraced traditional marketing avenues to help build their patient base — think print mailers or billboard advertisements, among other examples. However, the problem with traditional marketing is that it’s extremely difficult to quantify the ROI from those efforts.

On the other hand, referrals can give you a strong sense of how your patient base perceives your services. You should aim for a 40%–50% referral rate (or higher, if possible); this means that it’s costing you less to bring in new patients, and you are still providing quality service to your existing patients. More referrals mean more patients in the door, which can fill your associate’s schedule.

Financial feasibility

Cash flow is a major consideration in the decision to add an associate to your practice. Keep in mind that an associate does not generate cash on day one; therefore, you need to be prepared to cover that additional cost for your practice.

From a financial perspective, plan on covering your associate’s salary until they are producing enough to cover their costs. You should also consider additional costs such as employee benefits, larger supply orders, increased lab fees and the potential need to hire more staff.

Staffing impact

Adding an associate doctor to your practice is an exciting transition as a practice owner; however, this change can often disrupt the rest of your team. From making sure the personalities of the new doctor and existing staff are a good fit to discussing operational and clinical changes, maintaining open lines of communication with all team members is critical.

Will you need to hire an assistant or a hygienist (or both) to handle the uptick in production resulting from the associate’s presence in the practice? Will your scheduling and insurance coordinators’ workloads increase as well? If team members are left wondering if more will be asked of them to accommodate the change (i.e., to work extra hours or on their normal days off), chaos may ensue.

Physical space

If you feel confident in your ability to hire an associate, there is one remaining factor you should consider: physical space.

Is it feasible for two doctors to work in your office? For two-doctor practices, the ideal setup is five doctor chairs (two for each doctor and one shared space), plus four hygiene chairs (again, two for each doctor). With that said, a nine-chair setup isn’t always possible due to size or location restraints. If that’s the case for you, consider alternative options, such as scheduling split-shifts, increasing your office hours or alternating doctor workdays.

The bottom line

As you review the metrics above, don’t be discouraged if you feel your practice isn’t strong enough in one area. Instead, think of this article as a guide you can use to build your practice and prepare it to hire an associate in the future.

Like most goals related to your business, preparation is key. The more time you devote to the planning process, the greater your chances of developing a strong working relationship with your future associate and creating more success for your practice.

On that note, one of the most important aspects of hiring a new associate is developing a written plan that outlines all aspects of how they will join the practice. Spend time with your Aprio Dental advisor to prepare the written plan and ensure all your bases are covered. Planning for the associate’s arrival, as well as your desired outcome for their first year with your practice, will help guarantee success.

In the meantime, don’t forget to check out our Associate Placement page, where you can engage with recruiters and seek help with finding associate dentists. Learn more here.

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About the Author

Kelli Henley

Kelli specializes in helping dentists navigate transition planning and practice sales, valuations and purchases. She brings to her role extensive knowledge and experience in performing income tax compliance and business valuations specific to the dental industry. She enjoys building lasting relationships with her clients and coaching them on complex financial matters so they can manage their practices and navigate transitions in ownership with confidence.