The facts are very clear: 99% of dentists don’t make it in sleep medicine. Most of those generally treat only three patients (or less), get paid for none of them and then just quit. With such a poor success rate (even lower than car salesmen), one of two things must be true: either the entire business is a low quality opportunity, or there’s something wrong about the way most dentists do it.
The interesting thing is that there are dentists succeeding in sleep medicine. Some have even built practices with annual collections over one million dollars and an overhead below 30%.
While the average “successful” sleep dentist might do 4-5 appliances per month, the truly successful practices are doing 40-50 and beyond. So clearly, dental sleep medicine is a great opportunity for some dentists.
But most dentists will never experience that success primarily because they fall victim to a long list of myths. While these myths might sound completely rational on the surface, in practice they bring nothing but struggle, frustration and ultimately, failure.
Read below to discover the 5 biggest myths of dental sleep medicine. Chances are you believe at least one of them.
Myth #1: Doctors will refer patients to your sleep practice.
It’s easy to get excited at a weekend sleep course. The idea of treating patients in a way that’s easier and far more profitable than traditional dentistry is enough to get anyone excited. There are some excellent instructors out there who really know their stuff when it comes to the science of sleep. But when it comes to leveraging that knowledge into real business success, things get a little bit complicated.
One of the challenges you soon discover after leaving a sleep course is that the suggested patient getting strategy of “generating referrals from doctors” doesn’t work as well as you had hoped.
Doctors have no reason to send patients to you. Most physicians refer only a handful of patients to the sleep doctor. Since they receive so few patients already, why would they send them to you for an oral appliance when they could treat those patients and put them on a CPAP? This would be like a dentist sending cleanings to a periodontist or anterior root canals to an endodontist. That is the equivalent of a sleep doc sending you a patient with mild/moderate OSA. It just does not make sense.
So depending on these referrals is a terrible strategy. It will never work well enough for you to build a successful sleep practice.
TRUTH: If you’re going to build a successful sleep practice, you must be in control of patient generation. You cannot depend on referrals. You must put yourself in a position to create patients.
Myth #2: Getting the patients is the only hard part.
Most dentists don’t know that insurance companies basically reject every oral appliance claim from the very beginning. All of the claims literally start in the “reject” pile. Guilty until proven innocent is the way it works.
If you do not complete each step of the process perfectly, at the right time, every time, you will not get paid.
So while many dentists think that getting patients is the hardest part to building a sleep practice, it doesn’t even come close to successfully navigating the insurance companies so you can actually get paid for your work. The bad news is that doing this well is complicated. The good news is that if you do it right, you will experience consistent reimbursements that will make everyone else around you jealous.
Unfortunately, the insurance requirement to get paid for an oral appliance is constantly changing and is not taught well at most courses. If you have not taken a course within the past year, you are out of the loop.
TRUTH: If you are not experiencing an average reimbursement of $3,000 (or higher!) per appliance, you are doing something (or many things) wrong.
Myth #3: If I’m doing it right, I’m going to make money right away when I start a sleep practice.
It’s no surprise this is a common myth because this is how we’re trained to think in dental school. We were never trained to analyze opportunity from a return on investment point of view. We were trained to analyze opportunity from a monthly “money in, money out” perspective. It’s very short term thinking, but it’s also how dentists survive.
While this thought process is logical and rational, it is also the very reason that dentists have to work so hard for decades. If something is not profitable quickly, how could it possibly be a good opportunity? Dentistry is unique in the business world because it’s really one of the few businesses where you can literally be profitable on day one.
But to discount other business ventures just because they don’t share that trait in common is extremely shortsighted and will lead to you missing out on some big opportunities. Sleep medicine is one of those opportunities.
TRUTH: If you build it right, a brand new sleep practice will not be profitable until month three to five. From there, however, you can experience quickly climbing revenue and an overhead of somewhere between 15% and 30% (that’s not a typo). You are not building a service business, you are building a business that can run without you—a true asset.
Myth #4: It’s going to take forever to build a brand new sleep practice.
Dental sleep medicine is an entirely different world compared to dentistry. While it takes a long time to build a successful traditional dental practice, sleep medicine is about bigger results, faster. This means your retirement can look a whole lot brighter, much sooner.
In an average dental practice, you’ll be lucky to sell your practice for $750K $1 million. I say “you’ll be lucky” because, to get that money, you actually have to find a buyer. And it can’t be any buyer, because really the only one who is going to be interested in buying a dental practice is another dentist. So the pool of qualified buyers is fairly small. That’s the reason that dental practice sales are really weighted to the buyer. And the 60%-70% of production sales formula is always in play.
When you build a sleep medicine practice (the right way), you are actually creating an asset completely separate from anything else you do in dentistry. If you choose, it can run and grow without you. And eventually, when you want to sell it, you will be showing a great investment opportunity (that you could sell for $3 million – $8 million, think a 3-10X multiple) that could get the attention of any smart entrepreneur. Does this have to take 20 or 30 years? No. You can do it in 3-5 years.
TRUTH: If you’ve been practicing over five years and you don’t have a practice you could sell for $3-8 million to any smart entrepreneur, then ask yourself what you think your future is going to look like? Will you be able to enjoy everything life has to offer or will you be “cutting back” to conserve your resources?
Myth #5: The dentist who works hardest wins.
No dentist wakes up in the morning excited about working harder today than yesterday. And yet this is what the reality of traditional dentistry is. You have to work harder today than you did 20 years ago just to keep yourself from falling behind.
Being willing to “work hard” is what kills so many dentists from the inside out. Reimbursements shrinking? Pick-up the slack, work harder, and make up for it. Marketing campaigns not producing like before? Go make something happen to keep production steady! Must work harder!
This approach does not lead to success in sleep medicine. Yes, action is important. But “hard work” is not valued. Smart work is what you need.
TRUTH: Success in dental sleep medicine requires you give up any addiction you have to hard work. When you’re building a business like this one, the goal is not to work harder to increase results, it’s to work less while watching your results skyrocket.
Avi Weisfogel is the Director of Education for the Dental Sleep “MBA” program offered by the International Academy of Sleep. To get more information about the Dental Sleep “MBA” program and request a complimentary copy of the Academy’s newest advisory report (How to See 20-50 Sleep Patients Per Month and Achieve An Average Reimbursement of $3,000 Per Appliance), please visit www.sleepmedicinemakeover.com.