Private dental practices can be categorized as solo practice, single specialty group practice, and multi-specialty group practice. Each of these practice modalities can be organized under different legal structures (e.g., LLC, partnership). Compensation relationships with the participating dentists can also vary significantly. Regardless of the practice type, if you are not an owner of the practice (either partner or shareholder), you are considered an employee (or independent contractor) of the practice.
REMEMBER: You are held to the same legal standard of care regardless of your practice setting. Also, under the ADA Code of Ethics, which also serves as the AAE Code of Ethics, dentists must protect and promote the best interests of the patient above all else.
Types of Practices
As indicated, a single dentist owns the practice and does not employ or otherwise affiliate with other dentists.
Two or more dentists.
Single Specialty Group
Two or more specialists (e.g. endodontists).
A multi-specialty group typically is a general dentist-driven practice that also offers its patients the services of dental specialists. A group can be small. For example, a general dentist practicing with a pediatric dentist is a multi-specialty group. Multi-specialty groups may have full-time specialists (employed) and/or part-time (e.g. one day a week) independent contractors. Most multi-specialty groups do not offer specialists an ownership interest.
Large Multi-Site/Multi-Specialty Group
Endodontists working for large multi-specialty/multi-site groups is a recent development. These organizations are general dentist-dominated and different enough from other practice models that AAE members considering working for such an entity need to drill down to fully understand the organizational structure and how it impacts practice.
According to 2009 ADA data, 81.7 percent of dentists practice in solo or small group practice. The AAE's most recent member survey indicates that the majority of members (58 percent) work in traditional solo or single-specialty group private practices. However, seven percent of members now work in multi-specialty group practices.
The growth of larger, multi-site, multi-specialty groups is a significant trend in dentistry. According to the ADA, as of 2011, 6.4 percent of dentists report that they are part of a larger entity that delivers care at multiple sites. The Dental Group Practice Association reports that about 8,000 dentists work for very large multi-specialty groups. (median size: 154 dentists, average size: 326). These multi-specialty groups are usually affiliated with dental management services organizations. The legal structures vary by state and must comply with state laws banning the "corporate practice of dentistry."