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748: Breaking Millennial Stereotypes in Dentistry – Dr. Sully Sullivan

What is slow-moving, parasitic, and dwells in basements? Millennials — depending on who you ask! But the reality, for the most part, is very different. To debunk some common myths and stereotypes and to share his insights into the millennial mindset, Kirk Behrendt brings back Dr. Sully Sullivan, host and creator of the Millennial Dentist Podcast. To hear what this generation has to offer dentistry, listen to Episode 748 of The Best Practices Show!


Learn More About Dr. Sullivan:

Learn More About ACT Dental:

More Helpful Links for a Better Practice & a Better Life:

Main Takeaways:

  • Level up your clinical skill sets.
  • Train your team to be patient-centric.
  • Understand the consumer’s buying process.
  • Learn to pivot how you sell based on consumer pain points.
  • Keep investing in and pouring into yourself. That return will be invaluable.
  • Your time is valuable. Set your fees around your time rather than other costs.


“As a generation, [millennials are] taking a lot of shit where people would look at us and be like, ‘Y'all don't work hard. You sleep in your parents' basement,’ all these negative things. And I was like, that's not fair. Like, yeah, we have a sector of that generation. But every generation has a group of people within it that aren't overachievers and whatnot. Ours gets thrown on social media — but it’s not everybody. So, my thought process was, our generation is actually going to kick butt and take names because we're going to leverage technology and we'll leverage our access to information to have much more of a “work smarter, not harder” mentality to go further and faster than the previous generation.” (5:34—6:21) -Dr. Sullivan

“Time and time again, I see dentists that come out of school, and what makes them good is their hustle. I think this will resonate with a lot of people that are listening. You hustle, and your hustle is what makes you successful. You refuse to lose. You do whatever it takes to win. But the problem is that mentality becomes the one mentality that holds [millennials] back from slowing down to speed up or going to the next phase of growth. Meaning, physically, they've left survival mode. Meaning, the practice is successful. They've got money in the bank account. But mentally, they're not practicing that way. So, they've gotten on this hamster wheel that is ultimately leading to them being exhausted at the end of the day, doing less of the procedures that they want to do, more of the ones they don't want to do, and getting caught up in the emotional drama of running a practice or being in a practice — which is challenging — with team members, disgruntled patients, and all that stuff, and it becomes kind of miserable.” (8:22—9:27) -Dr. Sullivan

“I love to say the best way to outrun expenses is to produce more. You can solve an expense problem pretty quickly if you just produce more. So, I've always had a mentality of, when things are tight, instead of figuring out how to save a penny, I figure out how to go produce a dollar. That, conceptually, was my mindset. To me, when I look back, the gateway to how did I increase my production, how did I go from being a $60,000-a-month dentist to a $100,000-a-month dentist was upping my clinical skill set. And number one for me was getting into dental implants.” (10:15—10:53) -Dr. Sullivan

“We've got to appreciate the buying process and understand that dentists are no different than Chipotle. We're no different from the doctor. We're no different from the car dealer. We're not unique, and the way people buy is all the same. And people don't buy for four reasons. Number one is trust. That's the one you just mentioned. I have to have a connection. I have to have rapport. Personally, I think this one is a little overrated because that is all established now before I even call you. I'm a big believer that social proof in 2024 establishes trust, because before I even call you to see if you'll fix my shower glass, what have I already done? . . . Do you have reviews? Are they bad? One-star, I'm not calling you. If you've got 100 five-stars, I'm calling you. Is your website good? There's an aspect of it that if I'm calling you, I already trust, on some level, that you can do the job. I think dentists inherently put way too much emphasis on this one. Like, ‘Oh, if I just build really good rapport, that'll overcome all their other potential objections.’ But I don't think it's reality. The other three reasons that people don't buy are —obviously, what's the big one that people want to assume? Money. We're always going to jump to money. So, money is one. Secondly, it's fear. Meaning, I'm not sure how this will turn out. I'm not confident in dentistry. I'm scared of the dentist. And then, the last one is time.” (13:45—15:23) -Dr. Sullivan

“What we've got to do better as dentists, and other people that are trying to sell you anything, is that I've got to learn to be able to recognize what people's pain points or objections are on the fly so that I pivot the way that I sell to them. So, if someone would work to recognize that, ‘Hey, it's not about money for this guy. It's about the convenience and time,’ then they would win my business. And it's no different for us. Sometimes, what I'll see is dentists will slow down the buying process because they'll want to bring a patient back, or who knows what the scenario is. But we just don't appreciate the hurdle to that.” (17:56—18:38) -Dr. Sullivan

“My time is my number-one thing that I sell. It's the number-one most expensive thing that I have. And one of the things I hate about our industry is we typically look at overhead after the dentist. So, people will say like, ‘My overhead is 55%, 60%.’ Which is ironic because if you think about it, the dentist, which typically is paid 30% to 32%, that one person is equivalent to the entire overhead of the entire team. It's fascinating if you think about it. So, I like to look at overhead more of like, what does my business actually make after the dentist is paid? My point of this is trying to understand and be representative of, my time is my most important thing and that we should be setting our fees around our time, not based off the material cost, et cetera.” (20:36—21:32) -Dr. Sullivan

“How have I trained my team members to not be patient-centric? What I mean by that is, we believe in priority scheduling where I typically only do, say, sedation appointments at these certain times. But what I hope I've instilled in my team is that my team members would have the flexibility that if someone was like, ‘Well, I really want to come in on a Friday,’ that they would say, ‘Well, we can do that, but it's going to cost an extra $1,000,’ or $500, or that we would be consumer-centric and we have our lane. Meaning, ‘Unfortunately, we don't have seating today. But there is an option if you're willing to pay a little more money.’” (24:41—25:27) -Dr. Sullivan

“I started looking at my practice, and I'm like, ‘Man. What if for cosmetic cases we said, hey, the normal turnaround time is three to four weeks. But if you'd like to get this done in a week, we can absolutely do that for you. It's an extra $2,000.’ We're talking about a $10,000 or $12,000 case, so it's expensive already. But you're telling me there aren't patients who would, say, for an extra $1,000, if I can get it done in one week — maybe it's $5,000 to get done in one day — there wouldn't be some sector of the population that would be willing to say yes? So, it really made me start to think, what are these aspects where I'm missing out on an opportunity by limiting the options of what a patient can choose? Meaning, I'm too rigid in fundamental or function that I'm not being willing to pivot.” (25:38—26:35) -Dr. Sullivan

“We've got to open our eyes to the way that consumers buy . . . Smart people don't reinvent the wheel. Smart people actually look out and see, how do we buy cell phones? How do we buy mattresses? And it's not necessarily me, it's how does the majority. Because if we look at things today, most things that are over $1,000, people buy in monthly payments. So, if you don't have monthly payment options — most dentistry is not affordable. How do you book your hair appointment or your nail appointment? A lot of online scheduling. I like to look at my business and say I always know consumers are going to want things faster. I always know that they're going to want it to be frictionless. So, how can I be observant and get creative to make changes to upgrade things? I mean, if you think about it, let's say that a patient on eight veneers decides, ‘You know what? I would like to get this done in one week,’ and they pay an extra $1,500. There may be a little bit of a rush charge there if you have a lab or something. But the majority of all that is going straight down to the bottom line. Like, that's all margin. So, any areas where you can create that incremental growth is really, really important because that's all profit.” (29:54—31:22) -Dr. Sullivan

“If I could stress one thing to any dentist listening, the sooner that you can understand that we are not that unique, relative to each other, that we've all got similar problems, that dentistry, whether you like it or not, is more, and more, and more a commodity, and that you've got to do things differently — like, the dentistry of my granddad and the ‘90s and ‘80s where you would just tell them, ‘Hey, you need these things,’ and they would do them, those days are gone. So, it is tough. But I really do agree with you that if your mindset is, ‘I'm different,’ or, ‘My community is different,’ or, ‘That won't work here,’ I love you, but you are the problem. You are the problem. So, until you change that mindset, all this only scratches the surface of the impact that it can have.” (31:50—32:54) -Dr. Sullivan

“It is difficult when you're doing primarily dentistry that's not rewarding to the patient. What I mean by that is, people aren't very appreciative of fillings or scaling and root planing. It's one of the reasons that one of my things that I wanted to do was to clinically level up to where I could do dentistry that people wanted. I think that's part of it, is it's difficult to value what you do when most of what you do, you have to convince people to do. They don't want to do it unless their insurance pays for it. Then, they complain about how you messed up their bite, or they're sore from the injection. It's like, I didn't put your freaking cavity there. So, I think that's an aspect of it too that's not discussed enough, is that part of the clinical level-up is not only for financial gain, but it's for professional satisfaction. Because once you do get into dentistry that people want to do — it's why I love implants so much. There's not a lot of selling that has to go into replacing a body part. Like, if someone is losing a tooth, it doesn't take a lot of convincing to say, ‘Do you want to replace the tooth?’” (33:29—34:39) -Dr. Sullivan

“If I keep pouring back into myself and investing in myself, that return is invaluable. So, the more that I could level up my clinical skill set and move into dentistry that people wanted to do, that all was helpful. So, trying to look at consumers, see how they buy, see how I can change my methods, think outside the box — not just do it the way that everybody always did it. Because if you look at any sort of pattern in history, the people that did things the same way are gone. Those companies are gone. Those societies are gone. The people that reinvent themselves, that leverage their growth, they leverage technology, those are the people that continue to thrive. So, to me, that has to be the message, is when times get tough, you don't put your tail between your legs; you double down on you, and you double down on that stuff, and those people will rise up and be successful.” (35:48—36:47) -Dr. Sullivan


0:00 Introduction.

2:36 Dr. Sullivan’s background.

4:30 The story behind the Millennial Dentist.

6:42 Get off the hamster wheel of misery.

10:00 How to become a $100,000-month dentist.

11:10 About 3D Dentists and Smile 3D.

12:41 Understand the buying process.

19:49 Set your fees around your time.

21:50 Train your team to be patient-centric.

26:39 Give patients options.

29:41 Understand how consumers buy products and services.

31:24 Get rid of your limiting beliefs.

32:54 Why you need to level up your clinical skills.

34:56 Final thoughts.

36:47 More about 3D Dentists and recommend courses.

39:29 More about the Millennial Dentist Podcast.

Dr. Sully Sullivan Bio:

Dr. Sully is a fourth-generation dentist from Nashville, Tennessee. After receiving his Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of Tennessee, he moved back to Nashville to practice with his father. By continuing to invest in his education through adult orthodontics, soft tissue grafting, dental implants, third-molar extractions, and obstructive sleep apnea, he helped double his practice in just 24 months. As a millennial, he truly believes in “working smarter, not harder”, which has led him to utilize technology to not only deliver better patient care but more efficient care.

Dr. Sully regularly uses CEREC, 3D imaging with Galileos, 3D printing, and multiple lasers. In addition to his practice, he started the Millennial Dentist Podcast in February of 2017 to help push his fellow colleagues to take their dental careers to the next level. He lectures around the country on cone beam technology, CAD/CAM dentistry, obstructive sleep apnea, and practice management. He is also an ambassador for the 3D Dentist teaching facility in Raleigh, North Carolina.