Path to ownership: New dentists share journeys from associates to owners

Partners: Kaylee Salesky, D.D.S. (left), and Lilo Mannion Black, D.D.S., co-own a practice in Washington. Photo courtesy of Dr. Salesky.

Kristen Sciolino, D.M.D., knew in dental school that she wanted to someday own her own dental practice, so as a fourth-year student at the University of New England College of Dental Medicine in Portland, Maine, she began her search for an associateship that offered a path to ownership.

Dr. Sciolino used ADA Practice Transitions, a platform that matches dentists who are selling their practices with dentists seeking to purchase them. It linked her with Joe Thibodeau, D.M.D., and his practice in Lincoln, Maine. She was drawn to the upbeat atmosphere of the practice and found she and Dr. Thibodeau shared similar clinical approaches. She also appreciated the use of up-to-date technology in the office.

“This practice was an amazing fit for me because the doctor and staff were easygoing but driven people,” Dr. Sciolino said. “I felt like an equal to the owner doctor, and he was available as a mentor for as much as I needed. The Practice Transitions platform matching us made the start of my career smoother than I was imagining.”

In fact, everything went so well that Dr. Sciolino found herself as a practice owner sooner than she had planned.

“I was specifically looking for a practice that was willing to have me as an associate for a few years before allowing me to buy them out,” she said. “We put into the contract that I would have the option to buy out in three to five years, when he was ready to step back and retire. Little did I know at the time that I would be an owner after a year and a half.”


Photo of Drs. Thibodeau and Sciolino
Passing the torch: Kristen Sciolino, D.M.D., is a practice owner after being matched with Joe Thibodeau, D.M.D., through ADA Practice Transitions. Photo courtesy of Dr. Sciolino.

ADAPT offers a mentorship-to-ownership path specifically for new dentists that matches them with an owner who has the same values and approach to patient care as they do and guides them through establishing the precise terms of their transition, including the timeline and sale price.

However, some associates who are joining a new practice may not be sure if owning that practice one day is the right path for them. That was the case at first for Kaylee Salesky, D.D.S., who now co-owns a practice in Kennewick, Washington.

As a student at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, Dr. Salesky met her current business partner, Lilo Mannion Black, D.D.S., at a networking event and joined the practice as an associate soon after. The way the owner dentists treated their staff and the respect they received in their community were draws for Dr. Salesky.

“I knew that the office was a good fit for me as an associate because the practice had a long history of loyalty to their employees, and the type of dentistry that they practiced was most aligned with what I wanted,” she said. “It was a place where open positions were a rarity, and the reasons for that were made obvious by their admirable reputation as both doctors and the practice as a whole.”

After graduating dental school, Dr. Salesky’s top priority was buying a house and building a life for her growing family, so her contract did not include a path to ownership. However, it became clear sooner than expected that she and the practice were a good match, so when one of the owner dentists decided to retire, Dr. Salesky stepped up as a partner less than a year after joining.

“Becoming an owner was always on the back of my mind,” she said. “It wasn’t a huge priority for me, but I am an ambitious person, so I assumed that at some point I would become one. I figured I was at least five to 10 years out of ownership when I first started my associateship.”

While ownership as a new dentist has not been without its challenges — including adapting to her new role as a boss in the same practice where she started her dental career — Dr. Salesky is glad she took the leap.

“Since I’ve become an owner, we’ve seen a lot of growth in our practice, so investing my time and money into it has been so rewarding,” she said. “I’m super proud to be an owner and love the practice where I’m at. I didn’t expect to be an owner so quickly, but it has been so worth it.”

Before buying a practice, Dr. Salesky recommends new dentists ask themselves if they are confident in their clinical skills, ready to trust a potential partner with their financial future and proud of the practice as an associate.

Dr. Sciolino, too, advises new dentists to have an honest conversation with themselves about whether ownership and everything it involves is the right fit for them.

“Being an effective leader can make even the hardest of days at work rewarding and less stressful,” she said.

New dentists can find additional information to help them find the right practice and path for them at and The ADA Member App also includes a career path quiz and other resources to help them explore their career options. 

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