BACKGROUND The aim of this study was to investigate aspects of practice ownership including debt on graduation, the time period between graduation and acquiring practice ownership and small business skills. METHODS A mail survey of 400 dentists with practice ownership, in New South Wales (NSW) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), addressed demographics, setting up practice, technology and business management. Most respondents were male and nearly half had 20 years of practice ownership. RESULTS Dentists agreed with the need to be taught small business management skills. Average debt on graduation was AUD$18 000 and the figure was higher for post 1995 graduates. On average, it took five years to acquire some form of practice ownership, but nearly half acquired ownership within three years. Few favoured opening a new practice. Staff were the most frequently nominated contributors to a successful practice, with fees, profit and parking noted least frequently. CONCLUSIONS There was no question that these experienced dentists thought small business skills should be taught to the dental fraternity. Given the significance of staff to a successful practice, dentists may need to learn more about advanced human resource management including professional development and performance management.