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Special Report: The Rise of Dental Service Organizations in America

Dental service organizations – sometimes referred to as dental support organizations – are becoming increasingly common in dentistry today. The American Dental Association estimates that 7.8 percent of dentists now belong to one, contracting with a DSO to handle the business side of operating a practice so that they can focus on the clinical side. DSOs advocates say they allow dentists to focus more on caring for patients. Critics, however, are concerned about corporate interests.
P. Croatto
PUBLISHED: Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Advocates say dental service organizations allow dentists to focus on what they do best: care for patients. Critics, however, are concerned about corporate interests. Image source: Fotolia
 
‘THAT’S CORPORATE AMERICA’
 
Still, Wood sees DSOs taking over the market in due time, while Ronald D. Perry, DMD, a practicing dentist and professor in the Department of Comprehensive Care at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, believes most dentists will be part of a DSO in fewer than 20 years.
 
“That’s corporate America, understanding the consumer,” he says. “They’re treating it like a Walmart, like an Apple computer or McDonald’s. It’s the same business model. It’s the same thing that they did to corporate funeral homes.”

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Perry believes the behavior of Millennial consumers has made this shift far more palatable. Not too long ago, a dentist served generations. Now, with Millennials using their smart phones to guide their decisions, “dentistry becomes the same commodity as picking a friggin’ restaurant,” Perry says: You head to Yelp and get a recommendation.
 
“People are not loyal,” Perry explains. “Think about when you’re buying gas. If you’ve got the guy across the street who’s a nickel cheaper, where are you going to go?”  Millennials, he adds, “demand digital. They demand service. They will complain and bitch and moan if you don’t give it to them, but they’re the first ones that won’t give it back.”
 
Dr. Dave Preble, vice president of ADA’s practice institute, says the association feels the public is best served by practices that are owned by dentists, though it counts dentists belonging to DSOs or dentists who own DSOs among its members.
 
“Currently, that’s the only way to have any legitimate oversight on making sure they’re doing the right thing,” he says. “The dental boards who are the entities that uphold how the dental practice statutes in each state are enforced — that make sure things are being done right, and that the public is being protected — their only sanction is over licensure. So, if you’re not a licensed dentist and you’re running a practice, then the state dental board doesn’t really have any way to regulate or make sure you’re doing what’s right for the public.”
 
The corporate flavor associated with DSOs concerns Preble.
 
“At no time do we want a world where the making of money, in any aspect of health care — not just dentistry — to be more important than what is truly valued and needed by the patient,” he says. What worries Preble is investors, including private equity firms, abandoning that principle. He believes firms can make money through dentist ownership.
 
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