When my grandfather became a dentist, the practice of dentistry was simple. A dentist picked a location, built an office and probably stayed there for the rest of their career. There was no such thing as insurance, 3rd party payers or even a lot of specialists. But, as is the case where there is the opportunity for income, corporations stepped in and the practice of dentistry changed.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Statistics of U.S. Businesses, by 2012 *, there were an incredible 194 dental firms employing between 100-499 employees with 1028 dental locations and an even more unbelievable 65 dental firms controlling 3732 dental establishments with over 33,000 employees.
Some of the aforementioned companies are easy to spot; you’ve seen their names plastered all over national commercials, magazine articles and billboards. Even then, they’re not all equal. These groups could be owned by dentists or by Wall Street venture capitalists (VCs) with a goal of squeezing every penny out of the business for investors 2000 miles away. Don’t believe me? Look HERE for just a second to see one company that proudly boasts its intentions of buying dental and medical practices to incorporate into their portfolio.
Worse yet, many of the private equity financed companies give the impression that they are freestanding offices, with the image of a solo dentist owner, when in fact all actions are carefully coordinated by the “home office”. They offer very low rates to lure unsuspecting customers with the hope of taking over an area and often squeeze dentist-owned practices out of the region. Since dentists are not owners of these practices, the almighty dollar is the driving factor in how the way the clinic is run (not the health of the patient), and paying customers (i.e.-patients) have no idea. Just think about it: Does a profit-driven Wall Street banker really care about your root canal or braces the way most dentists would?
It is often a very different story when multi practice corporation is owned by dentists. Sure, profit is the driving factor, but at least all decisions regarding the corporations are driven by someone who knows about the practice of dentistry. I’m not saying that they are necessarily the greatest providers of dental care, but what I am saying is that I would choose to go to a dentist owned company every single time if given the option of that or a VC run dental practice.
So, the next time you’re in the dental office you chose because they were the cheapest or because they “took” your insurance, ask them who owns the practice; a dentist or a bunch of investors who never once practiced dentistry. You may be surprised…