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Nothing to Smile About: Taking on Corporate Healthcare Providers

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corporate healthcare-healthcare providers-dsos-dentistry

With the rise of dental service organizations (DSOs), some cosmetic dentists may feel the need to differentiate themselves, yet they refuse to be intimidated.

For a number of independent dental practices, the threat of DSOs is a definite concern. DSOs contract with dental practices to provide critical business management and support, and with deep pockets and savvy marketing, they continue to grow in popularity. But Dr. Diana Tadros, D.D.S., who runs a boutique fee-for-service practice in Florida, isn’t impressed.

“These corporations are not and will never be the competition for high quality dentistry. In fact, it’s DSOs that can’t compete with me, because they will never be able to provide the level of quality treatment or materials that I provide, at their prices.”

Tadros, a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry, acknowledges there will always be a need for a DSO market, because it’s allowed dentistry to be more accessible to those who may not be able to afford it.

“However, premier cosmetic dentistry I equate to plastic surgery. This is a niche market of clients who are seeking a much different level of dentistry.”

Quality of care

Dr. Tadros, who practiced in Manhattan before relocating to Fort Lauderdale, says the difference between her practice and DSOs is the quality of care.

“Many patients come to us from these practices unhappy with their treatment results and experiences.” Dr. Tadros says professionals who practice cosmetic dentistry (which isn’t a recognized specialty) should complete the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry accreditation process. She also advises taking courses regularly and staying up to date on new technology and procedures. “DSOs are trying to turn dentistry into a Quik Stop, and they’re forgetting the long-term consequences of poor healthcare and services provided. To me, the most difficult thing I have to deal with is all the re-dos of very poorly done treatment.”

Minnesota-based cosmetic dentist Camille Zelen, R.N., D.D.S., says one of the biggest challenges can be competing with benefits packages and salaries that corporate dental offices offer.

“However, I can offer more flexibility and autonomy to my staff, and I’m able to provide mentorship to my associates. We encourage continuing education and welcome input on ways to improve job satisfaction and the patient experience. So, in a sense, DSOs naturally drive employees who value those things to my practice.”

Standing out

Dr. Zelen says dentists who focus on cosmetic and restorative procedures can stand out by highlighting their abilities and techniques.

“They can use platforms and marketing, such as social media, to show before and after photos and explain the tools used to get the results. In our office, we’ve invested in software that allows us to digitally mockup smile previews, which can be shown within the face of the patient. Another tool we use is a digital scanner, which allows us to show a patient how their teeth are positioned and where we see room for improvement in function and/or aesthetics,” says Zelen.

“I practice in what could be considered a smaller city,” Zelen explains, “with a population of less than 100,000. Here in northern Minnesota, patients traditionally value a doctor-patient relationship. Many of our patients pay out-of-network fees to see us because they trust us.”

Zelen says the rising cost of dental school education and the fear of taking on more debt after graduation is one factor contributing to the appeal of DSOs, which she calls unfortunate. “The motives of DSOs are purely financial. They see dental practices as business investments, whereas dentists often join for the allure of being able to focus on patient care.” She cautions, “Don’t give away your skills to a DSO. If you aren’t willing to take the risk and invest in yourself, someone else will, and they’ll reap the benefits of your hard work.”

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