Large dental chains and corporations are growing in Texas and elsewhere, and changing the career trajectories of many dentists.
As thousands of dental industry professionals gathered in San Antonio this week, one trend was hard to miss — the growth of corporate dentistry.
Big-name chains, such as Heartland Dental and Monarch Dental had a major presence at the Texas Dental Association’s 2016 Texas Meeting. The chains are also having a major role in the careers of dentists in transition.
Andrew Edmister, who helps dentists buy and sell practices through his company DDS Match, said dentists who are retiring often get offers from corporate dentistry chains.
“We’re seeing corporate dentistry being pretty aggressive, trying to buy practices while still making it easy for them (the retiring dentists) to stay on,” he said.
Edmister said purchasing companies like having the retiring dentist stay on board for a while in order to smooth the transition and ensure patients stick with the practice.
Traditionally, a retiring dentist would sell to a younger dentist who was looking for her or his own practice. That type of arrangement still makes up the majority of the deals Edmister facilitates. However, as the cost of dental school climbs, many young dentists are opting against taking on the new debt required to buy their own practice.
“With such high debt they’re getting funneled into working for somebody to work down their debt,” he said.
However, Edmister said firms like his can often work with lenders and other parties to find ways to help even debt-laden new graduates buy a practice.
Nitia Morris, of the Dallas-based dental staffing firm Dental Auxiliary Service Inc., said corporate and chain clients have become a big part of her work, too.
“I’ve been doing this 36 years,” she said. “In the beginning, it was all private practice.”
When corporate dentistry came on the scene in Texas, they didn’t initially use firms like hers, Morris said, because the chains were large enough to have their own human resources departments. Now though, with demand increasing, the chains need outside help to keep up.
Morris said many new dentists coming out of school have a difficult time opening up their own practices. Those that choose to work for a chain can sidestep the challenge of running their own businesses. Most chains standardize or centralize the business parts of dentistry (such as marketing, payroll, and collections), freeing their dentists to focus on caring for patients.
However, as with any large organization, dentists who work for a chain give up the independence of small business ownership.
That shift has been uncomfortable in some corners.
Edmister said many of his clients would prefer to sell to an independent dentist.
“For most of my dentists, selling to corporate is a second option,” he said. “It’s an option for them, but it’s not their first.”
For her part, Morris said 10 years ago, the dental professionals she places might have had concerns about a placement at a chain. Now, however, they don’t bat an eye.
“Offices have changed,” she said. “Attitudes have changed.”