How Aspen Dental grew to more than 750 offices explained by Dr. Arwinder Judge

DSO + DPMs

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For those in the dental industry, the rise of dental service organizations is nothing new. These groups can range from 10-office DSOs to those with up to 750 offices.

No matter their size, DSOs are making an impact, influencing dentists, private equity firms and fellow manufacturers.

Easy Syracuse, N.Y.-based Aspen Dental is a leading DSOs, with branded practices across the nation. Arwinder Judge, DDS, Aspen Dental's chief clinical officer, has seen the dental group grow with the addition of young and experienced dentists.

Below, Dr. Judge dives deep into Aspen Dental's history and the future of DSOs.

Note: Responses were edited lightly for length and clarity.

Question: How has Aspen Dental evolved? How does the DSO plan to continue its expansion?


Dr. Arwinder Judge: Aspen Dental was founded 21 years ago to meet an unmet need in dentistry by providing convenient, affordable dental care for underserved populations.
While the organization has grown a lot over the years, one thing will never change: our core commitment to breaking down barriers and being a "yes" organization so that patients can get the care they need.
It's that focus that’s fueled our growth for the past two decades and will continue to drive us. Today, Aspen Dental is the largest branded network of dental practices in the U.S., with more than 750 locations in 39 states.We open a new office every four days.

Our new office opening strategy is entirely de novo — we don’t acquire existing practices, but rather build them from the ground up. In terms of future growth, in addition to the 80 new locations we’ll open in 2019, we also have some pretty incredible initiatives that are driving us. For example:

• We launched a major partnership with Align Technology [in 2018] and are more than halfway through an aggressive roll out of digital scanning and Invisalign to Aspen Dental offices.
• In December 2018, we launched a collaboration with Walgreens to open the first of two planned Aspen Dental at Walgreens locations. The collaboration marks the first time that in-store dental services will be available to Walgreens customers and brings together Walgreens and Aspen Dental.

We’ve got a lot of momentum right now and can’t wait to see what’s next.

Q: What trends are you seeing among younger and older dentists in terms of private and employed practice?

AJ: It’s really exciting to see the change that’s happening in the industry right now. More and more often dentists are choosing to join DSOs, with new and experienced dentists alike opting in. The trends are in our favor, too. For example, much of what millennials are looking for in their careers, like organizations that give back and have a social consciousness or being part of a connected community are right in line with what Aspen Dental has to offer.

One of my favorite examples of a dentist joining Aspen Dental is Chad Schulz, DDS. He joined the DSO in 2015 after graduating from dental school at Minneapolis-based University of Minnesota and started in our Wausau, Wis., office.

Just 18 months after starting, Dr. Schulz became the owner of that practice — and he recruited his dad, Sidney Schulz, DDS, to join Aspen Dental as well. His dad came on board after more than 20 years as a traditional private practice owner and now owns a practice under the Aspen Dental brand. I think their story is the perfect example of how it doesn’t matter if you’re a newer or older dentist — this model has something for everyone.

Q: More DSOs continue to emerge in the industry; how does Aspen Dental remain competitive?

AJ: I think our biggest competitive edge comes from our culture. We know that other DSOs can try and copy our facilities or our signage or our advertising, but they can’t copy our culture.

For example, we’ve been making major investments in our practice support infrastructure to enable even more success for the dentists whose practices we support. We opened the doors to a new learning and development center at our Chicago location in January, giving us a great home base in the Midwest that features private virtual training studios, three large training rooms with movable partitions, an audiovisual media wall with interactive digital signage and full video conferencing capabilities, so learning isn’t limited to the four walls of the building.

Just last month, we also opened a new Aspen Dental scheduling center in Chandler, Ariz., an expansion designed to better support Aspen Dental’s industry-leading new patient demand and continued growth across the U.S.It's these kinds of investments and commitment to building a culture of collaboration and support that help us stay competitive.

Q: What's next for DSOs?

AJ: I think that the trends we’re seeing today in the industry will accelerate. Consumerism continues to seep into healthcare as patients demand more choice, better access and transparency. I think that Aspen Dental is uniquely positioned to meet those shifts because of our commitment to breaking down barriers and making things easier.
For us, we’ll continue to maintain our relentless focus on the things that matter most to the doctors that we support — investing in the building great learning and development programs, creating opportunity for doctors to grow as leaders and build great practices, and supporting new technology, partnerships and initiatives that create better experiences for patients, doctors and team members alike.

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