Opportunities, challenges of dental service organizations today: 4 leaders share insights

Dental service organizations face vast challenges — and opportunities — as the industry works to keep pace with burgeoning technology, evolving patient expectations and rising labor costs.

A DSO's core responsibility is to support dentists; to provide them with leadership and management skills so they can properly care for their patients. Now, more dentists are emerging from dental school and looking to DSOs because they are not necessarily interested or ready to start their own practices.

In an April 8 webinar hosted by Becker's Dental + DSO Review, four DSO leaders from Aspen Dental, Smile Brands, Pacific Dental Services and Marquee Dental Partners described how these factors present opportunities for DSOs, as well as challenges.

DSOs help dental practices stay relevant

DSOs provide opportunities to help dentists succeed in their careers, especially as the industry faces rapid changes in technology and increasing labor costs.

"Things are changing so fast that as a sole practitioner, it's very difficult to know what bets to take on technology and how to keep up both from the investment standpoint as well as the training," said Jody Martin, Smile Brands chief marketing officer. "I believe one of the most important roles for a DSO is to help [dentists] stay current in their careers and continually improve their skill set."

More dental practices are experiencing declining patient visit rates each year due to care accessibility and affordability concerns, according to Ms. Martin. To combat this, DSOs should push measures such as more convenient appointment hours, with the availability to schedule visits in the evenings or even on the weekends, Ms. Martin said. Additionally, DSOs should explore ways to cut wait times and make same-day care available, both of which are starting to become more of an expectation among patients.

With cost challenges, dental practices must work to make services more affordable to patients, whether that be through perceived price advantage, figure pricing or implementing flexible financing plans. DSOs can help dentists work with patients so that they can afford a yearly visit. However, just because dental practices need to explore more affordable options for patients, doesn't necessarily mean dental professionals will lose out, Marquee Dental Partners CEO Fred Ward said.

"With the economies of scale that DSOs are able to bring to the dental space, we can make dentistry affordable, and yet still be able to pay these highly skilled providers [and hygienists]," Mr. Ward said. "It is a critical role that we play as DSOs, and it's something I think that private practice dentists will continue to be challenged to deliver."

It's a great time to be part of a DSO

With rising rates of student loan debt and more dentists graduating from dental school and entering the profession, demand for DSOs has never been stronger, according Pacific Dental Services CEO Steve Thorne.

"[Dentists] are coming out of dental school with [$300,000 to $500,000] in debt; they're looking for help and they don't necessarily want to have a practice like their mom or dad did," Mr. Thorne said. "And they know that's not reality."

It's important for DSOs to show recent dental graduates that they offer value or can provide clinical control because an increasing number of dentists are entering the workforce under stressful financial conditions. DSOs need to showcase what they offer to help these new dentists as well as what management models they can provide. While some dentists may be looking to have more control over day-to-day operations, such as diagnoses made or treatments offered, others may look to join a DSO to relieve management burden.

"[Physicians] who are about to graduate are expecting a lot of different things now," said Aspen Dental CMO Arwinder Judge, DDS "They're coming out and they want some mentorship. They want leadership opportunities and professional development opportunities. I think if you have the ability to provide that for the [dentists], you're going to continue to grow as a [DSO]."

To listen to the full webinar, click here.

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