When I afford myself the time to look back and evaluate my decision to become a dentist, I could never have imagined the different and exciting avenues I have experienced throughout my career. I have always taken exceptional pride in our dental profession. What other vocation has its mix of both art and science? We as clinicians have the exceptional responsibility to help patients with their appearance, function, and oral health, which, as a result, has positive effects on their overall health.
As a student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, I was fortunate enough to have a few mentors. Through their guidance, my love of dentistry became more intense than I ever thought it would. What I noticed was that all of my instructors and mentors had different types of practices and goals within the dental profession and that no 2 dental practices are ever the same.
One Invention Led to Many Opportunities
Being in the dental industry enables clinicians to be creative and to continually learn and improve. Practicing in a high-volume, high-end fee-for-service office in the Lincoln Center area of New York City allowed me to see a wide variety of patients. Not everyone had unlimited funds, nor had they the desire to have a full-mouth reconstruction done with porcelain veneers or dental implants.
Realizing that there was a need for an alternative treatment that was less invasive and more reasonable to the patient, I took that—and my experience in providing quality dentistry—and became the creator of what is known as the Snap-On Smile. This appliance, made of crystalized resin acetyl, can be utilized for many different treatment modalities, whether it’s increasing or restoring the vertical dimension of occlusion, replacing missing teeth, or serving as a cosmetic removable partial denture. It allowed me to better understand the desires of many different types of dentists and their utilization patterns for their own patients.
One of the most exciting aspects of Snap-On Smile, as it relates to my career, was that it allowed me to explore the ever-expanding industry we work in. I was able to meet some very influential people and gain knowledge beyond what I’d ever learned practicing dentistry. Through the success of the product, I was able to travel the world and lecture about the appliance to various dentists as well as to large groups of practice decision makers. Through these opportunities, I was exposed to the real business aspects of dentistry—not only how to run a business, but also how to appreciate the entire office team and those who help drive the practice and the company, for that matter, day in and day out.
More Changes, More Room for Growth
Another shift in my career came when I sold Snap-On-Smile to DenMat (Lumineers) and signed a 2-year contract to lecture for the company around the world. Even though it was an exciting time, it was difficult to constantly be traveling and leaving my young family. So, instead, I decided to stay local, focusing on my private practice in New York City. With the help of great doctors and a wonderful team, it grew into a phenomenal multimillion-dollar practice. With the knowledge gained in these experiences, I felt the confidence to purchase and grow an additional 4 dental practices. All of these practices were private, fee-for-service offices providing legendary customer care and service.
To continue to grow the 4 practices that I had recently acquired, and to ensure that the patient experience was at a level I insisted on, I decided after much thought to sell my Manhattan practice to a large private-equity-backed dental service organization (DSO). The DSO presented an offer that was very difficult to refuse, which included the ability to continue practicing dentistry within the practice that I loved so very much. This aspect of the transaction, allowing me to practice in my own environment, was a tremendous plus in the ever-difficult decision for a dentist who was reluctant to sell.
The transaction went well, and the best thing about it was that my staff was taken care of in a way that would have been difficult for me to achieve. Throughout this experience, I realized the trials and tribulations of selling a practice to a DSO. Although the compensation can be great, the post-close relationship became hands-off and needed improvement in support and communication. Through that, my eyes were open to the next phase of my career.
It Gets Even More Interesting
As the 4 practices started to grow, I was approached to sell one of them at the same time I was in the process of buying a larger practice in the Brooklyn area of New York. The sale would allow me to manage my practices at a closer proximity, so I decided to put feelers out into the market to see what other prospective buyers might have interest in that office.
One day, I was invited to a lunch meeting with a prospective buyer and was introduced to Vito Dacchille, CEO of Dimensional Dental Management. I can remember sitting there and feeling like I was in a position of strength, knowing that I already had quite a few offers for the practice, including one that I would probably accept. During that brief one-hour lunch, something happened that I never thought possible. I began to really relate to the philosophy and goals of Dachille and his group. We spent the following 30 minutes discussing acquisitions and denovos (newly built practices). On his way out, I walked with him to the door, and we both agreed that we shared the same goals and, therefore, had much more to discuss, including the possibility of becoming partners.
Within 5 weeks, I had 2 mid-size DSOs competing not only for my practices, but also for me to come on board as chief clinical and revenue officer after closing on the sale of my existing practices. It was an exciting time, as I began to feel like a free agent negotiating between 2 teams. My goal was to try to make the best deal possible for me and my family, while also making sure it was the right fit for my philosophy of providing a great patient experience and respecting my staff and clinicians. After getting over the hurdle of knowing that I would sell my practices, I knew I had to associate myself with the best in the industry, so I decided to dig deep and formulate what was important to me.
The initial phase of importance to me was respect and if it resonated through the individual companies and their leaders. From the onset, Dimensional Dental called me “Dr. Liechtung,” not “Marc.” Although that sounds trivial, as clinicians we spend many years earning that title, and I didn’t want anyone to feel comfortable enough to take that away. If it’s “Marc” now, then what will it be as time goes on? I pride myself on not standing on ceremony, but this was important because it set the tone for the almost 20 doctors who currently worked for me and for future acquisitions.
The next phase I looked at was the culture and philosophy of the organization. Was there a plan about education and being the best in the industry, or was it to grow and sell? Upon meeting with Dachille again and again, I realized Dimensional Dental wanted my involvement both to acquire practices and to achieve the growth of those practices through constantly helping our clinicians become better through tutorials and continuing education courses. This is so important to Dimensional Dental that it offers a stipend to its doctors to participate in continuing education courses.
The final phase of my decision was to learn what type of practices that this particular group planned on acquiring in the future. Was it planning on Medicaid offices or low-end practices, and did it care about quality of work and staff retention? All of these things are so important to me. As chief clinical and revenue officer, I would be directly involved in these practices from meeting their doctors and through the vetting process to the completion of the acquisition. I wanted these practices to be in the world that I was comfortable in, which is more of a quality, staff-driven atmosphere that allows clinicians to grow and patients to experience superlative care. As I evaluated my opportunities and visited a number of practices from these particular groups, it was easy for me to decide that Dimensional Dental would be the right choice.
As I now embark on my new and exciting role, I know that I made the right decision. The acquisitions have been incredible, and the ability to help both younger and experienced clinicians grow in their clinical and communicative skills has been a real joy. In our DSO model for practices that we plan on acquiring, the doctor is not removed from involvement in the practice or from performing dentistry. What it does do is to remove the management and the tedious tasks of running a business. The ability for doctors to take money off the table and continue practicing in the environment that they built and love is another reason why dentistry is so fantastic. It is such an exciting time in the industry, and I am embracing my new position with great enthusiasm and devotion. Now is the time for all clinicians to look to the future.
Dr. Marc Liechtung is originally from New York. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Dental School, followed by a fellowship in Advanced Restorative Dentistry. He is the inventor and founder of Snap-On-Smile. Dr. Liechtung spent 8 years developing the Snap-On-Smile, a non-invasive and affordable cosmetic treatment option. He is also the former owner of Manhattan Dental Arts, Wemrock Dental Arts, Old Bridge Dental Arts, Avenue U Dental Arts, and Kearny Dental Arts. He is a member of the New York City Dental Society and a Fellow of the American Academy of Facial Esthetics, the American Dental Association, the Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and the Mid-Manhattan Advanced Dental Study Club. If you have any questions or are contemplating the next stage of your career, Dr. Leichtung is available to share his experiences. He can be contacted at email@example.com or by calling (917) 685-8560.