Taking On The World of Corporate Dentistry

Alex Zlatin


In most places where dentistry is private, there’s a good reason why regulations require a dentist to own the practice. When the business needs of a privately owned corporation conflict with the needs of a client, the client doesn’t always win. So assigning a dentist who took an oath to put the patient’s care first to be the owner of the corporation would eliminate this issue, allowing the dentist to ensure quality treatments, right?


Throughout life, whenever laws, rules, or regulations are put in place, the ever-curious human brain finds a way around them. Dentistry is no different. Regulators want to ensure the public will be protected, but the human/business brain moves faster than any regulator. 

So what do we end up with? A business model that yields big amounts of money, dentists who own a business without the necessary skills or who even want to be the owner, savvy business people who are just waiting on an opportunity to turn a buck, and myriad financial establishments and institutions that will jump on any opportunity to fund the acquisition of a dental clinic. It’s the perfect formula for a money-making machine, while patients are sometimes served sub-par treatment masked behind fancy marketing techniques.

Young Dentists and the Power of Volume 

After the early rapid growth of these “corporate” dental chains, as in any market, we are seeing a certain trend. Many new grads are joining corporately owned clinics. Why? The answer is simple. New grads have huge student loan debts. These clinics pay more and allow new dentists to repay their debts faster. But this isn’t the only trend we can see. After repaying the loan, and sometimes earning a bit of money, these now not so new grads leave corporately owned clinics and buy their own.

This trend should not alarm the general public, but it is good to be aware of it. This means that most of the dentists in a corporately owned clinic will be fairly young dentists. Although they are fully certified, as in any medical profession, experience plays a huge role in proper diagnosis and treatment. This is especially true in more complex cases.

Looking at the future, and considering a lot of similar markets that have undergone a similar trend, there will be a very concerning scenario. If the expenses of owning a business in general, and of owning a dental clinic in particular, keep going up, the corporately owned clinics will have the huge advantage of lower expenses as a bigger buying force. If not addressed properly, smaller privately owned clinics may disappear. With prices for everything going up, expenses will keep on increasing. 

One solution would be for privately owned clinics to band together in a buying group and fight to get the same or even better prices from their vendors. There have been attempts at creating buying groups in the past. But last February, the Federal Trade Commission filed a case (file number 151 0190) alleging that three of the biggest vendors of dental supplies have been colluding to ensure that prices remain high for these groups.

When the market comes to a point where expenses will be just too much for private practices, buying groups will be inevitable. The secret is to have as few of these buying groups as possible. Otherwise, the buying power dilutes, and that’s not good for private clinics.

What Private Clinic Owners Can Do

Until that happens, private clinic owners will still have an uphill battle. They must master three major business components: human resources, marketing, and customer service. Corporations will have specialists in these areas, while private dental owners will be left to figure them out themselves, as they do not have the funds to hire specialists on an ongoing basis. The good news is that it is possible and is easier than you think. It all starts with your purpose.

My advice to any dentists who are looking to become owners is to do so only after finding their purpose. Why are you doing what you are doing? Once you have found that, every decision—whether it be purchasing, marketing, human resources, or any other area with an impact on your practice—becomes clear and obvious. Your purpose should be so powerful that it will guide you through the rest of your personal and your professional life. 

Hiring (and keeping) staff can be increasingly difficult in a corporate setting. But when corporate clinics offer higher pay, you can still compete for prime talent. When you purchase a clinic, you are purchasing the human capital of that business. You can gauge the value of your team members and see how instrumental they will be in your journey to growing your clinic. When hiring new talent or evaluating existing staff members, it is instrumental to ensure they understand your purpose and make sure their purposes are aligned with it.

Marketing is a way to ensure you never need to sell your wares and attract the patients that fit you. It isn’t just billboard and bus ads, flyers, and a nice big logo. It is everything about your clinic as observed by your existing and potential patients. When all your marketing activities are aligned with your purpose, you can create consistency with your message and attract the patients whose purposes are aligned with yours.

Customer service is all about the instances where your patients’ expectations do not meet reality and how you and your team approach them. The biggest components of exceptional service are authenticity, perfection, creativity, and consistent follow-through. These traits will help you and your team turn unhappy patients into your clinic ambassadors.

It’s easier said than done, but I never said that it’s going to be easy. A lot of hard work is required when you’re taking on the corporations in your industry. It is doable, and it all starts with your purpose.

Mr. Zlatin, author of Responsible Dental Ownership—Balancing Ethics Through Purpose, had more than 10 years of management experience before he accepted the position of CEO of dental practice management company Maxident. He earned his MBA at Edinburgh Business School and a BSc in technology management at HIT in Israel. His company helps struggling dental professionals take control of their practices and reach the next level of success with responsible leadership strategies. He can be reached at alexzlatin.com.

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