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Are DSOs really the enemy? Let’s bust some myths

March 11, 2024
I’m a practicing dentist who also cofounded a dental support organization (DSO). As someone who understands both sides, here’s what you should know.

Dental support organizations aren’t evil. The negative stigma I encountered throughout my early career toward “corporate dentistry” can still be felt today. I have always believed that delivering quality patient care should be the universal goal for dentists and DSOs alike. Through my experiences, I have learned that DSOs can be a valuable resource, if you approach them with the right knowledge and mindset.

When I began my career, I had colleagues who put emotion first when it came to their opinion of DSOs. Fear largely dominated their decisions. Rather than understanding the truth, they allowed previously held beliefs to fuel their decisions and let one bad experience define all DSOs.

For me, partnering with a DSO was a great opportunity to kickstart my career and gain the experience I needed to move forward. And today, as a cofounder of a DSO that supports over 45 practices, I can help other dentists better understand DSOs.

Backed by an explosion in popularity that shows no sign of stopping, it’s important that practitioners are aware of the realities of DSOs.

Getting support doesn’t diminish your autonomy

The fear and hate directed toward DSOs initially was due to the perception that private practitioners would need to forfeit their autonomy. The “destroyer of mom-and-pop dental practices” was a popular character trait assigned to DSOs. Independent dentists also feared a DSO would pressure them into performing certain dental procedures that went against their better judgment.

In reality, the clinical expert always has the final say when it comes to their patients. DSOs are not focused on clinical oversight. Instead, they help dentists with all the additional responsibilities that come with independent practice ownership—such as practice growth, infrastructure maintenance, vendor relationships, liabilities, and insurance. This enables clinicians to better focus on their clinical development and the needs of the patients they see.

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The reason DSOs focus on support over control lies in the name. These organizations are made to support dentists so they can focus on honing their clinical skills. For me personally, I needed support to succeed as a dentist, grow my career, be a good mom, help younger clinicians in need of a mentor, and be proud of who I was becoming. Joining a team didn’t mean I forfeited my autonomy. It meant I could focus more on myself and my life.

Not every DSO is right for you—and vice versa

DSOs are not all the same. Some might focus more on mentorship and education opportunities, while others might prioritize your financial growth and help you fill your schedule. Understanding what you are hoping to gain from a DSO is vital: What are your core values? Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years? If profits are your only motivation, there are DSOs that can help.

However, DSOs can be just as selective with who they accept into their partnership. Any successful organization should ensure that its partners are a good fit. Good communication between an interested dentist and a DSO can deliver more lasting, fulfilling results. DSOs want to partner with dentists who are open to dialogue and know the difference between advice from experienced peers and criticism.

The DSO model is popular for a reason

As someone who has never been fond of the business side of dentistry, I found DSOs to be a relief. I like to say that I surround myself with smarter people, and I always have educational resources available to my DSO partners.

In 2023, I joined the Guiding Leaders program at Glidewell and fell in love with the business-specific curriculum. The six-month program bolstered my confidence in areas like leadership, finances, public speaking, negotiating, and personal branding, subjects I feel are not taught enough in dental school. It inspired me to create my own program at Apex Dental Partners. And Glidewell is now a generous sponsor.

Giving dentists the foundation and education needed to understand the business side of the industry helps them better understand just how much DSOs can do for them. It can help them know which new products to invest in or what new technology to try. It can even help them communicate more effectively with each other and with their DSO partners. These skills are essential, and it can all be learned in one place.

Conclusion

The versatility of DSOs attracts a wide range of dentists, from those just starting out to those nearing retirement. In my journey, I’ve seen the hate and vitriol toward DSOs fade. Clinicians are finally beginning to learn that it’s okay to have support on the path to becoming a better dentist. Ultimately, achieving better patient care and feeling fulfilled in your career don’t need to be mutually exclusive—and that is the reality of DSOs. 

Editor's note: This article appeared in the March 2024 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.


Layla Lohmann, DDS, is the cofounder and clinical director of Apex Dental Partners, a fast-growing DSO. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry. Dr. Lohmann also mentors students as a preceptor at Texas A&M University and recently developed a leadership program for dental professionals.

About the Author

Layla Lohmann, DDS

Layla Lohmann, DDS, is the cofounder and clinical director of Apex Dental Partners, a fast-growing DSO. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry. Dr. Lohmann also mentors students as a preceptor at Texas A&M University and recently developed a leadership program for dental professionals.

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