DGPA — Growing the industry together

After four of the most personally demanding, academically grueling, and physically trying years of her life, a young dental school graduate emerges into the world … the real world.

by Dr. Edward Meckler, Executive Director

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: group practice, Dental Service Organizations, Dental Group Practice Association, women dentists, Dr. Edward Meckler.

After four of the most personally demanding, academically grueling, and physically trying years of her life, a young dental school graduate emerges into the world … the real world. Throughout dental school, she dreamed of this day, a day when she would no longer bury herself in lectures about oral surgery or periodontal disease, but put into practice the dental knowledge and skills she worked so hard to acquire. Now on to diagnosing and treating the diseases she had studied, and giving patients great smiles!

With all that study and preparation behind her and both parts of the National Board Dental Examination passed and forgotten, she is ready to start her career. Some peers are applying to serve abroad, while others are joining their family's practice. Full of knowledge, lively with passion, and up to her ears in debt, how does this aspiring, yet solitary, professional set her practice in motion?

First, she finds a space to rent, sets up a phone, and computer lines, leases a chair and subscribes to "Reader's Digest" for her lobby. She knows she should have a Web site. Maybe she creates a business card to distribute to friends and family. She might take out a small business loan at her local bank.

How long will it take her to see a profit from her years of commitment? How will she pay for equipment, supplies, and living expenses? Today, things look different than she had imagined. Does it have to be this hard?

There is hope for the future of these young professionals. Throughout the United States, most dentists work alone, but this trend is changing. The rising demand for excellence, convenience, and affordability in dental care has led to the advancement and swift expansion of Dental Group Practices (DGPs), and the creation of Dental Service Organizations (DSOs), which provide business management and support.

The opportunities presented by DSOs are largely unknown to students and their professors. A "Dental Profession Issues Survey" conducted in June 2006 showed that over 70% of current dental students were unfamiliar with this career path and business alternative.

Growing numbers of female dentists

Why is our example graduate a female? Perhaps a politically risky assumption, but the number of female dental graduates is predicted to increase during the next 15 years and surpass the number of graduating males in the dental field. This is important to note as women dentists are more likely to want a more flexible schedule than their male counterparts and for that reason will find a group practice more desirable.

The strategic resources available in dental groups are revolutionizing the delivery of dental care. DSOs are helping practitioners lower the cost of delivering professional services. This is an enormous and enticing benefit to the recent graduate. The luxury of centralized practice support includes administrative services, state–of–the–art equipment and technology, and negotiating lower prices for dental supplies on behalf of practices.

This creates a recipe that enables young dentists to carry out their passion, while other experts handle their nonclinical needs. Recent graduates also are more likely to pick up and relocate for a spouse's career, and a dental service organization supports their need for mobility.

"We have entered an era where the majority of graduating dentists will never own or build their own practices due to education debt, cost of buying a dental practice, and the responsibilities and risks of ownership," notes Dr. Rick Workman, president, CEO, and founder of Heartland Dental Care in Effingham, Ill. "This generation wants choices, flexibility, and balance. This means more time off and geographic alternatives."

The collaboration and cooperation found in a DSO allows for a balance of fiscal stability and personal flexibility. In addition to providing an opportunity for young associate dentists, many experienced practitioners wish to avoid the day–to–day office management and business decisions while serving their patients and securing their practices prior to retirement.

DSOs are dedicated to recruiting and training talent at every level and developing programs that doctors can use to ensure patient confidence and team performance.

"The doctor and team members, our partnership offices, and our coaching clients invest many hours of training during their first year," Workman said. "These intensive training processes not only include a review of the current standard of care, but also emerging trends and the use of technologies to assist practitioners in delivering quality care."

These DSOs are timely as the dental industry is entering a modern era and bringing with it a lot of new technology. Private practice dentists face a tremendous challenge of staying current, if not state–of–the–art. Costs of implementation are high and the learning curve is often steep, taking away precious hours needed to serve patients and generate revenue.

Pacific Dental Services, an Irvine, Calif.–based DSO, strives to help dentists be leaders in patient–friendly technology. Most of the patients in the practices Pacific Dental Services support register online before their first visit. All the practices use digital X–rays, which saves doctor, patient, and staff time. Dentists have unlimited access to patient information through their computer systems. Most practices use paperless digital charts and CEREC CAD/CAM technology to deliver same–day dentistry.

"Most dentists could not efficiently implement all of this on their own. We help with all the technology, accounting, payroll, marketing, and legal services, and we recruit all their specialists for them. This allows them not to worry about those things and focus on how they practice dentistry," said Stephen Thorne, president of Pacific Dental Services.

Most important, young practitioners have an opportunity to continue their education directly and indirectly, guided by the senior professionals at the group practice. Dental group practices offer a unique opportunity for mentorship that is unlikely to be matched in a private practice.

Something bigger

The management teams of the nation's 13 leading DSOs have leveraged their strengths, wisdom, and experience to form the Dental Group Practice Association (DGPA). The DSOs include: Affordable Care Inc., Allied Dental Group, Aspen Dental Management Inc., Bright Now Dental, Dental Care Alliance, DentalCare Partners, Dental One, Great Expressions Dental, Heartland Dental Care, InterDent Inc., Midwest Dental, Pacific Dental Services, and Town Care Dental.

The DGPA is a nonprofit organization representing DSOs that service 1,493 dental practice locations in 46 states. With 3,137 affiliated/owner dentists, the DGPA generated more than $2 billion in annualized revenue in 2007, and this is projected to grow to $2.4 billion in 2008.

With common interests and shared goals, DSO members collaborate and participate with professionals from dental product manufacturers and other industry service providers with one goal in mind … an excellent experience for dental patients.

The DGPA is dedicated to promoting the highest ideals of dentistry. Its mission is to enthusiastically represent the powerful advantages that progressive dental–service organizations bring to the industry. Additionally, the DGPA assists dental professionals in improving the quality of dental care for patients and the quality of life for those dental professionals.

If you are interested in joining the DGPA or a DGPA– affiliated dental service organization, contact Dr. Edward Meckler, DMD, FICD, executive director. Dr. Meckler can be reached at (877) 566–DGPA, by e–mail at meckler@dcpartners.com, or online at www.dgpaonline.org.

Dr. Edward Meckler, DMD, FICD, founded one of the first Dental Service Organizations more than 27 years ago. Today, Dr. Meckler serves as Executive Director for the Dental Group Practice Association and is an associate clinical professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine.

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