Fewer U.S. and Canadian dental students are choosing private practice and are instead opting to join large dental chains, which are gobbling up dental practices like Walmart gobbled up Mom and Pop shops 50 years ago.
This means in the future patients will have fewer options when selecting a dentist.
“For specialists such as a periodontists or orthodontists, it is a no-brainer to become employees of corporations so they can have a steady income without the headaches of owning a business,” says Alex Zlatin, CEO of Maxim Software Systems, a dental practice management company, author of the Responsible Dental Ownership (www.alexzlatin.com).
“But in general dentistry, the answer is not so clear cut. And with new problems and challenges to setting up a practice, patients will probably see less independent dentists in the future.”
Many independent dentists believe that the corporations are losing the human side of dentistry. They feel some corporations view patients as cogs in their corporate machine rather than individuals who need to have a relationship with their dentist, Zlatin says.
Recently, corporations have bought up hundreds of practices in Canada in attempts to monopolize the industry. The Dental Corporation of Canada, which is now one of the biggest dental suppliers around the country, now has 160 individual dental clinics, with 30 in British Columbia alone.
In the United States, several studies have shown large multi-establishment dental enterprises are continuing to outstrip independent dentists.
“The trend toward larger, multi-establishment dental practices is expected to continue, driven by changes in the practice patterns of new dentists, a drive for efficiency and increased competition for patients,” said a study by the Health Policy Institute of the American Dental Association.
Zlatin says constantly changing regulatory requirements, increased focus on patient privacy and other issues are making independent practices less attractive. But he says
there will always be dentists who do not like taking orders from others and want to be their own boss.
Zlatin says there are a few questions dental students should ask themselves before they decide whether to open their own office or join a corporate-dental office.
- Am I willing to do the extra homework in areas outside dentistry like understanding how to hire a great staff and how to find the best office site?
- Have I always wanted to open my own business or does that thought scare me?
- Do I have trouble working for others?
- Am I the type of person who always likes to be the boss?
“There will always be a place for the dentist who wants his own practice and is willing to tackle the tough issues that come along with it,” Zlatin says. “But they will need to be more focused and prepared for the challenge than their predecessors in order to succeed.”