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Is This the End of the World as We Know It?

Which business model do you like better, dentistry or medicine?

The answer is dentistry, of course.  Why they hell would we want to have waiting rooms full of annoyed patients, getting paid a pittance on volumes of visits?  Why would we want to engage in a daily debate over  the best care of our patients with non-dentists who are only interested in bottom lines?  We don’t, but it’s happening anyway.

There are lot of new economic pressures in dentistry these days, but let me call attention to a few in particular:

(1)  There are waaaaaaaay too many dentists.  Yes, there are a lot of Baby Boomers about to retire, but we have also opened new dental schools in recent years with even more on the horizon.  The trend is for these schools to adopt a private model with extraordinary tuitions, which leads me to,

(2)  Recent graduates are in crazy amounts of debt and they’re freaked out, and

(3)  They think they can’t afford to buy the few practices that are up for sale, or they can afford it but the practices are so outdated that the buyer and seller can’t agree on a deal, so

(4)  Corporate Dentistry swoops in.  Selling dentists get a generous buyer, corporate spends money to update and rebuild, and recent grads get a guaranteed high-paying job.

There’s more at play here, but these are four of the economic factors that are changing the practice of dentistry towards the medical model. Think of hospitals and large medical groups as corporations because they totally are.  Do physicians and their patients enjoy the corporate model?  Nope.

I’m concerned that the corporate/franchise model will continue to grow at an alarming rate thanks to economic forces that are largely out of our control.  My greatest fear with this model is that we lose autonomy.  We allow others to influence the dentist-patient relationship.  We give up control of our own work schedules.  We lose the freedom to practice the way we want to.

The corporate sales pitch is strong.  We are lured with financial secrurity and the promise that we won’t have to worry about all those hard business decisions.  Well, damn it, I want to worry about those hard business decisions.  I want to face the possibility of financial ruin.  Every business owner on the planet has to face those two challenges.  It’s a part of doing business.  We put up with the risks so that we can taste the sweet rewards.

Please don’t let dentistry adopt the medical business model.  Whether you’re looking for work as an associate or selling your practice, please only deal with dentists and not franchises.  Every corporate deal brings us closer to losing our autonomy.


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