The United States has seen a massive explosion in the number of corporate owned dental offices over the last 10-15 years. A lot of people go to these offices thinking that they are privately run, because they are in network with their insurance, or because they saw some great marketing piece about them.
The big players in the corporate dentistry market include Aspen Dental, Comfort Dental, Heartland Dental Care (usually under different names), Pacific Dental Services, Monarch Dental, Small Smiles, Kool Smiles, and a variety of other smaller regional corporate dental chains.
I have some strong opinions about these places. I’ve seen all sides of it and I think I’m one of the best people to educate the public about what exactly is going on. I worked in several different of these corporate offices before I started my own practice and had friends work at others. I saw how they run and how they treat patients. I also see a lot of unnecessary treatment and sub-par treatment come out of these places. I get at least one or two patients a week in my dental practice that went to one of these places and wanted a second opinion because they didn’t feel well treated, their concerns weren’t heard, or they felt taken advantage of. They are relieved when someone will just take the time to sit down and listen to them!
Almost without fail they relate a similar story… They go in because of a special offer or in network participation. They are shuffled quickly through the office, taking x-rays, doing exams, a quick visit from the dentist, and finally being sent off to sit down with a sales specialist who attempts to get them to finance all their treatment up front on credit and get started immediately. Very often there is no personal touch and no attempt to sit down and talk through what is important to them and how dentistry can fit into their lives and budgets.
Now it’s not all bad. Some people have a perfectly good experience at these places. There are some benefits to a corporate office that a small private office can’t provide. Let’s start with those…
- Offices can often run more efficiently and provide better prices
- Are often in network with dental insurance to bring your out of pocket costs down
- Better hours and the ability to schedule more than 1 or 2 family members at once
- Often have specialists who travel between their different corporate offices that you can see as well
Unfortunately that is about where it ends. The bad outweighs the good by quite a bit…
- Mostly staffed by associate (non-owner) dentists. Many of these dentists are relatively recent graduates of dental school and don’t have as much experience.
- Primary corporate objective is profit. Corporate offices set goals for average treatment plans and treatment done each day. Many of these averages are arbitrarily high and create a strong incentive for dentists to treat aggressively. I personally got in trouble multiple times when I worked at these places because I didn’t “diagnose” enough treatment.
- Often accused of using bait and switch or hard sell techniques. Aspen Dental has been sued (successfully) for such things. Care Credit (one of the major lenders used to finance dentistry) even had to change the rules on how patients can be signed up for these plans because of how many corporate offices were doing it.
- Double or triple booking patients. If too many show up at a time they either shortchange them on time or make them wait. Many of the pediatric offices such as Kool Smiles or Small Smiles overbook even more heavily. Dentists and hygienists often can’t do an adequate job with the time given and have very little say in whether they get more time.
Would I send my family to a corporate dental office? Absolutely not. While you can find a good dentists at these places, you are far less likely to get good treatment than you would at a privately owned dental office. Make a better choice for your dental health and find a locally owned private office staffed by a good dentist. If you’d like more information on picking a good office you can read another article I wrote about finding a dentist.