WINNIPEG – BUSINESS – The oversupply of dentists in Canada is just one trend that is affecting the growth potential of dental offices. With fierce competition, it is becoming increasingly hard to grow and maintain a dental office without diversifying and finding your niche market. Another factor that is making being a dentist and operating alone so hard is that corporations are taking over the independent dental offices and overpowering the individual dentists who can’t offer the same competitive pricing and flexibility.
The latest trend in dental offices is for corporations to buy up hundreds of practices around Canada and monopolize the industry. In the same fashion that Walmart revolutionized the mom and pop grocery industry, dental corporations are using their buying power and eating away at the competition.
Since 2011, when the first corporation began to enter the dental industry, the industry has been at risk. The Dental Corporation of Canada, which is now one of the biggest dental suppliers around the country, was at the forefront of the takeover. With over 160 individual dental clinics, they have 30 in British Columbia alone. How can the average Winnipeg dental office compete?
This shift is leaving many independent dental offices fearful that they will soon be a thing of the past. Many dental graduates are being offered a position working at the dental clinics owned by larger corporations instead of opening up their own practice. The offer of a steady income, no responsibility for managing an office, and not having to worry about staffing. These are all things that those coming out of dental school find attractive.
Dentists who are still holding onto their independent offices believe that the corporations are losing the human nature of dentistry. Patients are becoming more like cogs in the machine than individuals who develop a rapport with the doctors. Many dentists also believe that the new trend of corporate care will affect the quality of oral health delivered at the individual level.
While it sounds threatening, it doesn’t seem to be a huge problem yet. The Canadian and Dental Association estimates that only 2% of dental offices in Canada are run by corporations. So, those who fear that dental offices will follow what happened in the pharmaceutical business might be worrying too much about something that will take decades to change.
Up until recently, only dentists were allowed to maintain and own dental offices. There appears to be a loophole that has allowed corporations to buy up practices and begin to operate under people who aren’t necessarily trained in dentistry. These corporations are buying up established dental offices, stripping them of their assets, and leaving the dentist who previously owned and operated the office on staff because they are registered with a dental college. Therefore, on paper, the office seems to be run by a dentist.
The dentists are then referred to as “nominee,” and they are registered with the regulatory agency which oversees the practices of dental offices. First started in America, the process is now hitting the provinces of Canada with fervor. Although not technically buying up dental operations, companies like 123Dentist manage and market for over 70 individual practices in the Lower Mainland. They only have 50 percent ownership stakes in about 35 of those dental offices that they manage.
Other corporations insist that they are nothing more than a marketing and advertising company set to enhance the visibility of the individual specialists and dentists they work with. The problem is that many consumers are beginning to wonder who is actually managing the oral health care side of the operation. Many are suspicious. Who is really in charge of the services and how qualified are they?
There are fears that dentists who are hired into corporately owned dental ventures are forced to maintain a certain quota of revenue as outlined by their contract. That can have them diagnosing or pushing for treatment options that might not be in the patient’s best oral care interest. The good news is that, for now, there have been no complaints against any of the corporately operated dental offices.
How corporate dental offices will eventually affect the independent dentist owned operations is still unclear. Many in the oral care business worry about the personal aspect of oral care and how making it a business-oriented versus client-oriented service might change the quality of a consumer’s dental visits.