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David and Goliath in the world of teeth

Our marketing director Alisa recently came across an interesting article on regarding the entry of big business into the dental market.

The contrast between big corporations versus small businesses is a timeless concept. Dentistry is no different. Over the last several decades, the economic climate of dentistry has changed dramatically with the introduction of an ever-evolving variety of dental insurance models. The models of dental office ownership have changed as well from dental practices owned and operated by a solo dentist to partnerships and to franchise dental offices.

Successfully-run dental offices can be highly profitable and there is an increasing trend of large corporations buying out the small traditional dental practices. For example, Dentalcorp, the largest management group in Canada has 170 locations, with 25 in BC. Similar to pharmacy and optometry, Walmart is also getting into the dental business as well, with 25 “Smile Shapers” branded clinic in Eastern Canada, and a new clinic opening in Richmond, BC.

As many dentists fear, the increase in competition is driving toward the extinction of solo-practitioner owned practices. There are many arguments against corporate dentistry. Some of the common themes are:

  • They are accountable to shareholders, which incentivizes profits before patient care.
  • Some corporate-owned dental practices have production quotas, which incentivizes overly aggressive treatment planning and questionable insurance claims.

A lot of traditional solo/partnership dental practices fear the big players because of their overwhelming marketing budget, purchasing power, and human resources department. They are pushing out dentists who want to buy an existing dental practice by driving up prices because they have the resources to pay multiples of the sales prices proposed by retiring dentists selling their practices. With increasing competition and saturation in metropolitan areas, some fear dentistry is becoming a commodity and the quality of care is being driven into the ground.

I used to fear the rise of corporate dentistry but that fear has dissipated over time. I believe corporate dentistry serve a different market segment than we do and our different models of practice ownership will continue to coexist. To be clear, dentists who work in corporate dentistry are not bad dentists. I personally know amazing dentists and mentors who enjoy focusing on the clinical aspect and letting corporate take care of the business aspect. Rather, it is the volume of patients that they are incentivized to see and the sway they feel over their clinical decisions. There will always be patients who prefer fast, average treatment and those who value quality dental work and taking the time to get it done right. There will be patients that leave our practice because we are not the right fit for them but there are also a constant stream of patients who grow tired of being mistreated by business-driven practices and desire more.

At the Marshall Clinic, we pride ourselves on:

  • Attracting patients who come from all over the greater metropolitan area and beyond
  • Having patients of multiple generations, dating back to the 1950s
  • Having the majority of our referrals by word-of-mouth

We focus on providing the best dental care, in spite of the economic challenges:

  • We invest our time in your new patient interview and comprehensive exam process because we believe educated patients make the best informed decisions about their oral health
  • We work out of one dental chair per dentist with one patient at a time. When you make an appointment, that time is reserved for you. We never double book.
  • We take our time with procedures and our gentle bedside manners make sure the experience is comfortable
  • Our hygiene appointment are not in pre-set 1-hour blocks per patient but rather catered to the susceptibility of each patient, so it may range from an hour to 1.5 hour.
  • We answer our emergency phone lines on weekends/holidays and will come into the office for your emergency

In the face of the rising corporate dentistry model, we and other small care-driven dental practice will continue to thrive. As dentists, we have an unspoken social contract that allows our profession to be self-regulated because the public gave us their trust. In return, we have an obligation to put our patients first and to provide our best effort and care, ahead of profits. We are fueled by the returning smiles and the generations of patients that continue to come to our practice. And I will continue to sleep well at night, knowing that if we take care of our patients, our patients will take care of us.

Matthew Choi

Matthew grew up in Richmond and graduated with his undergraduate Biochemistry and Doctor of Dental Medicine degree from UBC in 2013. He practiced in Cranbrook, BC in the Kootenay Rockies before making his way back to the big city.