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"Major League Dentistry": Is it dentists' time to shine?

June 1, 2023
Dentistry is undergoing many shifts, and corporate dentistry stands at the center. But can it evolve properly, in conjunction with private practices, in ways that allow dentists to remain the strong "talent"?

What is the future of being a dentist: treating patients, business management, marketing, or tech expertise? One of those we were trained for and the others, not so much. Guess which ones.

The dental field has evolved, and those trained in business have been able to take advantage of opportunities. With the growing corporatization of dentistry, we dentists have essentially two options: try to compete with MBAs and private equity investors who have the cash and expertise to run an efficient business, or double, triple, or quadruple down on our strengths and forge new paths of our own.

Just because there’s potentially a smaller window to own and manage the business in the future doesn’t mean there’s not potential to achieve a wealthy, healthy, and joyous life and career with some semblance of control. In fact, I assert that great times are ahead for dentists of the future even though the path may not be a smooth and straightforward one.

A natural evolution

Why did you want to be a dentist in the first place? Was dealing with the headaches or business management part of it? If it was, do you plan or did you plan to receive an education for that? Some dentists are naturals who do build large practice groups and DSOs. However, most are reluctant business owners. And there weren't any HR, business management, marketing, finance, accounting, or insurance classes between gross anatomy and intro to occlusion. We have a ton to learn in dental school and even after many years spent honing our clinical skills. They don’t call it practice by accident.

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So, could dental schools’ curricula benefit from some modification? Absolutely, but how much time should or could be diverted to practice management/ownership? Maybe this is the natural evolution that should be happening. Technology is growing exponentially with the internet, smartphones, self-driving cars, AI, and VR, and dentistry has advanced from a technology and treatment perspective. Why shouldn’t dentists’ career experience follow suit? Perhaps the corporatization of dentistry is a revolutionary opportunity for dentists to maximize their potential and impact on the health of their patients.

Is it dentists' time to shine?

Many of us had the childhood fantasy of being a pro athlete, dancer, or actor or whatever. I can remember fantasizing about playing for the Yankees. The common idea is a desire to be recognized and valued for our abilities. The fantasy usually isn’t about owning or managing the team; I don’t recall many childhood pickup basketball games pretending to be Phil Jackson over Michael Jordan. It’s about being a talented performer.

Well, dentists, maybe your time has come. You are the talent. The best players make it to the “big show” while some people get stuck in the minor leagues. Some people get the big contract while some grind out a living. This professional league is the structure that dentistry is adopting. Corporations with lots of money are buying up smaller teams with existing talent and then building bigger teams. They are scouting and recruiting top picks for future development and growth.

The players don’t own the team, but they do get handsomely rewarded for their great performance. Occasionally, a player may even get equity in the team. The developing professional athlete takes their 10,000 swings to hone the craft—their focus is on becoming the best possible athlete. If the players were expected to manage the business, marketing, and accounting of the team as well, this would most certainly impact their performance on the field.

Can this be applied to dental careers? Yes. After all, there was a reason you wanted to become a dentist—to apply that level of expertise to patient care. The corporate world has yet to hit the correct formula, but when they do, patients will realize the best care that has ever been provided in dental history. Dentists, as they should be, will be 100% focused on the quality of care and the patient experience without the distractions of managing the practice.

As it stands now, diligent practice owners who are also main clinical providers must split their available attention and energy. The key is to strike the right balance of compensation for providing high quality and profitable care. With a more efficient business structure and management, dentists will have the opportunity to thrive on clinical focus on the patient, more fulfillment, and proportional compensation for their skill. In the Major Dental Leagues, dentists can achieve better opportunity and reward based on talent, expertise, and ability to provide a great patient experience.

Every team wants to sign all-stars with longevity and recognize the benefit of their investment. As within professional athletics, some dentists will shine as all-stars. All-stars have more negotiating power and control their own brands and opportunities to branch into other areas. A dentist’s personal brand will become a business rather than the dental practice. This brave new dental world could be something great to embrace rather than fight against.

The big question that remains is, can a corporate structure be set up to avoid greedy pitfalls that could potentially short-change patients, disincentivize higher quality care, and trigger a brain drain of smart, well-intentioned clinicians? So far, Major League Dentistry only exists in these words. Valuing dental superstars is a far cry from corporate dentistry’s current practices. Time will tell as the dental profession continues to evolve.