Aspen Dental has officially opened two new locations that are physically connected to Walgreens stores in Florida. You can check out the announcement in this article, and be sure to watch the video tour with Dr. Kevon Rennie at the bottom of the article.
I have little doubt that this announcement will upset many traditional practice owners. First, some of Aspen’s growth initiatives have been viewed unfavorably, such as when some ADA dentists expressed concerns over the company’s TV advertisements. Second—and this has been a dental bogeyman for decades—some may say this is another step toward dentistry becoming more like optometry. Today, dentists can own practices independently, they can own multiple practices, or they can work for others with varying degrees of equity. But what if, like optometry, the predominate practice option for a dentist was to be an employee of a large chain such as Pearl Vision?
I’ll admit that’s not an outlandish concern. In a fascinating interview on The Dental Hacks podcast, former Aspen CEO RJ Adolfi told the story of how his father, the founder of Aspen Dental, declared, “I’m going to start the Pearl Vision of dentistry.” That was more than 30 years ago, when the FTC and Supreme Court ruled that dentists and other professionals should be allowed to advertise without interference from their associations, much to the chagrin of the AMA and ADA. Entrepreneurs like RJ and his father could centralize operations, achieve economies of scale, and market a brand to the masses. Fast forward to 2019 and we have seen DSOs emerge as a viable practice model. We now have a DSO partnering with the second largest pharmacy store chain. I can understand why some dentists would be alarmed and believe that their days of private practice are numbered.
But I don’t think that’s the case. We must consider our business models and our target patients. An Aspen-Walgreens superstore may not be catering to the same patient pool that you cater to. As RJ Adolfi stated in that same podcast, the target demographic for Aspen was patients who don’t go to the dentist. I still believe that all of the practice models currently available today, including private practice, will be viable for the foreseeable future. And if inexpensive, on-site denture repair services attached to a pharmacy help some senior citizens receive oral health care that they would otherwise go without, then I’m all for it, as long as patients and dentists are being treated ethically. Create your own unique business model and your practice will thrive.