Mega Dental Practices the New Dentist Reality?

Dentist Plans “Disneyland of Dentistry”

Dr. Derek Thompson, a 37-year-old Washington state dentist, has set his sights on building the biggest dental practice he possibly can. In fact, he’s gone so far as to call the new facility (which will cover a whopping 25,000 square feet) “the Disneyland of dentistry.”

And what would Disneyland be without entertainment? Thompson plans to delight children with games and an aquarium – oh, and with giant sculptures of prehistoric animals as well. Adults will be able to enjoy free internet access and deluxe coffee drinks.

Dr. Thompson started his career with a more traditional dental practice. Apple Valley Dental found success by targeting the same patients that many other practices try to avoid: those with Medicaid coupons. He and the practice’s three other dentists have a support staff of 30. The practice has expanded rapidly, doing some $1.4 million worth of Medicaid business in 2006.

Thompson’s business model focuses on treating lots of patients (many of them low-income) with lots of tooth decay. And Washington’s Yakima county has no shortage of such patients.

Creekside Dental serves the same population. One of the practice’s doctors, Dr. Shane Smith, explains that the clinic treats 200 patients a day, spread between five dentists and 22 treatment rooms. To handle such a high volume of patients, much of the prep work is performed by dental hygienist and assistants. (In fact, the state legislature recently introduced a new class of dental professionals, expanded function dental auxiliaries, whose responsibilities will be just below those of hygienists.)

Currently, some 85% of dental work is performed by a traditional dentist with his or her own practice. However, as economic realities change, more and more practices will have to examine ways to decrease expenses and increase profitability.

Dr. Thompson is confident he’ll be ahead of the curve. His new 25,000-square-foot facility will have 28 patient rooms, though he’s only planning to use 15 of them in the beginning.

Many dentists are critical of high-volume dental practices, calling them “dental mills” or “assembly lines.” However, Thompson shrugs off this criticism. “Is it a mill because we’ll accept children who need help?” he asks rhetorically.

Being the vanguard of a new era in dentistry is not without its risks. However, Thompson’s competitors were diplomatic when asked about his strategies. “Derek Thompson is a promoter, and you need promoters,” said one. “He’s doing a completely different thing,” offered another.

Thompson himself was less conciliatory. “We’ve destroyed every other clinic in town on services,” he boasts. “This is competitive annihilation. You’re seeing a changing of the guard.”

In total, what does this all mean? Mega practices are nothing new. Las Vegas has been running 24-hour practices for casino and hotel employees for at least ten years. Entertainment for kids has always been big in the pediatric dentistry market. Giant dinosaurs are just the next step. The only thing I’m unsure of is highly-caffeinated patients from the deluxe coffee drinks… That could be a problem in the making!

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+Jim Du Molin is a leading Internet marketing expert for dentists in North America. He has helped hundreds of doctors make more money in their practices using his proven Internet marketing techniques.

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