Last month, when Jordan Cooper sold five of his dental locations in Arkansas to Rock Dental Brands of Little Rock for $1.7 million, he became the latest in a trend of dentists selling to a larger group practice.
“It’s really kind of been a new and emerging dental model in the last several years,” said
Billy Tarpley the executive director of the Arkansas State Dental Association. “We’ve seen a growth of them.”
Tarpley said the association didn’t have numbers on how many small dental practices have joined larger ones in Arkansas. The American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute said in a study released in April that the share of dental office workers employed by large offices nationwide increased from 0.5 percent in 1992 to 3.9 percent in 2012, while the percentage employed by very small dental offices fell from 89.3 percent to 80.7 during that period.
“Larger group practices offer advantages that are appealing to some practitioners, especially new and young dentists,” the report said. “Such an appeal is likely to continue.”
In Arkansas, most dental practices still are operated by sole practitioners, Tarpley said.
Tarpley said that he thinks joining a larger organization might appeal to dentists who don’t want to deal with owning a practice and all the paperwork that goes along with it, including handling of personnel matters and insurance filings.
By selling the practice and becoming an employee of a larger group, the dentist can focus on taking care of patients. Also a dentist right out of dental school could have high student loans and would rather be paid a salary.
“Doctors … really aren’t trained to be business people,” said Dani White, a spokeswoman for Rock Dental Brands. “But they have to come out of school and build a business.”
Tarpley said selling a practice might also be attractive for older dentists who are close to retirement age and want to exit the industry.
The dental association’s concern with the trend, though, is making sure the dentists who work for larger groups aren’t pressured to fill production quotas.
“That’s always been our primary concern is that the patient has to come first,” Tarpley said. “We’re watching this trend with interest.”
Rock Dental Moves
Cooper’s five dental practices that were sold will be the first offices under Rock Dental Brands’ Rock Family Dental name, White said.
Founded in 2015 by Orthodontists Bryan Hiller, Mark Dake and his son Merritt Dake, Rock Dental already has 34 locations in Arkansas and Missouri, under the names Westrock Orthodontics, Leap Kids Pediatric Dental and Impact Oral Surgery.
White said that there might be some dental offices that become Rock Family Dental locations in 2017, but declined to comment further on what locations were being discussed.
“There are doctors who want to retire and sell their practices to somebody they trust,” she said. “There are doctors who strictly just want to work and not have to manage their business.”
Rock Dental offers marketing services and fields patients’ calls, so the dentists and orthodontists can focus on their patients, White said.
White said that Cooper was looking to sell most of his dental offices so he could “ pursue other efforts.” As part of the acquisition, 25 of Cooper’s employees now will work for Rock Dental, which has 230 workers.
White said Rock Dental was created so that dentists and orthodontists could collaborate if needed.
“We’ve got a pediatric dentist, an orthodontist, an oral surgeon … who are able to share charts and thoughts,” White said. “That’s something that the medical field has done a lot and the dental field just really hadn’t followed suit with yet.”