The first few industry shows of 2017 (including the ADSO Summit in Florida and the Chicago Dental Society’s Midwinter Meeting) made one thing clear: dental groups are on the march. Although the American Dental Association estimates that only 7.4% of dentists are affiliated with a dental support organization, that percentage is growing, and it’s much higher for the new generation of dentists ages 21-34 (16.3% are affiliated with DSOs).
Why are younger dentists better represented at DSOs as a percentage of their cohort than dentists 35 and older? According to a recent online article at DrBicuspid.com, student debt plays a big role.
Student loans have always been an obstacle for dentists looking to build their own practice after dental school. Taking out additional loans to hang a new shingle can seem like a daunting proposition for newly minted dentists who are already deeply indebted. According to the American Dental Education Association, the average debt for all indebted dental school graduates in the class of 2016 was $261,149—with over 30% of indebted grads reporting debt in excess of $300,000.
Rather than take on even more debt, many young dentists are starting their careers with DSOs, where they can gain experience in the practice of dentistry while paying down their student loans before striking out on their own.
Another reason perhaps is that some recent grads don’t want to be burdened with the many business management responsibilities that come with running a solo practice. At a dental group, they receive support and continuing education while gaining valuable experience—and they don’t have to worry about hiring staff, purchasing supplies, or marketing to new patients.
Of course, some dentists will always prefer the independence of running their own practice. But with more and more young dentists joining dental groups, there may be a systemic change taking root in the industry.