Aspen Dental, one of the largest Dental Support Organizations (DSOs) in the United States, created some buzz a few months ago with a set of new commercials.
One of the ads, “Bank,” shows a dentist thwarting a bank robbery. A confused bank patron exclaims: “Help, we’re being robbed by a dentist!” To which another responds: “Nothing new there.”
Another spot, “Elevator,” takes place in a stuck elevator. When an Aspen dentist pries open the doors, one of the trapped riders uses the emergency phone to call for help: “Come quick or a dentist is going to overcharge us!”
The ads are a lighthearted play on the perception that dental work can be overpriced. Whether that perception is warranted or not, research from the American Dental Association does show that the most significant barriers to dental care are financial, not supply-related.
But some felt that Aspen’s ads went too far. In an op-ed published in the Ohio Dental Association’s ODA Today newsletter, executive editor Dr. Matthew Messina wrote “They should know better.” Dr. Messina even invoked the ADA Code of Ethics provision against the disparagement by dentists of other members of the profession.
Aspen was quick to present its perspective on the advertisements. In a direct response to Dr. Messina’s op-ed, Aspen Chief Clinical Officer, Dr. Arwinder Judge, wrote that the intent was not to speak ill of other dentists, but rather to provide a “clear acknowledgement of real-life barriers to care” while portraying dentists as “approachable, helpful, caring, knowledgeable, and resourceful.” Dr. Judge of Aspen also cited a few very interesting statistics in his letter, including:
- 150 million Americans did not visit a dentist last year
- 25 percent of Aspen patients have not seen the dentist in more than five years
- One in 10 Aspen patients have not seen a dentist in a decade or more
DSOs are certainly in a unique position to provide dental care at competitive prices, given their ability to centralize business functions and achieve economies of scale. And regardless of how Aspen’s ads performed in generating new patient traffic for the group’s clinics (only Aspen knows that), they certainly sparked an interesting debate within the dental world on public perceptions of dentistry.