Inside Dentistry
October 2016
Volume 12, Issue 10

More Dentists Now Count on DSOs for Business Success

How a support organization can help you spend more time with patients

Andrea Watkins

The practice of dentistry isn’t what it was two decades ago. Increased regulation, rapid technological change, and process innovation have left many practitioners struggling to keep pace. While dental school delivers the clinical skills needed to run a practice, many practitioners are increasingly frustrated with marketing, payroll, and other functions not covered in the curriculum.

Each year, more dentists elect to associate with organizations that specialize in offloading these nonclinical functions, resulting in less time doing paperwork and more time spent with patients.

Dental support organizations (DSOs) have been around for decades, and today there are hundreds, ranging in both scope and size. Most commonly, DSOs are contracted to provide critical business management and support to a practice’s nonclinical operations. This relationship allows practice owners to focus on their practices and provide the best oral healthcare to patients, while leaving the administrative aspects of the practice to business experts.

The list of duties commonly tackled by DSOs is lengthy:

• Bookkeeping and accounting
• Payroll and banking
• Billing and collections
• Marketing and advertising
• Information technology
• Human resources
• Office and property management, including housekeeping
• Risk management and compliance

For many dentists seeking to improve their work-life balance, those functions elicit groans or a shudder. DSO-supported dentists often find their administrative time slashed by hours per day upon affiliation with these organizations, giving them back flexibility.

These organizations are now available to support virtually any type of dental practice, from general practitioners to endodontics and from prosthodontics to oral surgery. While nonclinical practice support is a broadly cited reason for choosing to contract with a DSO, there are several additional benefits for potential practice owners to discover.

New Technology, More Cost Savings

As novel technologies become available, one function of practice support networks is to make that innovation more accessible quickly.

A modern DSO-supported practice can often streamline large investments for radiography, in-office CAD/CAM, intraoral cameras, implants, electronic record keeping, and scheduling. Others might benefit from pooled digital marketing resources. Some DSOs can equip practices with local laboratories and technicians for added patient convenience.

Dentists affiliated with support networks can also recognize purchasing power that is not normally available to non-affiliated private practitioners. Larger networks frequently negotiate and purchase needed materials at scale. This equates to significant cost savings, which is good for a practice and even better when passed through to patients.

Yet another benefit of DSO support is improved access to peers. Lending business support to hundreds of dentists yields a lot of useful insight. The dentists benefit most by tapping into shared learning. In some instances, two unrelated practices might have direct interaction with one another to solve a nonclinical issue.

A Smart Business Decision

While the decision to contract with a DSO is easy, it’s important that dentists do their homework in selecting the right one to work with. Many DSOs cater to certain specialties or niches. Others bring geographic advantages. Ultimately, a great business support partner should provide high quality practice management services, enabling the dentist to focus on clinical operations.

Some questions to ask a dental support organization before agreeing to contract its services include:

• Can you help me reach more patients, including more underserved populations who can’t always afford the services I provide?
• Which business functions can you assist with?
• What’s your vision for how to grow my practice? How will you achieve it?
• Will you agree to leave final decision-making to me, the practice owner?

Dental practices that contract with support organizations remain dentist owned and operated. DSOs should never perform or advise clinical decision-making, including patient evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment.


Dentistry is a rapidly evolving industry with high demand. New generations of patients come with higher expectations, and increased access to shopping for alternative solutions and rising healthcare costs have made a chilling effect on oral health in the United States. By leaning on savvy, non-clinical support organizations, thousands of dentists are realizing tremendous benefit, and so are their patients.

About the Author

Andrea Watkins is the Director of Marketing and Membership for the Association of Dental Support Organizations, a nonprofit organization comprised of more than 50 DSO members who support over 5,000 practice locations and over 12,000 dentists worldwide. ADSO also includes more than 130 dental industry partners in their membership.

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