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Inside Dentistry
July 2021
Volume 17, Issue 7

DSO Expands Services to Rural Populations

SmileDirectClub Partner Network facilitates orthodontic treatment in underserved areas

Darren Boggs

Darren Boggs spent the first 14 years of his adult life in the US Army, and service has continued to be a theme throughout his subsequent career in the dental industry. After initially working for a major distributor, Boggs eventually moved on to entrepreneurial ventures—primarily involving dental support organizations (DSOs). He started one DSO that was focused on elevating the level of pediatric dental care available for patients on Medicaid, and after achieving that goal, he and his business partner joined a startup DSO that had a similarly altruistic aim: serving rural populations.

"This seemed like the best place to be after what we had accomplished for pediatric Medicaid patients," Boggs says of joining Altius Healthcare Management along with his business partner, Russell Wallace, CPA, in 2017. "These practices were all in small towns, and I did not really know how profitable or viable they would be. Many of the patients had not seen a dentist in years. The problem of access to care was getting worse because the average age of the dentists in these areas was 60, and as they retired, there were no younger dentists or other DSOs filling the void. It was a challenge I wanted to take on. We were poised to take on this emerging world health crisis."

Boggs and Wallace joined as COO and CFO, respectively. They spent 4 years building the framework of a complete DSO from scratch before going to market last year and facilitating a successful private equity transaction, at which point Boggs was promoted to CEO. Currently, Altius supports 31 dental offices, and Boggs notes that they plan to add 10 to 12 units per year for the next 5 years. "We are really on the path of growth," he says.

One major challenge in the rural areas where Altius's practices operate is a lack of access to specialty services, especially orthodontics. The company explored incorporating traditional orthodontics into its practices, but the costs and logistics involved did not prove to be feasible. Next, Boggs turned his attention to clear aligners, but the most popular services on the market involved significant training, investments in technology, and high laboratory bills that would lead to the need to charge premium prices. "We did not think that would help much because most of our patients do not have the disposable income to pay high fees for orthodontics," he says.

One possibility that had always intrigued Boggs was working with SmileDirectClub. He had always believed that the company would expand on its direct-to-consumer model and develop a partner program for dentists. Periodically, he would search online to check for any developments, and one day last year, he learned about the launch of the SmileDirectClub Partner Network. Network dentists acquire either analog or digital impressions in the office, and then SmileDirectClub and its affiliated network of state-licensed doctors take care of the rest—designing a personalized treatment plan, shipping custom aligners directly to the patient, monitoring progress through teledentistry, and conducting virtual check-ins.

"They had solved all the logistical challenges that we saw with other aligner services," Boggs says. "All we had to do was introduce the product and get people interested in taking an impression, and SmileDirectClub would take care of everything else at a really compelling price point. We felt that this was what we needed to add on to our practices in order to help more people get straighter smiles.

Altius implemented the SmileDirectClub program in December 2020, and 6 months later, Boggs is encouraged by the early growth. "The demand has been there," he says. "We have been able to get a lot of patients in clear aligners, and the feedback from them has been really positive. They like the aligners, they like the technology, and they like the convenience. Parents in these rural areas no longer need to pull their children out of school 20 times to drive 40 minutes away for appointments. You can get a good result at a cheaper price on more convenient terms."

Boggs expects the program to take off in the next 6 months as Altius's dentists—some of whom have become SmileDirectClub club members themselves—get more comfortable with it. He also points to SmileDirectClub's marketing support as helping to grow the program.

"They have provided a turnkey kit that is really easy to use," Boggs says. "We can place the pictures, copy, and links on our social media channels and in our email marketing outputs to get the word out to people, and SmileDirectClub frequently updates the content to keep it fresh."

The result is an increased ability to serve, which was Boggs' goal all along. "I love that we can help so many more people than we would be able to using other models for orthodontics," he says. "We are just glad to be a part of it."

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