Is Selling to a DSO Ethical?

Consolidation is one of the biggest trends in dental. Based on a 2019 survey that is likely an undercount today, at least 10 percent of dentists are now part of a DSO — a figure that doubles for young dentists.

DSO membership will only continue to increase, too. Between the surge of interest in dental from private equity investors to the realities that come along with creating an economy of scale, the writing is on the wall — for many dentists, it just makes financial sense to sell their practices to a DSO.

But what about the ethics of it all? Sure, the dollars might add up, but are you leaving your patients in a lurch by giving up on owning your own practice?

The answer is… it’s complicated. 

There are real concerns about what will happen as dental care becomes more corporate and less of a neighborhood, mom-and-pop kind of industry. The brutal truth is that the bigger the company, the more relentlessly focused on hitting KPIs, reaching earnings goals, and cutting costs its management is likely to be.

In other parts of the healthcare industry, it’s this dynamic that has led to horror stories like people being charged thousands of dollars after visiting the ER for some minor ailment or the more mundane indignity of doctors who have barely a moment to listen to any one patient’s concerns before they rush off to the next appointment in order to meet their quota.

We would hate to see more of this trickle down into dental. But we can’t pretend that solo practices aren’t also businesses as well. 

Even your friendly neighborhood dentist has bills to pay, overhead to cover, and a bottom line that demands attention. Meanwhile, DSOs do bring certain advantages, like better administrative support and the resources to invest in advanced treatments that may be out of reach for many independent offices.

Our best advice? If you’re thinking about selling, do your homework. 

Talk to your fellow doctors. Find out how a given DSO does business. Get the rundown on whether they prioritize patients or quarterly profits — and then factor that into your decision to sell in a big way.

If more dentists take this approach, more DSOs might listen.

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