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DSOs: What I never knew (but wish I had)

Dec. 5, 2022
Learn why this hygienist with 30 years of experience thinks a career in a DSO can offer opportunities that private practices can't.

I have been a practicing clinical dental hygienist for 30 years. I was in private practice for 25 of those years. Five years ago, a DSO, Decision One Dental partners, purchased us. At first, we felt betrayed by our dentist because of the negative stigma DSOs have in our industry. We have all heard the negativity related to DSOs. Throughout the tenure of my career, that idea has continued to be reinforced. We were terrified of the changes that we thought would happen. When none of the bogeyman scenarios came to fruition, we were pleasantly surprised, but why is this still happening?

The opportunities afforded by belonging to a DSO are impressive, from health insurance to a retirement plan and even a bonus structure across the entire team. I also have had an opportunity to gain most of my CE through my DSO for free. Collaboration with my colleagues in other offices is invaluable; it has expanded my dental hygiene knowledge and has created many new friendships. I was fortunate to start in a private practice that offered health insurance, but it was an anomaly (and still is today). I know many clinicians who still do not have health insurance through their employer, and with many single people joining our ranks, it’s disturbing. (And we all wonder why there is a staffing shortage.)

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I have always wanted more from my dental hygiene career and finished my bachelor's degree, hoping to get it. But in private clinical hygiene, those opportunities don’t really exist. I see now that had I entered a DSO earlier in my career, I could have grown to put my education to good use within my group. We should look to the hygienists who have crossed that hurdle and are in positions of power in DSOs. Some are directors of dental hygiene departments, vice presidents of clinical operations, and even owners of DSOs. DSOs are on the rise, and we shouldn't be surprised. Doctors incur an enormous debt from dental school; DSOs have the buying power of a large group.

I have become an advocate for dental hygienists in DSOs. I feel dental hygiene schools need to educate up-and-coming hygienists about the opportunities DSOs can offer new hygiene graduates that private practice cannot. As a young hygienist, it was drilled into me how corporate dentistry was only concerned with profits, not patients. But many private practices are themselves corporations, and we all know some private practices that put profits before patients. I know what some of you are thinking, that there are bad DSOs out there, but let's face it, there are bad private practices too. Just because you may have found yourself in one DSO that isn't a fit for you doesn't mean they’re all bad. Maybe you just haven't found the right fit.

You’d need to do a working interview to get a true feeling of the office culture. Some DSO offices are doctor led, meaning the doctor sets the expectations for the office. One practice may differ from another in doctor philosophy within that DSO, but they are all focused on the organization's values. Talking with other hygienists about their experience within the DSO they work for is very helpful. I recommend Women in DSO, an organization focused on women's leadership in the DSO space. With a wealth of knowledge about the industry and a focus on the women in it, they can be an excellent resource for women looking to advance in the DSO world. You can find them on LinkedIn and Listening to podcasts that discuss DSOs, such as Discovering DSOs with Ashley McCauley and A Tale of Two Hygienists, can give you a better perspective on the DSOs of today.

There is a space for career growth within dental hygiene for those willing to step out of the box and venture out to new opportunities. Keeping an open mind and educating ourselves on what DSOs can offer and what we can contribute to them is a way out of that box.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the December 2022 print edition of RDH magazine. Dental hygienists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.