The Instrumental Role of DSOs in Dental Education

Dental schools and dental support organizations (DSOs) are joining forces, providing students a comprehensive real-world view of the dental industry.

By Andrew Smith, Executive Director, The Association of Dental Support Organizations (ADSO)

With the growing influence of the DSO model, and changes in what today’s dental students want out of a dental career, the landscape of dentistry is shifting. We are witnessing a future of dentistry that invites innovation and collaboration to benefit patient health and a workforce that supports employee growth. 

According to the American Dental Education Association, 30% of dental school seniors plan to join a DSO-supported practice, up from 12% in 2015. The reason for this growth is that DSOs offer recent dental graduates cutting-edge tools, soft-skill trainings that improve patient and employee experiences, and leadership initiatives. Students have found this to be true as they are collaborating with and learning from DSOs while in dental school. 

As the entire industry looks to expand access to oral healthcare and elevate dentistry, ADSO members are leading thoughtful initiatives with dental schools to train and prepare the next generation of practitioners. I interviewed several ADSO members about their trailblazing programs that expose dental students to new technology and professional development.

Recently, in North Carolina, High Point University’s (HPU) new dental school received a $32 million donation from the Rick and Angie Workman Foundation. Dr. Rick Workman is the founder and Executive Chairman of Heartland Dental, a DSO partnering with over 1,600 practices nationwide. 

As the third dental school in the state, the Workman School of Dental Medicine will increase dental education opportunities, and, in turn, address the statewide dental health professional shortage. HPU graduates will influence health access and equity while gaining a more comprehensive understanding of their dental career choices.

“Our students will be encouraged to pursue careers of their interest,” said Dr. Jazmin Cromartie, Director of Student Admissions and Engagement, and Assistant Professor of General Dentistry at HPU. “Our immersive clinical experiences will allow students to better understand the benefits of collaborating with DSOs.”

Offering another perspective on partnerships is the UCLA School of Dentistry, which has collaborated with seven DSOs over the past four years through their Community-Based Clinical Education (CBCE) program. CBCE strives to enhance students’ education while increasing access to care for underserved populations. Dr. Lisa Nguyen, Associate Director of CBCE, says the program provides students a rare, yet authentic glimpse into dentistry beyond the classroom.

“Giving students different experiences in practice models allows them to see the possibilities for practicing dentistry,” Dr. Nguyen said. “In CBCE rotations, students are able to heighten their experiences in practice management and understand how different types of practice models handle staffing, billing, electronic health records and patient care.”

Dr. Nguyen’s colleague, Dr. Bill Piskorowski, Associate Dean of CBCE, added, “We have doubled our graduate’s restorative services, tripled their surgical experiences and increased their endodontic services by 70 percent. Most importantly the program has enhanced students’ ethic of caring.”

Dental schools are renewing the way they prepare students for the start of their careers, and DSOs are taking note, greeting graduates who chose the DSO path with a thoughtful culture and lived-out values.

Pacific Dental Services’ creed that people are their greatest asset prompted them to create PDS University where their employees can enroll in clinical, business and leadership courses. Smile Brands, another DSO, lives out their “Never Stop Learning” mindset through a year-long virtual CE curriculum and crafts a culture where every candidate is assessed based on current capabilities and appetite for continued growth. 

The future of dentistry lies in the careful thought we put into developing new dental support teams and today’s students. We achieve this by providing them with advanced clinical trainings, continuous education, mentorship and by opening the door to the vast array of opportunities in the field. With both DSOs and dental schools engaged, we’ll enhance access to oral healthcare and ensure continuous learning for dental teams.