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Debbie Seidel Bittke

I Went Undercover in Corporate Dentistry. Here's What We Can Learn

I Went Undercover in Corporate Dentistry. Here's What We Can Learn

12/9/2015 11:41:18 PM   |   Comments: 0   |   Views: 660

Recently, I had what I thought was a fracture on the side of an onlay. The last time I had major dentistry completed was about 25 yrs. ago. My previous employer about 25 yrs. ago removed childhood amalgam fillings and replaced them with beautiful gold onlays. I thought that these would last forever!

Unfortunately, my amazing dentist and previous employer is in Newport Beach, California and I now live in Portland, Oregon. I don't plan to be in California until Christmas this year.

What should I do? Of course this is like a major catastrophe for a dental professional and one who takes meticulous care of their teeth!

I called my previous dentist/employer and scheduled an appointment to have a (What I thought would probably be!) crown prepped on December 23rd. But in the meantime, I wanted to show my previous dentist a radiograph of the area I thought was fractured.

Lucky for me; No Pain!  That was good news and I immediately began treating myself with fluoride varnish I have in my bathroom closet; just in case there was decay and I could arrest this or possibly reverse any possible decay.

My husband and I have been watching, especially over the last 2-3 yrs., a lot of corporate dental offices pop up in our neighborhood and this one day about a week ago, we saw a sign outside one of the beautiful corporate dental offices that said, "X-rays, Exam and Cleaning ONLY $39!"

What a deal! And of course I really need to get x-rays and send them to my dentist in Newport Beach, California! So I took down their office number and even went to their website where I could request an appointment.

And this is where I decided I would go "Undercover in Corporate Dentistry." I decided to lie about my occupation Lying is not something I am good at so I seriously practiced with my girlfriend). I needed to work on this idea with my friends so that I would not blow my cover. As I discussed this with my girlfriend we reviewed what I would say and we role played how I would be someone who was JUST a patient and not a person who knew what went on inside a dental office.

My occupation was "domestic engineer." What a dream! :)

Truly believing that I had this fracture and thinking that going to a "Corporate Dental Office “was going to be a scam, I equipped myself to NOT BE OVERSOLD!

And guess what?! This "Belief" and all the "Media Hype" about CORPORATE DENTISTRY turned 180 degrees on me!!!

Here is what you need to know if you are a small dental practice.

And btw: I mean if you are currently producing less than 2 million US Dollars in production annually and even if you have 2 office locations or more; here is what you must know to stay in business in the 21st century!

  • Personally respond to all and any request by a phone call and someone who represents your office as highly qualified and speaks English well.
    • Although I requested an appointment by email, on Monday morning I received a call from a lady at this corporate office who really seemed to care about "Me."
    • She knew from my email that I was concerned about a "Broken" tooth. That is the information I wrote down in my appointment request.
  • Allow patients to click and link and easily complete their patient information prior to their arrival for their 1st appointment.

The information your patient completes online should be very easy to answer: The patient can click a button and answer easily!  The entire information gathering process online should be about 3 and maybe 5 minutes total!

  • Be ready for the new patient to arrive!   The moment I stepped foot in the door, the lady at the front desk, who btw was very nicely dressed (I even commented about how beautiful her necklace was!), well-groomed and called me by name.  I never had to say my name. It was obvious that these people were expecting “ME!”
    • Yes, they made me feel like I was Queen of England right away!  The dentist took me into a private office and asked about me. He seemed just as concerned about my fracture as I was. The doctor explained exactly what they would be doing for me today.  I have to admit, I was shocked that for $39 I was getting a full series of x-rays, a panoramic x-ray, intra-oral photos, a “Cleaning, Oh yes! and a “check of my gums " (i.e. a full mouth comprehensive perio exam.), and doctor would do a complete exam as well.
  • Next, the assistant took all my x-rays (Beautiful - New Sirona, Digital Panoramic Machine) and she completed the intra-oral photos of every sextant throughout my mouth. She even took a photo of me saying that "now no one else could pretend to be me." lol
  • The dentist now completed the comprehensive perio exam, then the assistant came in and they documented all my restorations.
    • Next the dentist did an extremely thorough exam while wearing his 2.5 loupes and light. (Yes, that is important to me that my clinicians wear at least loupes!)
    • The dentist btw: never did find a fracture. That will be my best Christmas present!
    • The dentist left the room to go talk to the hygienist who would now come “clean” my teeth.
      • Yes, he told me my gums were very healthy and that I had very little cleaning for the hygienist to do.
  • Last but not least, the dentist came back with the hygienist and introduced her. The hygienist also wore loupes. That made me very happy! Of course I checked her instruments and they were very new looking Gracey curettes and the latest ultrasonic equipment as well. The hygienists’ scrubs matched the other back-office assistant’s scrubs as well.


2 hours later, I finally left the office. I am happy to say that the only service they inquired about me paying for, other than my $39 appointment I scheduled for, was a fluoride varnish. That would have been $30 US Dollars.

The hygienists’ face to seem a little strange when I declined the fluoride varnish, probably for good reason since I was so concerned about having healthy teeth. Well, you know I have varnish at home so thinking to myself; why would I pay $30 when I have it at home? You get it!

This is the only negative I can talk about:

  • The front office lady sked if “I wanted to schedule my next hygiene appointment?” and I always suggest to our clients...
    • Never “Ask” but tell the patient why they need to come back even if it is 6 months from now
    • Tell them a next appointment day and time. (Mention and time and day similar to the same time and day they are currently in your office)
    • Provide a benefit to return to your office (Example: We will check the margins of those onlays to be sure you do not have any cavities around those in the future)
  • And #2 is the lady at the front office, when I asked the cost of my next hygiene appointment, she told me "only $75."

When I inquired more about “only $75” I was now informed that when I return and pay for a “special in-office dental plan” of $111.00 -- this is why the next hygiene appointment would only be $75 and the doctor’s exam fee would be “waived.”

She also went on to explain how I would save money in the future if I purchased the $111 “dental plan” and then every 6 months I would only pay $75 for my cleanings.

So let’s get this clear: I will pay $111 for the “Plan” and then 2 times in the next year I will pay “$75?”

That is $111 + $150 and that equals $261.

She said that every 6 months without the plan it would $104 to clean my teeth and the dentist would need to do an exam and the exam every 6 months would be $95! Now we're talking $398 annually.

She swore I would be saving myself a lot of money if I got the plan!!

I told her I would need to think about this because it does not make sense to have an exam every 6 months since I have never had a cavity since I was a teenager.

The front office lady really did not know how to respond other than that is how they do it.

Not wanting to make any waves after just paying my $39.00, I left with my next 6 month appointment which I will later call to cancel.

Well, I am now going to go to YELP to review the dental office.  I will give them 4 Stars!

Until the check-out part with the lady telling me about paying $75.00 for my next hygiene appointment and nothing more about the “dental plan” and cost of that, (until I actually asked about the $75 cost next visit) I was very impressed and would have given them a 5 star rating. Because of this, I only gave a 4 star rating on YELP.

BTW: One thing the hygienist did tell me is that she was being flown to their corporate office more very EXTENSIVE Training! Can you imagine the cost to fly here there and for 3 days plus a hotel and all the food she would eat. She told me she was very excited to attend this corporate training.

I can honestly say that the experience was one of my best ones!

I am sad to say that never have I ever had such an experience with the dentist speaking with me in private, and never have I experienced such a thorough examination process!

The moral of this story is that if you are in solo practice or if you are wanting to have a few of your own dental offices, you need to understand how the BIG BOX CORPORATE DENTAL OFFICES are treating their patients.

If you question corporate dentistry, maybe you should go undercover and experienced this first-hand. I hope you have the same good experience that I just had.

My question to you: "IF you will be kind enough to comment; should I ever tell them I was “Undercover” and as a dental professional, I think they did a great job!"   ???

What would you do?

Did anything here resonate with you?

What do you need to change in your current practice to get to the stellar level and have all your patients leave your office feeling as if they were treated like the Queen of England or President of the United States?


In 1984 Debbie graduated from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene.

She is also a former clinical assistant from the University of Southern California and co-taught the senior dental students Practice Management course until the school went to a PBL learning format.

In 2000, she founded Dental Practice Solutions and works with dental practices world-wide to:

  • create profitable and sustainable dental hygiene departments
  • known for reactivating and retaining patients for dental practices world-wide
  • organically grow new patient numbers

Dental Practice Solutions creates:

  • sustainable dental hygiene departments throughout the world
  • a “team-driven” practice, where the employees feel like leaders vs. employees

All of this means that the doctor can come to the office to do their job as a Dentist and not worry about managing people!

Be sure you check out: HYGIENE EMPOWERMENT

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