Dentistry and the long tail – 4 Min Read

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Dentistry was a cottage industry (Small businesses of ma and pa owners). Each dentist had his or her flock of 2000 or so patients, and their various dental needs were looked after in a very intimate way. Dentist and patient relationships often lasted 30-40 years.

Fast forward to 2019, and the landscape is very different. Dental corporations and Health fund owned clinics are starting to shake the industry to its very core. The public is slowly having to turn to large businesses instead of small businesses for their oral health care.

Firstly, let’s consider trust: The following from Edelman. (Edelman Trust Barometer, 2013)
business graphic

Dentistry formerly had a long tail of small business owners. There have always been large clinics but there were so many small practices that collectively still held strong. This long tail is slowly being outcompeted and swallowed by big businesses. The tail is becoming smaller and the industry is becoming very top heavy.

Trust in big businesses is low in developed countries as shown above. This is predominantly due to short vs long term thinking. Big businesses are overly incentivised to think short term; Pleasing shareholders and CEO bonuses at the macro level. Weekly patient numbers, billing targets and sliding pay scales for dental practitioners at the micro level. Small businesses though having none of those rigid demands and incentives, usually survive on small numbers of highly loyal, long term patrons.

Just to set my interests straight, Dental on Flinders is a small business owned and operated by me and my family. My sole motivation to setup shop in an ultra-competitive market in 2014 was to escape corporate scrutiny and practice dentistry in the way I wanted to treat my patients. I thought and still think there is a market for that. Through honesty, transparency and valuing the long-term over the short, I think both the dentist and the patient will benefit greatly. I’d much rather have a patient that’s going to be loyal for 30 years than focus on any short-term incentives.

The influence of corporations and health funds in dentistry is a passion of mine and I’ll write more about that in the coming weeks and months.

Trust Small businesses.

TLDR: Dentistry landscape is changing rapidly. It’s shifting from a small business industry to a big business / health insurance industry at breakneck speed.