When navigating the world of dental business models, you will encounter terminology and acronyms which are new, vague, and confusing.  Let’s define and explain common verbiage used in the DSO and dental group practice space.

Corporate Dentistry

The term “corporate dentistry” has been used in the dental industry for several years.  There is no standard definition, but “corporate dentistry” typically refers to the larger or most well-known dental support organizations.  Solo dentists, as well as organized dentistry, have used this term typically in a derogatory fashion to vilify dental group practices and DSOs. When conducting a dental job search or preparing to sell a practice it is ill advised to use this term as it carries negative connotations.


DSO is an acronym which can stand for either dental support organization or dental service organization.   Regardless of whether the “S” stands for support or service, the meaning is the same.  A DSO is typically a stand-alone, legal entity built specifically to handle the non-clinical functions of the dental offices which it manages.  These non-clinical functions include human resources, accounting, legal, marketing, risk management, compliance, recruiting, payroll, IT, purchasing, and several other non-clinical services.

When dentists decide to sell their practice to a DSO, or simply join a DSO as an employee, one of the major draws is the fact that the dentist can focus on the clinical side of dentistry while leaving the administrative side to a team of business experts.


Often DSOs use the term affiliation when an existing dental practice becomes a part of that dental support organization’s group of clinical locations.  Many times the term acquisition is used in place of affiliation.  It is important to note that most affiliations are not true acquisitions, at least by the legal definition.

De Novo

When a dental group practice or DSO builds a brand new practice from the ground up, the term de novois often used.  De novo is latin for ‘from the beginning’ or ‘anew’.  With de novo offices, the DSOs will need to populate the new locations with a clinical team.  There are opportunities for dentists, assistants, and hygienists to join the de novo DSO office location as employees.  Although not practice owners, some DSOs will offer an equity stake in the location to the dentist.

Dental Group Practice

This term has created much confusion.  The term “dental group practice” has traditionally been used when referring to a single location with several full-time dentists on staff.  The term can also be used to describe a dental group which has multiple locations.  You can see why this term is confusing.  Which raises the question, “If the term ‘dental group practice’ also refers to an entity with multiple locations, then what is the difference between a DSO and a dental group practice?”  The simplest answer is that a dental group practice becomes a dental support organization when it begins to separate and centralize the clinical from the non-clinical.

Written by: Beth Miller, contributing editor

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