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USA Today Investigation Finds Dentists Drilling Unnecessarily for Private Equity Firms

By Jack H. FarnbauchApril 30, 2020

In a surprising story not often thought of, USA TODAY and the investigative unit at Newsy, spent more than a year examining the dental chain of North American Dental after it received a tip that the chain may be over treating patients in order to drive up revenue. Reporters interviewed dozens of its former dentists, employees and patients and reviewed thousands of pages of documents from courts, dental boards, patient records, social media reviews and other sources. 

The investigation found that the intense pressure on North American Dental’s offices to meet daily revenue targets led to allegations of overtreatment. Patients complained they were diagnosed with a mouthful of cavities only to later discover nothing was wrong with their teeth. Employees said they felt uncomfortable with what they witnessed.

Dental Express was part of North American Dental Group, a chain backed by private-equity investors. At least as early as 2012, the company had told dentists to meet aggressive revenue targets or risk being kicked out of the chain. Those targets ratcheted up pressure to find problems that might not even exist.

North American Dental Group follows a new trend of dental offices bought by private-equity investors and turned into revenue-generating machines. The chain started in Ohio and soon became among the fastest expanding. It now has more than 200 offices in 13 states east of the Rockies, handling a million patient visits a year. Late last year it was bought by a Swiss firm that also owns hundreds of dental offices in Europe.  

Private dental chains receive virtually no oversight. These companies don’t have to file financial statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission. And state dental boards tend to only regulate dentists, not the companies. Even then, USA TODAY/Newsy found that dental boards rarely act on complaints.  

Read more about dentists drilling for profit.