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Patient Prism’s CEO, Amol Nirgudkar, brought this story to us live from the Patient Prism Studio at the July 2021 Dykema DSO conference. And, it is a unique DSO story, because the mission of Vesper Alliance is to make dentistry comfortable for everyone. 

Driving the growth of Vesper Alliance is the need for sedation-based dentistry. And rather than talk about “market demand” for sedation-based dentistry, Vesper’s founders prefer to talk about “patient needs.”

 

Vesper Alliance meets the needs of a niche dental market

Through his Advance Dentistry practice in Cincinnati, Ohio, Dr. Scott Sayre became a well-known provider of sedation-based dentistry dedicated to patient comfort at the highest level. With the desire to serve more patients throughout the Cincinnati tri-state area, he has started two more de novo Advance Dentistry locations with other doctors experienced in sedation dentistry. Just two years ago, he brought in Josh Swearigen as CEO to help him found and develop the Vesper Alliance DSO.

“The highest priority is addressing patients’ needs, fears, and concerns in such a way that no patient ever feels embarrassed or avoids the care they need because they are anxious about dentistry,” says Sayre. 

Swearingen had years of experience as a CEO with large dental organizations but had dreamed of leading an emerging DSO from the ground up. “Dr. Sayre runs an amazingly successful business, and it’s a model that I think is very much needed,” says Swearingen. “With a new DSO, the tenets of a large DSO all apply. We're just trying to cater to a different marketplace and audience. It’s been a lot of fun to find optimal locations, so patients that need us can get to us.”

 

Anesthesia enables more people to receive dental care

“Approximately 35% of the people out there are afraid of the dentist and that shows up by the number of people that come to the dentist, to begin with,” says Swearingen. “And when you put on top of those things like medical conditions, for example, Dementia, Alzheimer's, and patients with special needs, it may be as high as 50% of patients that at some time need sedation and need anesthesia. So, right now our goal is to bring anesthesia to these patients in the outpatient setting, and it's been very successful.”

Vesper Alliance has M.D. anesthesiologists in its Cincinnati locations and will duplicate that in Columbus. “I think anesthesia is a specialty that we need in dentistry. Of course, we now have residencies for dentists to go into anesthesiology, so at some point, we might have a dentist anesthesiologist at one of our locations,” says Sayre.

 

Is dental anesthesia a profit center or a public service? 

The answer to this is sedation-based dentistry is both profitable and a public service. In addition to the fee for the anesthesia, patients accept more treatment, and they have more treatment in a single appointment. But Vesper’s primary motivation—Vesper’s mission, is helping more people accept the dental care they need to have healthier, happier lives.

“Our main focus is on having the patient comfortable, and then we can do more during that appointment. Our profit is already built-in,” says Sayre.

Swearingen adds, “I think it's important to realize that our marketing message is specifically geared towards fearful, medically compromised, and special needs patients. Many of those patients have not been to the dentist in years. More than likely, they are in pain and terrified to walk in, yet they need substantial work done. Our call center is regularly talking with patients who are in tears. So, what we promise them is to make their dentistry the least traumatic as possible and to take care of as many of their problems as we can at one shot.”

 

Vesper Alliance will train its dentists

Vesper Alliance values lifelong training, and its culture embraces this. Young dentists don’t come out of dental school with a sedation background, and they become more competent with advanced procedures as they gain experience. Training them to be “super generalists,” which is a Vesper Alliance goal, will take time and training.  

“I was in the military and right from the beginning you train, and you train again, and you train again, and then you continue to train all the way up through the highest ranks,” says Sayre. “I believe training is paramount. It never goes away. It never stops. And it continues. Once you realize that, you embrace it. That’s the concept that we bring into our offices. Training dentists is the key to our de novo success,” says Sayre. 

In Columbus, “our goal is to take young docs who really want to do this. We’ll have a lead doctor in a lead location, and our new associates in the Columbus area will go to that lead location one or two days a week for mentorship,” says Sayre. 

Vesper Alliance might be attractive to mid-career dentists, not just new dentists. Dentists who are mid-career and tired of doing marketing and running a business could work with one of Vesper’s sedation associates, have the support of the DSO, and over time, complete the training to do sedation dentistry alongside an anesthesiologist.

Swearingen also has established an advanced dental education program and hired a director for its education department. The Vesper Institute will provide multi-disciplinary dental continuing education and credentialing programs. 

 

Growth will be disciplined

De novo dental practices take time to build. Vesper Alliance chose the de novo model because each of its locations requires surgical suites, and it is difficult to find practices that have them. In 2021, Vesper is adding two locations (in Columbus) for a total of five locations. Vesper has plans to add two or three locations in 2022 and to continue growth in future years.

The marketing for each de novo begins about six weeks prior to opening. “In Cincinnati, it's been easy because we have a brand presence and we've been there for 10 years,” says Swearingen. “Columbus will be a little different, but we'll start the marketing six or seven weeks out and have a call center ready for scheduling.”

At its most recent de novo in Westchester, Ohio—a suburb north of Cincinnati, Vesper has one full-time doctor who is fully scheduled. They are in the process of adding a second full-time doctor there now.

Vesper’s Cincinnati locations are pulling in patients from two to four hours away. Based on this experience, Vesper’s founders are confident the locations they are opening in Columbus will be successful.

As Vesper Alliance grows, another goal is to have interdisciplinary specialists on staff to handle major cases. “Regionally, or statewide—whatever we need, we’ll have oral surgeons, anesthesiologists, and endodontists,” says Sayre. 

Vesper Alliance is meeting a critical patient need. Careful location decisions, construction of surgical suites, onboarding the right people, Vesper Alliance training, area mentors, and centralized marketing and business support will keep this unique DSO on a mission and growing.

“It’s a wonderful mission and business model,” says Nirgudkar. “I’m excited to hear your story and look forward to watching you grow.”

 

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