Smile Brands Inc.

Smile Brands 1

Smile Brands plans to bring more consumers into dental care

with its focus on supporting dentists and delivering smiles. 


By Staci Davidson, Managing Editor, Knighthouse Media

The mission of Smile Brands Inc. is to deliver “smiles for everyone®.” That’s not something that is just posted on a placard in the company’s office. However, it’s also a tall order for a company in the dental industry – going to the dentist does not top many lists of people’s favorite activities to smile about. In fact, only 39 percent of Americans visited the dentist last year. Even so, Smile Brands is dedicated to delivering reasons to smile to everyone with whom it interacts, and it has built its operation to fulfill that promise, while also continuously working to improve.

“What we’ve tried to do is be thoughtful about what we’re trying to accomplish and communicate that in a simple way,” CEO and Co-Founder Steve Bilt explains. “We boiled that down to three words: smiles for everyone. It’s a simple phrase but complex in reality.

“We want all win-win relationships in our business,” he continues. “That means, do patients feel like they get high-quality services at convenient times with great value? Do the doctors get to focus on their patients, advance in their careers, be successful and feel fully supported from an administrative perspective? Do our employees feel they are treated fairly, have an opportunity to advance and get a fair wage? Do suppliers feel like this is an expanding relationship? Do communities feel value from the services we provide and our charity care? We try to look at every constituent and determine if we can deliver on this promise of smiles for everyone.”

Smile Brands infoBased in Irvine, Calif., Smile Brands is one of the largest dental support organizations (DSO) in the United States, providing comprehensive support services to affiliate dental groups. As a result, dentists can focus more on patient care, instead of administrative, marketing and financial tasks. Smile Brands supports more than 400 Bright Now! Dental, Monarch Dental, Castle Dental, DecisionOne Dental, A+ Dental Care, OneSmile Dental, Johnson Family Dental and P3 Dental Group offices in 17 states.

The company was established in 1998 when a management team - including Bilt and CFO Brad Schmidt - combined three West Coast dental companies to form Bright Now! Dental. It made two large acquisitions in 2003 and 2004 - Monarch Dental and Castle Dental - and took on the name Smile Brands in 2009. Smile Brands continues to grow through acquisitions and opening new dental offices.

Bilt was a healthcare executive, and saw some trends in the industry that could be improved, which spurred him to start Smile Brands. Primarily, he realized quality and value don’t always determine success for a medical practice, but they would be more important as consumers became more active in deciding and paying for their healthcare choices.

“In dentistry, people choose their own dentist and pay a significant portion of their care, even when they have insurance,” Bilt says. “They have a high participation level and choose what procedures they want to get done. Also, over half the country wasn’t getting dental care. We wanted to build a model where facilities were conveniently located, appointments were quickly available, all the care was under one roof and consumer financing was accessible. We believe a model like that could be a great alternative to people and would attract more people into care.

“This is different than broader healthcare, which people go to based on insurance,” he adds. “With dentistry, people tend to choose for themselves and so much of it is service-related and aesthetic-related. People believe their dentist is the best, so we can follow more consumer models of business. The doctors are seeing more complexity in their businesses and were attracted to the support services we offered and to be a part of a larger organization. ADA estimates dentists normally spend half their time on non-patient-related matters, and we knew our operation could reverse that trend.”

Moving Forward Together

Smile Brands keeps people smiling by supporting the dentists so they can put patient care first. The company notes its dentist and employee base has the passion, integrity and dedication to serve patients, and that helps ensure every person they connect with believes they are treated fairly and benefitted from their encounter with the business. This comes down to ongoing, quality service.

“Executing in this business requires a thousand little things, none of which are individually determinant, but together they all add up to success,” Bilt says. “You have to attract and retain the right people, support those people and make sure they are clearly aligned with goals for each other. You also have to have systems that support them in their jobs. When things aren’t going well, do you have a culture that focuses on identifying it and fixing it?

“We encourage our people to understand that they can’t make a mistake that will hurt the company, but they can repeat a mistake that can hurt the company,” he continues. “We have a culture of saying there are issues, but we address them, solve for them and move forward together. Our culture is not out to put blame on people.”

Smile Brands encourages its people to be vocal about opportunities the company has to improve because it’s unlikely for a business to have consistent perfection. Bilt explains it is then the responsibility of leadership to jump in and go after the issues that have been raised. “It’s easy for leaders, after a problem is solved, to say thanks and leave it at that,” he adds. “But it’s key to embrace the opportunity to fix the issue, and that becomes cultural.”

Smile Brands 2He cites a statistic that not even half of adults in the United States went to the dentist last year, so Smile Brands is dedicated to perpetuating a business model where the doctors are able to care for more people, ultimately increasing the number of people who go to a dentist. “There are powerful reasons to get good at what we do, and all of these things matter, and our team gets that,” Bilt says. “We are motivated to perpetuate this model and help people that way.”

At the same time, Smile Brands aims to demonstrate the importance of dental care with its Smiles for Everyone Foundation. The foundation’s work is focused on providing free dental care to those in need. Today, it provides free dental services through Community Smile Projects throughout the United States, as well as International Smile Projects in Cambodia, Ghana, Laos, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Thailand.

“We’ve provided over $20 million in charity care through the foundation,” Bilt says. “It’s a really big deal in terms of how we think of ourselves as a citizen - the company pays for all of the foundation’s administrative costs. Our employees, providers and suppliers are providing support for that mission, and because the foundation’s model is using our expertise and skill, we can do things where we spend $1 in cost to deliver $25 in healthcare.”

Enhancing Convenience

Smile Brands is working to expand into more of the larger markets around the country. Bilt says the company is actively expanding with affiliations and by building new practices. It also is constantly investing in new dental technology and procedures, such as adding scanners and getting dentists trained to do implants so they can offer more convenience and better prices. Smile Brands is implementing artificial intelligence on its administrative side to process claims more accurately. The company wants to make sure patients have access to the latest technology and procedures so they have more options about their care. When patients have options, Bilt says, they can choose what is most important to them and choose the procedures that fit their incomes and lifestyles.

“We have to make sure we’re making it as convenient for patients as possible,” he stresses. “Our model is built on being multi-specialty, conveniently located, great value and extended hours. Consumers want convenience in every aspects of our lives, and healthcare in general hasn’t responded well to how to make it cost-efficient and convenient to people. It will take a lot of time to change, but that is what we endeavor to do.”

He is confident these goals can be achieved and the “smiles for everyone®” mission can be maintained because of the strength of Smile Brands’ people.

“We have a group of people who are very focused on the high-quality reality of what we do,” Bilt says. “We want the reality of experiences with us to continue to grow toward great. All 5,000 people in our organization know the mission is to deliver smiles for everyone, and our people fight for that every day. We are not perfect, but we work to get better every day. I am proud of our folks in this company and how they attack problems and work together.”

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