From Hygienist to DSO CEO – Heidi Arndt Shares Her Extraordinary Story

The dental industry is female-dominated, and finally, women are steadily being elevated into executive-level positions in DSO C-suites. Still, it is rare to find a woman at the helm of a DSO, which makes Heidi Arndt’s latest accomplishment even more monumental and extraordinary. Not all dental hygienists have aspirations of fully understanding the business side of dentistry, but Heidi not only showed interest, she made it a priority.

When Heidi Arndt graduated from the University of Minnesota’s hygiene school, she never dreamed of being the CEO of a DSO. But her shared passion for both dental hygiene and dental business set her on the path for just that.

In 2002, after receiving her four-year degree, she started her first job as a periodontal dental hygienist at the Mayo Clinic, which ended up being the best work experience of her life. She then moved to Minneapolis where she worked as a clinical hygienist for an affiliate of a DSO, American Dental Partners.  The affiliate, Forward Dental, had about 22 practices at that time in the twin cities. Her interest in the business side of dentistry and her love of learning eventually propelled her into a management role within the organization. She was then promoted to Director of Dental Hygiene.

Each of ADP’s affiliates had a different culture and feel to them – different protocols and systems. She was constantly learning how different businesses worked — what worked for them or what didn’t work.

“There isn’t one right way to run your dental group. There is no secret sauce that anybody can share with you. It’s just learning, implementing, creating what works for you and your organization. I’ve just been a lifelong learner and I think that’s exactly why I’m in the chair that I am today.” -Heidi Arndt

It was during her time with American Dental Partners that she realized if hygienists required training, development, and support at ADP, they must surely also require it in other dental groups across the country. After spending nearly ten years in her role as dental hygiene director, she left ADP to begin her own consulting company – Enhanced Hygiene.

“When I started Enhanced Hygiene in 2011, I was very intentional about working with dental groups – even back then. People would ask why I was creating such a small niche in the dental world. But I knew that there were a lot of dental groups out there and I knew that I could speak their language. Consulting is what led me to where I am today, which is a wonderful thing.” -Heidi Arndt

For the next eight years, Enhanced Hygiene grew. It grew bigger than its founder ever thought it would. And after nearly a decade of rigorous travel and spending a lot of time away from home, it was time for the ambitious entrepreneur to settle into an organization where she could grow and, in turn, help them grow.

In July 2019, she sold Enhanced Hygiene, moved to Austin, Texas, and eventually began working for Strive Dental Management. Hired as Strive’s VP of Clinical Operations, Heidi quickly moved into the role of COO and has just been promoted into the role of CEO.

“One of the things that I love about DSOs is they have created incredible opportunities for me and my career to move away from the chair and expand. Everything that I know today is what I’ve learned while working with DSOs across the country. I’m forever grateful for dental support organizations and the amazing groups that are out there.” -Heidi Arndt

STRIVE DENTAL MANAGEMENT

In 2018, MBF purchased Rose Dental Group and its four very large dental practices, located in Austin, Texas, and Strive Dental Management, a PE-backed organization, was formed. In 2019, they purchased Avery Ranch Dental. Now they have five sizeable locations in the Austin area employing 22 dentists, 35 hygienists.

Still considering themselves a startup, they have a fairly lean team. Offering general dentistry, the emerging DSO also provides specialty dentistry including endodontics, periodontics, and oral surgery.

Like many DSOs Group Dentistry Now speaks with, for Strive, the biggest challenge reopening post-COVID-19 shutdown was not getting patients back in the chair. Strive’s patients were ready to return to the practices for dental care. In fact, the demand for dental care created long waitlists which they are still working through. But, like most other dental practices and DSOs, the hardest component to reopening for Strive has been getting staff to return to work.

However, COVID-19 has created opportunities for DSOs like Strive. There are distressed practices where dentists don’t want to return to work. They don’t want to endure another unprecedented event and navigate an uncertain future. They are exhausted by the headaches of running a practice and all stress that entails. Now more than ever before, solo practitioners want to be brought under the protective umbrella of a DSO or retire and sell outright to them.

While growing their portfolio, Strive is developing their clinical leaders and creating strong mentoring programs, while offering a strong clinical curriculum for their dentists. They are focused on growth in Texas with plans to expand outside of the Austin area.

“I believe that the clinicians, the doctors, are the foundation of the practice and it’s important for us to develop them and help them improve the lives of not only their patients but their teams. Our doctors are young – we only have associate doctors. We hope by developing them early on in their career, we can continue to retain them and make Strive Dental Management the place that they want to stay.” -Heidi Arndt

Strive’s well-rounded leader’s strength is that she offers both a clinical mindset and a strong business acumen. The blend of those two has helped Heidi to be successful and lead the team to a strong comeback after the COVID-19 dental shutdown. Right now she is focused on methodically rebuilding the company, while still focusing on clinical excellence, human resource development, and team support.


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