After graduating from University of California, Los Angeles in 1989, Stephen E. Thorne IV found himself in a tough job market, so he started working at his father’s dental office in Victorville.
“My dad asked me to put a computer system in his practice, and since I was pretty good with a computer, he asked me to computerize his practice,” Thorne said.
This first step led Thorne to take a deep dive into the operation of a dental practice. In 1994 he started Pacific Dental Serviceswhich is based in Irvine.
The company, often known as PDS, has been on Inc.Magazine‘s 5000 of America’s fastest growing private companies for 13 consecutive years.
It now has more than 12,000 employees and generated $2 billion last year. He became a pioneer in what is now called a DSO, or dental support organization, which manages the back offices of dental stores nationwide.
Thorne was one of five honored at business diary21st annual Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award held on May 26 at irvine Marriott.
“When we started, there wasn’t really a dental support industry,” Thorne told an audience of nearly 300 people at the Irvine Marriott Hotel. “Today it’s about 30% of the dental market in the United States. We are disrupting the industry.
In addition to a degree in economics from UCLA, Thorne also holds a master’s degree in health services administration from Chapman University.
Over the years, he has had to convince dentists of the value of his business that handles managed care contracts and billing collections. His practice would do just about everything for dentists except actual dentistry.
“The essence of Pacific Dental Services’ business model is simple: enable clinicians to focus more on the patient and worry less about the business,” the company’s website states.
PDS claims to have been the first dental organization to implement Epic, the most widely used comprehensive health records system, in its supported dental practices. Organizations using Epic can exchange patient data to improve patient care, allowing PDS-supported dentists and specialists to coordinate care with other clinicians who serve their patients, closing gaps in care and reducing duplication. Patients can see their dental health history in one place, helping them relate oral issues to the rest of their body.
Thorne led the company’s efforts on a one-of-a-kind dental medical practice in support of whole-body health with the opening of three health care practices in one convenient location: Union Village Modern Dentistry, Union Village Kid’s Dentistry and Union Village Medical Group in Henderson, Nevada.
This concept has increased access to comprehensive care and allows patients to be seen by clinicians who understand the critical link between oral health and whole-body health.
He also launched three schools to help dentists learn about industry, business and leadership.
Orange County has become a center of the American dental industry.
Besides PDS, based in Irvine Glidewell provides personalized dental restorative services, based in Brea Envista Holdings Corp. (NYSE: NVST) reached a market capitalization of $6.8 billion offering a line of dental products, and based in Irvine Smile brands inc. has 8,000 employees and annual sales of one billion dollars.
dr. John Phamfounder of the dental products manufacturer InBracewhich provides nearly invisible dental appliances, also won an award for excellence in entrepreneurship (see article, page 4).
It hasn’t always been easy for Thorne, like during the 2020 pandemic when dentistry was declared non-essential and only 5% of dental practices were open.
Thorne started 2020 thinking his company could increase sales by 25% to $2 billion. Two months into the pandemic, he thought sales could drop to $1 billion. It had to temporarily lay off 8,000 of its 13,000 employees.
“At certain stages in your career where you wonder if you’re going to succeed,” he told the May 26 hearing.
As it stands, sales rebounded in the second half of 2020 and fell 1% to around $1.6 billion.
PDS currently provides business support services to over 850 dental practices in 26 states. It plans to open 100 new dental offices in existing markets in 2022.
Thorne is also active in the community. He contributed to the formation of association of Dental Support Organizations (ADSO), which represents some of the largest DSOs in the world; he served as founding president for the first three years.
Thorne is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council at Harvard School of Dentistryand to AT Still University Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health.
He also sits on the executive committee of the CEO Leadership Alliance Orange County.
Additionally, PDS provided $8 million in dentistry donations and 53,584 volunteer hours in 2021.
The organization has been recognized by the Business Journal as a 2021 Companies that care about you honored.