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WATERLOO — A two-story dental office building recently opened among new development on Ridgeway Avenue east of U.S. Highway 63 in Waterloo.

But there’s nothing new about the five dentists and staff that started practicing in September at Ridgeway Dental.

“There was five dental offices in Waterloo that were consolidated into this facility” at 1866 W. Ridgeway Ave., said human resources manager Gary Vandello. Each brought their patients along to the new facility, which is outfitted with the most up-to-date equipment. In addition, said Vandello, “obviously this location allows us more room.”

Ridgeway Dental is the latest example this year of dentists in the Cedar Valley merging practices. Others include Cedar Brook Dental Group at 9219 University Ave. in Cedar Falls and Southridge Dental at 3308 Kimball Ave. in Waterloo.

Hennessey Family Dentistry changed its name to Cedar Brook in the spring after Nemmers & Petrie Family Dental merged with it. That followed the 2017 retirement of Dr. Richard Nemmers, who was in a practice with his daughter, Dr. Jamie Petrie. Three dentists are part of the Cedar Brook practice.

Five dentists practice at Southridge Dental after the July merger of the Spragg, Squires & Wirth and Driver & Cahill dentist offices located in the building. Office manager Anne Johnson said each dentist had practiced independently in the building’s downstairs and upstairs locations. Now, following renovations that include a new facade for the 1970s-era building and the addition of an elevator, all five are on the upper floor in a single practice.

“It made sense to work together and then we can split the expense” of the business, said Dr. Benjamin Squires, citing Southridge Dental’s team atmosphere. “Seemed like a pretty natural move. It’s good for all of our staff, as well.”

Ridgeway Dental sees some of the same benefits, but the facility came together in a different way.

Vandello’s son is one of the dentists and owner of the business. “He had purchased those practices,” said Vandello, of the five dental offices that merged into Ridgeway Dental. “The dentists then moved over here with him.”

Dr. Michael Vandello joined the Waterloo dental practice of his father-in-law, Dr. Tom Friedman, and took it over when he retired. He then began looking at other dentists’ offices and bought four more Waterloo practices “over the past three, four years.”

The first was the office of Dr. Bob Hansen, who was preparing to retire. After he left, Dr. Alex Vitzthum joined the practice. Dr. Vandello later reached out to Drs. Mark Schreiner, Cam Bolick and Robert Anderson.

“Getting out of the management is something they were interested in, and so last year I took over those offices as well,” he said. At that point, a 1-1/2 year planning and construction process began for the new office building and location. Dr. Vandello noted, “I’ve always wanted to build my own facility.”

Consolidating into one location and entity has advantages for the dentists, providing each of them with greater flexibility. They can offer more hours and rotate who’s on call when the office is closed. There are pluses when it comes to administrative issues, as well.

“There’s not as many buildings to pay for,” said Dr. Vandello, and dental supply companies will give breaks for larger volume purchases. “It just kind of helps with the expenses and overhead.”

Additionally, “it’s kind of a one-stop shop” with multiple dentists. Each one has their own niche “whether that’s orthodontics, implants, sleep medicine and cosmetics,” said Dr. Vandello. As a result, there’s “very, very little referred out.”

Sleep medicine is one area where referrals are made to an ear, nose and throat specialist when the dentist sees signs of dental problems related to sleep apnea. If that’s confirmed, Ridgeway Dental can make dental appliances that the patient wears at night to deal with the condition.

Squires said his office sees similar benefits, with the ability to refer in-house for particular problems depending on each dentist’s expertise. Both he and Dr. Vandello said the arrangements also provide opportunities to brainstorm and problem solve with a broader group of dental professionals.

Since Ridgeway Dental opened, Dr. Vandello said patients are “for the most part” still seeing their original dentist. But Squires noted that “every generation is represented on our team” at Southridge Dental and patients “can kind of pick who they want to be seen by.”

It’s been important for Southridge Dental to remain anchored to the location where its dentists and their predecessors have practiced for decades while modernizing the facility, said Squires.

“This made a lot of sense for us, so I’m not paying much attention to what everyone else is doing,” he added, noting that a lot of patients were glad the office didn’t move.

Dr. Vandello, though, suggested office consolidations will continue picking up pace. He has purchased other dental offices in Hudson and Cedar Falls that weren’t part of his merged office and is “looking in several other locations in Iowa” to acquire more practices.

“I would say in the next two to five years you’re going to see very few solo practitioners,” he said, in Iowa and nationally. “It’s a trend that you’re seeing across the country.”

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