A Colorado dental franchisor is making plans to expand in Kansas in the next year after a change in the state's dental practice laws.
A spokesman said Thursday that Comfort Dental, which has 78 franchise offices in six states, likely will open its first Kansas office in eight to nine months in the Kansas City area.
Afterward it would look at establishing offices in Wichita, Garden City and other areas of the state, said Lawless Barrientos, Comfort Dental spokesman.
The company has wanted to come to Kansas but had been denied because state law prohibited franchise dentistry until Gov. Sam Brownback signed into a law a measure permitting limited franchise dentistry.
Comfort Dental officials worked with Kansas legislators and the Kansas Dental Association beginning last year to craft House Bill 2241.
The Kansas Dental Association agreed to work with Comfort Dental on the bill because the company agreed to include what KDA executive director Kevin Robertson called "patient safety precautions."
Those precautions include a requirement that franchise offices be independently owned by dentists licensed to practice in Kansas, and that the owners, not the franchisor, make treatment decisions for patients. In addition, the dentist-owner would own the equipment in the office and patient records.
"Those were some of the things we were interested in preserving," Robertson said. "In the end we feel comfortable with what was ultimately passed (by the Legislature)."
Under the revised law, franchises must also register with the Kansas Dental Board, which provides oversight of dentists and compliance with dental laws.
Robertson said that while there are some dentist members in the association who oppose franchise dentistry, the majority think franchise dentistry could lead to the development of dentistry practices for rural parts of the state that don't have them.
Franchise dentistry also can help recently graduated dentists establish practices.
New dentists are typically saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to pay off. It also can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to establish a practice, including things such as the purchase of equipment, leasing of a building and hiring of staff.
"It's very difficult anymore for a dentist to say, 'OK, I'm going to start a practice by myself'... without having some other entity or help in financing," Robertson said.
"We feel like the bill, the language that ultimately passed, will be good for the state and good for access issues across the state."