Guru Dental grows through link between oral, overall health

On first glance, the 120,000 smaller dentistry practices in the United States targeted by Reno’s Guru Dental would appear to be anything but an attractive market.

Besieged by fast-growing corporate chains of dental offices and struggling to convince financially pressed patients to undertake treatment, three-quarters of the nation’s smaller practices experienced flat or declining revenue in the past dozen years.

“We have an opportunity to help the people who need it the most,” says Rick Henriksen, president and chief operating officer of Guru Dental.

It’s working.

The company posted 30 percent sales growth in 2013, and it’s expecting 40 percent growth this year. Its inside-sales and sales-support employment in downtown Reno has grown from a staff of three when it moved to northern Nevada about two years ago to 13 today. Company-wide, including regional sales representatives and a design group in Las Vegas, the company employs 35.

Most of the ownership of the privately held company is held by Henriksen and Lee Allen, its lead developer and chief executive officer.

Driving its growth has been what Guru Dental describes as a “case presentation system” — software that educates dental patients about the growing evidence of the link between oral health and their overall health.

It also helps dental professionals create customized presentations that explain treatment options to individualized patients.

Use of the software, Henriksen says, has been shown to lead to a 27.8 percent increase in the number of dental patients who agree to a treatment plan.

“The patients don’t say ‘yes’ more because they don’t understand,” says Henriksen. “Dentists are horrible communicators. They like providing treatment.”

Guru Dental’s software uses animations, video and drag-and-drop digital X-rays to explain the work that a dentist plans.

“We’re really about the patient experience,” Henriksen says.

On the back end, the Guru Dental software integrates with practice-management programs. And the company develops presentations on dental-health for use in dental-office lobbies or the Web sites of dental practices.

Guru Dental’s growth, Henriksen says, will come as it deepens its offerings to the dental profession and widens its product lines to include more medical specialties.

A likely new vertical is cardiology, where Reality Engineering, the parent company of Guru Dental, first developed patient-education software a decade ago. It shifted its focus to the dental profession in 2005.

“I’m insane about getting better,” says the 49-year-old Henriksen, who worked in the logistics industry before he moved into the medical profession in 1997.

The company began moving some operations to Reno from scattered locations in the West in 2011 partly to be close to a dental-supply unit of Henry Schein Inc. in Sparks.

Henry Schein, headquartered in Melville, N.Y., draws more than 53 percent of its nearly $9 billion in annual sales from the dental sector.

Guru Dental continues a distribution agreement with Henry Schein even as the Reno company builds its own sales channels.

“They are a big player, and they represent a lot of opportunity for us,” says Henriksen.

The company’s partnerships in northern Nevada also include a smaller player — Champagne Family Dentistry of Sparks.

While the dental practice is providing free oral checkups to underserved children during February, Guru Dental will be sending out its costumed “Brusher Bailey” character to introduce youngsters to animated teaching videos that the company has developed.


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