Dentists planning big expansion in growing Billings medical corridor

The quarters at Yellowstone Family Dental are getting cramped on 1690 Rimrock Road in Billings, and owners Matt Larsen and Chase Pearson are looking to stretch their legs.

The two dentists are building a new $1.2 million office at 1099 N. 27th St., across from the Billings Clinic campus. It will be 2,500 square feet bigger, with the latest technology and comforts. The investment is big, but Larsen said it’s important to accommodate a blossoming dental clientele in Billings’ growing health care sector.

“It’s grown enough now where it’s tough to make it work. Parking is our biggest issue. There’s not enough room to park here,” Larsen, a 12-year veteran dentist, said last week in his current office.

“We really felt like 27th Street was centrally located.”

Billings-based Jones Construction is building the 6,000-square-foot facility and expects to finish in November. Crews began demolishing the old building, which housed an MRI service and once belonged to a plastic surgeon, in January.

The new location is at the heart of Billings’ growing medical corridor, across the street from Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare. Changing health care laws, primarily the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act, have fueled big expansions in the industry in recent years, and providers are anticipating more business with federal dollars funneling into Montana.

A divided Montana Legislature passed Medicaid expansion this month, and Gov. Steve Bullock signed it into law. Once it obtains federal approval, the new law will accept federal funds to extend Medicaid benefits, including dental coverage, to low-income residents.

About 70,000 Montanans qualify, including about 7,000 in Yellowstone County.

For dentists, those new Medicaid enrollees represent new customers.

“We know that when you give people more insurance coverage, they consume health care. That’s a pretty established result,” said Bryce Ward, a health care economist at the University of Montana in Missoula.

Ward, associate director of the university Bureau of Business and Economic Research, added that he doesn’t expect a sudden surge of new patients

“If you are the dentist, or a physician that’s not working through the hospital, those were frequently the services that were not being consumed because (people) didn’t have insurance. Now you have insurance, and it’s, ‘I won’t skip that cleaning, or I won’t skip that standard screening or checkup,’” Ward said.

Yellowstone Family Dental has about 6,000 patients on the books, one-third of whom come in for regular appointments, Larsen said. The

practice has grown through referrals, and Larsen said he sees opportunity with expanded insurance plans.

“We see parents that bring their kids in, but the parents aren’t patients. I’m guessing it’s because whatever plan they have set up, they don’t have dental, but their kids do,” he said.

Yellowstone Family bought the half-acre lot from Art Properties in October 2014, and the dental firm was represented by David Mitchell of Coldwell Banker Commercial.

Larsen grew up on a ranch in Utah but opted for the medical field because “farming and ranching was way too hard of work,” he said.

He moved to Billings in the early 2000s, bought a practice and changed the name to Yellowstone Family Dental about a decade ago. Larsen later partnered with Allen Blackford before his recent retirement. Pearson joined the practice in 2012.

Yellowstone Family Dental has 14 employees, who are typically bumping into each other in their current space, said Larsen.

The hallways are narrow, three receptionists are bunched into one tight area and the dentists have little room to maneuver around patients.

Along with more space, the new building will be designed for patient comfort, a growing trend in the dental industry, Larsen said.

For example, each station will have an overhead television set at eye-level so patients will no longer need to swivel their heads to see, he said.

The goal is to remove the discomfort and dread that had been associated with dental visits for decades, Larsen said.

“Most of the patients get to the end and think, ‘Man, I’ve never had such an easy checkup appointment,’” he said.

This article was initially published on Dentists planning big expansion in growing Billings medical corridor

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