During recent months, private equity firms have been actively selling and buying dental practices, which some investors believe is a relatively stable and recession-proof health-care arena. With an aging population requiring more dental work, minimal government intervention and mostly private-pay, investing in dental practice has seen a definite uptick.

Just last month, Great Expressions Dental Services acquired the New York-based dental practice management company, Exceldent, with 19 dental practice locations with New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. With this recent acquisition, Great Expressions controls 170 locations in sixteen states. Great Expressions has, over the past four years, strategically grown by integrating 98 offices through 11 acquisitions, helping land the firm on Inc. Magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest growing companies in America in each of the past three years.

In October, OMERS Private Equity purchased Great Expressions Dental Services from Audax Group, a private equity and mezzanine investor with over $55 billion in net assets. Its P.E. arm makes equity investments of between $10 million and $100 million; its mezzanine group focuses on financing requiring $10 million to $60 million of capital. OMERS Private Equity makes private equity investments for OMERS, one of Canada’s largest plans with over $50 billion in assets.

JLL Partners, a New York-based private equity firm with approximately $4 billion of capital under management, has recently completed its take-private acquisition of American Dental Partners, Inc., a Massachusetts-based provider of dental practice management services. The company is affiliated with 27 dental group practices, which have 282 dental facilities and approximately 2,404 operatories in 21 states. The deal was valued at approximately $392 million, including $81 million of assumed debt, or $19 per share. Debt financing was provided by Keybank, CIT Healthcare and NXT Capital.

Northeast Dental Management, a private-equity backed dental firm, increased its geographic reach, purchasing the assets of Dental Associates of Northern Virginia that included approximately $61 million in debt from NXT Capital. NXT provides structured financing opportunities to middle-market clients up to $125 million.

The Riverside Company, a global private equity firm that manages over $3 billion in assets and that focuses on acquiring companies valued at up to $200 million, has acquired DentalPlans.com.  DentalPlans.com represents more than 30 of the largest dental savings plan networks that offer 10%-60% off most dental procedures to individuals, businesses and groups across the U.S. This acquisition is Riverside’s 61st healthcare investment.

Although some states are cautious of the “corporate model” of practicing dentistry, the trend of private equity investing in the area of dental healthcare is one continuing of sustained interest.