During the first months of the pandemic, dental spending took a hit. Many offices were closed – only open for emergencies – as patients were forced to wait for routine cleanings and other procedures.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, spending on dental services in August 2022 was estimated to be $113.4 billion at an inflation and seasonally adjusted annualized rate. Although this number represents a change of +6.4% from 12 months prior, it is down 9% from pre-pandemic levels.
As a result, many dental professionals are playing catch-up and have been forced to rethink how they do business. In October 2021, the American Dental Association (ADA) reported that over 60% of practices were open. At the same time, staffing shortages – much like those that many industries are currently experiencing – remain an important constraint on the expansion of patient volume.
But it’s not just workforce issues that contribute to lower patient volume. An increasing share of dental practices reports “not enough patients making appointments” as a limiting factor, according to the Health Policy Institute. While fewer patients may be making appointments, it’s too soon to know if the industry is in the early stages of slowing demand.
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New Innovations Emerging
The 2021 State of the Dental Industry found that dental practices faced significant challenges in 2020 due to Covid-19. The greatest impact of the pandemic on dental practices was financial (42%), followed by patient volume (32%). Also, 47% of respondents had to shift their investment priorities in 2020. But despite some of the Covid-19-induced setbacks, new innovations have emerged to bring on a win for both dentists and patients.
As consumers look for ways to make their lives easier and save time, in the past few years, the industry has adapted and made it more convenient to see a dentist. Overall, significant focus is shifting to the comfort and convenience of patients in healthcare. Dentistry is no exception.
Because patients typically have several options when choosing healthcare providers, they will most likely pick the easiest and most comfortable option. For example, convenience options include online portals to book appointments and fill out forms, expanded office hours, online payments, and additional services. It’s important to remember how these perks can improve patient experiences.
What’s Ahead for the Industry
In addition to the convenience factor, Exploding Topics lists a few trends to look for in the dental industry in 2023 and beyond.
3D Printing: According to the Journal of the American Dental Association, the low cost and simple workflow of additive 3D printing have the potential to improve precision and efficiency in clinical dentistry. Both academic and private practices can benefit. Dental products that can be 3D printed include:
- Clear teeth aligners
- Dental crown substructures
- Dental models
- Surgical guides
Data from SmarTech analysis show that the dental industry continues to be one of the strongest targets for developing new 3D printers, materials, and applications.
Consolidation: Perhaps partially due to changes in dental insurance market concentration, the number of solo dental practices is declining. In 1999, according to the American Dental Association, 2 in 3 dental offices were solo. As of October 2022, only 1 in 2 practices was solo. Additionally, the average practice size increased from 1.54 in 2000 to 1.88 in 2015.
At the same time, the numbers of Dental Service Organizations and Dental Management Service Organizations are on the rise. These companies contract with dental practices to provide management and non-clinical support, including services related to human resources, accounting, and negotiations with suppliers.
It’s no surprise that one of the main reasons to consolidate into bigger offices is financial. This is most likely due to the cost of dental education, which has doubled since 2000, according to the Academy of General Dentistry.
Digital Marketing: In the past, small dental practices were able to get by without investing large amounts of money in advertising. But the pandemic changed all that. Social media has become a popular way to reach both current and potential patients. In fact, for most patients, dentists’ social media presence is a must, according to a 2020 DentaVox survey. Dentists who don’t use social media for professional purposes are perceived as traditionalists, while dentists who do use it are seen as innovative and caring.
Furthermore, one in three survey participants believes dentists cannot go without Facebook. However, consumers should note that the majority of survey respondents said that regardless of the context, images of bloody procedures are inappropriate. What would they prefer to see? Videos, educational materials, and patient testimonials drew favorable attention from a large percentage of respondents.
Subscription-Based Coverage: Cost is a big reason why many people in the U.S. avoid going to the dentist. According to industry statistics, approximately 23 percent of Americans have no dental coverage. This translates to about 74 million people. Not only that, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a third of American adults haven’t seen a dental professional in the past year. Subscription services offer an annualized or monthly rate. That rate covers regular cleanings, x-rays, and even fillings or other surgery. These subscriptions can be cost-effective for patients while guaranteeing more revenue for dental practices.
Laser Dentistry: This technology has a range of dental care applications. And in some cases, it can even replace a traditional dental drill. This includes procedures such as removing or reshaping tissue, repairing fillings, removing cavities and accelerating whitening procedures. Potential benefits of dental lasers include:
- Reduces pain and speeds post-op healing while reducing bleeding
- In one study, diode lasers had a 100% reduction in long-term bacteria
- Allows for minimally invasive oral surgery, reducing the need for sutures
- Reduces the risk of infection
Natural Oral Hygiene Products: Sustainable and clean products have seen a rise in popularity in recent years. According to Statista, the global market value for natural personal care and cosmetics is expected to reach $50.46 billion by 2027, increasing around 40% since 2021. Natural oral care products whose market share is growing include herbal toothpaste, herbal mouthwash, bamboo toothbrushes, and oral supplements.
Teledentistry: Like much of the healthcare industry, the pandemic forced many dentists to rethink how they provide care. According to the CDC, telehealth visits increased by 154% in the first week of the pandemic. This number remained elevated throughout the year, where nearly a third of all healthcare visits were conducted virtually.
Despite the pandemic waning, telehealth and teledentistry are likely here to stay. Not only can teledentistry provide a substitute for in-person care, but it can also improve healthcare by increasing frequency and improving access. It can ease travel burdens for the 20% of Americans who live in rural locations and are without easy access to dentists and medical services. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, teledentistry has been shown to be equally effective as initial in-person consultations at diagnosing cavities and assessing treatment plans.
Automated Practice Management Options: Automation will likely become the norm for many dental practices in the coming years. This includes practices such as appointment-setting, customer service, and other management functions. Much of this is done by a chatbot, which is a computer program that simulates and processes human conversation (either written or spoken), allowing humans to interact with digital devices as if they were communicating with a real person.
Chatbots can be as simple as rudimentary programs that answer a simple query with a single-line response or as sophisticated as digital assistants that learn and evolve to deliver increasing levels of personalization. In addition to processing information, chatbots can provide vital services such as:
- Screening emergency patients before they arrive for immediate dental care
- Answering questions about services, making appointments, or leaving a message for a person
- Asking questions about symptoms and referring patients to a particular dentist
Reducing Anxiety: The dental industry is making strides to mitigate stressful factors like pain and uncertain outcomes as it responds to patient avoidance. To remove the fear of the experience, practices specialize in sedation dentistry, a process that involves using medication to induce a relaxed, sleep-like state for everything from routine cleanings to fillings. Another method for relaxing dental patients involves distracting them. The use of virtual reality in medicine has been shown to significantly reduce a patient’s perception of pain and improve the overall patient experience.
Other ways to distract dental patients include:
- Televisions in the dentist’s chair
- Watching Netflix during treatment
- Using massage chairs
Whether they involve improving comfort or accessibility, the dental industry – like so many others – is making advancements to improve patient care and patient experiences.
More than 6,000 healthcare workers, including dentists, have experienced less stress and more clarity of mind, focus, and energy. Our evidence-based programs have demonstrated a rapid decline in burnout in just 3 days. Schedule a call with one of our wellness account executives to learn more.