Many factors can influence a dental practice’s operations, including patient expectations, technological advancements and ongoing economic issues. Dentistry was one of many industries to experience a significant setback during COVID-19 and the challenges stemming from the pandemic continue to evolve and impact future trends in dentistry.
Here are seven things to expect from the dental industry in 2022 and how professionals can adapt to keep their practices up and running.
1. Continued Staffing Shortages
According to an American Dental Association report from late 2021, 38% of dental practices re-opened with far lower patient volume after COVID-19’s initial wave. As a result, offices could not pay dental assistants, managers and other positions. Clinical and support staff also got the short end of the stick with furloughs and layoffs.
With most practices — especially the smaller ones with just a handful of employees — still rebuilding their patient volume, they don’t have the finances to provide a fair wage or reasonable work schedules. Instead, they have to hire underqualified candidates or put more responsibilities on the existing staff’s shoulders, which doesn’t bode well for the practice in either case.
One solution to this dilemma is establishing partnerships with temporary staffing agencies to create more schedule flexibility. Temporary employees can help practices keep up with appointments and relieve pressure on the recruitment team while it looks for permanent staff members. Plus, offices don’t have to pay benefits for temps, providing some direct financial relief as well.
2. Consolidation in the Dental Industry
In response to staffing shortages and other factors, consolidation has gained momentum and figures to continue surging in 2022. Solo dentists that couldn’t sustain their operations during the current recession have merged their practices or joined a Dental Service Organization to remain competitive.
Some dentists have also established group purchase organizations to establish collective buying power and obtain discounts from vendors on essential supplies. In such a volatile market, strength in numbers is often the only way for struggling practices to survive.
Aside from the staffing shortages, debt and the opportunity to expand have been the two most influential factors. DSOs can help manage practices and provide non-clinical support, allowing them to focus on improving their dental services and growing their patient base.
Additionally, the average dental professional has an average of $304,824 in student debt. DSOs offer them more benefits and financial security — some even help pay off the debt if the dentist agrees to a long-term partnership. Consolidation in the dental industry is the best route for many rising professionals and practices to ensure long-term success.
3. Changing Patient Behaviors
A 2020 North American Dental Group survey found that 71% of patients were hesitant
People are looking for safe and affordable care, particularly for non-surgical treatments they missed during the pandemic’s height. However, attracting new patients and gaining their trust is more complex than ever. A revamped marketing plan with educational digital content can help alleviate people’s concerns and get them back in the dentist’s chair.
Another tactic called “emotional dentistry” could also become one of the top future trends in dentistry. This tactic encourages patients to be more direct participants in their treatment and envision their desired results. They can use Photoshop and other digital tools to decide the smile they want, giving them more control and satisfaction with each visit.
With fewer people willing to visit practices for routine care, dentists have optimized their services for mobile devices so they can interact with patients remotely. The teledentistry trend enables constant and direct communication with dentists, establishing trust and providing a more personalized experience. Some of its benefits include:
- Online portals and message boards for scheduling appointments, filling prescriptions and discussing treatment options
- Virtual receptionists
- Live video conferences
- Mobile payment options
Instead of requiring people to come into the office for consultation they can receive virtually, practices are creating contactless services to expand their patient volume. These are much more appealing to people still hesitant to visit the dentist, whether for health or financial reasons.
5. High-Tech Additions
Some new technological advancements have also impacted future trends in dentistry, namely 3D printing and laser technology. 3D printing allows for near-instantaneous production of dentures, crowns and other vital items, helping practices save significant amounts of time and money in the long run.
Laser dental technology has many benefits for routine procedures. It can speed up cavity removals, reduce the risk of infection, decrease bleeding and lead to faster healing. Computer-aided design and manufacturing devices — as well as intraoral scanners — could make dental restorations more precise than ever before.
Prepare Your Practice for Tomorrow
The dental industry of 2022 looks much different from the dental industry of 2019. Future trends in dentistry point towards more staffing issues, permanent changes to patient behaviors and new tech-focused operations.
Most notably, consolidation in the dental industry will continue to spread and solo practices will become less sustainable. Dentists must consider all of these factors to prepare for tomorrow’s dental industry effectively.