Dr. Samuel Low: 3 trends for dental professionals to expect in 2018, a push toward joining DSOs

In an interview with Becker’s Dental & DSO Review, Samuel Low, DDS, vice president of dental and clinical affairs and chief dental officer of Biolase, shared insight into what dental professionals can expect in 2018.

Question: What are the top three trends dental professions can expect in 2018?

Dr. Samuel Low: The top three trends are:

Increased technological advancement and adoption among providers: A leading trend that will have a strong presence in 2018 will be the continued enhancement of technology. Any tool from a specialty digital scanner for impression taking – which will be a very hot ticket item for both the dentistry and technology fields –to increased use of CT imagery – to incorporating all tissue lasers in to the everyday practice, technology is playing a major role in the field today. Practitioners are recognizing that these technological advancements are becoming essential for the growth of their practices. With this in mind, there are continuous technological advancements in dentistry that will only continue to gain speed.

More consolidation among dental practices: Another trend that we will see in 2018 is the coalescing of practices. Combining solo practices enables practitioners to share resources including office staff and supplies. In this way, practitioners can increase their profitability and purchasing power to acquire new technologies. In addition, combined practices allows for easier management of the practice, especially in the area of regulatory billing and third party.

Challenges with reimbursement will continue: 2018 will unfortunately continue to see third party reimbursement challenges in dentistry. There is no doubt that reimbursement will be more difficult to achieve for certain procedures. Additionally, reimbursement amounts will decrease as third parties continue to tighten up their budgets

Q: What challenges will dental professionals need to overcome in 2018?

SL: With more dentists in the workforce than ever before, one of the biggest challenges will be that supply will greatly outweigh demand. With the increase in dental schools and dental graduates, as well as later retirements for baby boomer dentists, there will be a significant increase in competition among practitioners.

As such, dentists will have to enhance their marketing strategies and identify new revenue streams to attract today’s tech-savvy patient with advanced treatment options. Through today’s digital world, patients are becoming more aware of technologies that enable minimally invasive procedures, more comfortable experiences and improved outcomes. And patients are seeking those solutions.

Advanced dentistry tools can be an answer to many of today’s biggest health concerns. For example, the opioid crisis has taken the country by storm. With dentists being one of the top opioid prescribers in the nation, adopting technologies that reduce pain and the need for opioids can help combat the epidemic. Similarly, risk associated with sedation is a major concern. Again, reducing the invasiveness of our technologies through innovation can reduce the need for sedation.

Additionally, patients are increasingly expecting insurance coverage for their dental procedures, and when that does not occur, they become dissatisfied with the practitioner and may look for another dentist. In order to overcome this issue, patients need to be educated on the value and importance of certain procedures, which often prevent more costly and complex procedures down the line.

Q: Do you foresee and even greater push for dentists to move toward dentals service organizations:

SL: Absolutely. I expect an even greater push for dentists to move toward dental service organizations in 2018 than in 2017. However, DSOs are not for every dentist. I believe that DSOs are trending mostly for millennial dentists and that trend will really take off in 2018.

Millennials by nature like to work in groups instead of the traditional solo practitioner and have been more interested in group practices than their boomer counterparts. Millennial dentists are also more likely to shift from practice to practice, rather than stay in one practice. Therefore, a DSO that has several practices, especially throughout many states, allows for a joint career, more facilitation and more versatility. The DSO also provides a significant number of services to the practicing dentist so that they can focus on patients and not have to deal with the management of the practice – a very attractive prospect to many millennial dentists. DSOs can provide benefits, continued education, all regulatory services that are needed, as well as financial services.

DSOs are also attracting boomer dentists as they move closer to the retirement phase of their careers. DSOs can buy out their practices – an appealing option for those dentists that are beginning to look for an exit strategy while maintaining some level of involvement. In this way, DSOs are supporting both sides of the generational divide and market. In this vein, I also believe that given the market forces mentioned above, dentistry may become more of a commodity profession where the dentists are employees, as opposed to business owners. Such a shift will enable dentists to focus on the clinical side of dentistry, which is what most dentists went into the profession for to begin with.

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