Good news, bad news for dentists in 2024

Dental professionals are facing trends this year that could have either positive or negative affects on the industry. 

Here are six pieces of good news and bad news for the dental industry:

Good news

Medical-dental integration: Dental organizations are continuing efforts to integrate medical and dental care to improve overall patient health outcomes. Health system leaders have begun realizing the link between oral health and overall well-being, pushing them to launch partnerships with DSOs and acquire practices to expand their dental services. New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health recently acquired two dental practices in the state, while Fountain Valley, Calif.-based MemorialCare and Pacific Dental Services opened their first co-located integrated office in California in December.

Payer reform: Several states began implementing or considering medical loss ratios last year to require dental insurers to spend a specified percentage of premium dollars on dental services or refund the difference to patients. To keep up with this momentum, the National Council of Insurance Legislators recently adopted model legislation with language approved by the American Dental Association and National Association of Dental Plans. So far this year, nine different state dental societies have introduced dental loss ratio legislation. The ADA also suggested that CMS and HHS create a specific loss ratio for dental plans. 

Artificial intelligence: Many dental leaders are optimistic about how AI can be used in dentistry to support practice management and clinical care. DSOs are continuing to partner with dental AI companies to integrate this technology into their practices. Effingham, Ill.-based Heartland Dental, the largest DSO in the U.S., added VideaHealth's AI technology to its more than 1,700-practice network. VideaHealth Founder and CEO Florian Hillen recently told Becker's that dentistry could lead the use of AI in healthcare as the industry continues its innovation. Many dental AI companies earned FDA clearances and patents for their technology last year.

Bad news

Stagnant reimbursements: Dentists continue to struggle with stagnant reimbursements from dental insurers. An August 2022 ADA poll found that insurance reimbursement rates have remained stagnant for dentists despite rising operating costs. Nearly 60% of dentists indicated that rates remained stagnant, while only 7% of dentists reported an increase in the last year. Owen Waldman, DMD, of Waldman Dental Group in Scottsdale, Ariz., recently spoke with Becker's about how reimbursements have hurt his practice's bottom line.

Workforce shortages: The dental workforce was one of the biggest issues for practices in 2023, leading many organizations to get creative with recruitment efforts. Consulting firm McKinsey & Co. projects that the U.S. will be short more than 36,000 dental professionals by 2031. The U.S. is currently short of more than 10,000 dentists, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. Dentalpost's 2024 Dental Salary Survey hints at continuing challenges. According to the survey, 34% of dental hygienists plan to retire within six years.

Rising costs: Dental practices and DSOs are facing higher costs in several areas affecting their growth and profitability, including construction and staffing. ADA data released in August 2023 shows that dental practice expenses rose higher than revenue in 2022, and partially led the average net income for general dentists in private practice to decline by 7 percent in 2022. These challenges are expected to continue in 2024, which could lead DSOs to cut back on spending.

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