What dentists should expect in 2020: Dr. Samuel Low talks innovation, culture & more

Dentists and dental service organizations need to stay agile and flexible to be successful. Additionally, dentists must overcome a dramatic cultural change to spark innovation, Samuel Low, DDS, told Becker's Dental + DSO Review.

Dr. Low was named vice president of dental and clinical affairs and chief dental officer of Biolase in October 2016. Since then, he has championed the adoption of dental lasers.

Below, Dr. Low discusses what dentists should prepare for in 2020 and well as what it takes to become an entrepreneur.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: Looking ahead at 2020 what is a new trend or innovation that dentists should prepare for?
Dr. Samuel Low: Looking ahead to 2020, there are a couple of new trends and innovations that dentists need to be prepared for. Most of the buzz is currently surrounding technological and digital advancements in dentistry.

For instance, many practitioners are looking toward diagnostic cone beam computed tomography. CBCT gives practitioners a three-dimensional look at soft tissue, teeth and implants, bone and digital impressions. The push towards radiology and digital scanning is mostly being fueled by orthodontics but is spilling over into other practice areas. Scanning of the mouth and teeth is a big part of many practices, so the diagnostic CBCT screening is being used in veneer and restorative dentistry as well. Accuracy is vitally important to dentistry, which is why these kinds of advanced diagnostic and screening tools will continue to gain popularity within the profession.

The other major trend dentists should prepare for is laser dentistry. In terms of therapeutic treatments, dental lasers are leading the way. The biggest impact lasers have is the delivery of care to the patient. When using laser dentistry, patients are able to spend less time in the dental chair, there is little to no need for needles or anesthesia, and laser technology allows dentists to perform a greater number of procedures in the same sitting. As more patients learn about the benefits of laser dentistry, they will begin to expect the advanced level of care that lasers provide, forcing more practices to adopt the technology. Once they adopt lasers, dentists will find that they have a great return on investment (ROI) as they increase productivity, patient referrals and provide a benefit in marketing materials.

Q: What is keeping dentists/dental industry from being innovative? How do you overcome this challenge?
SL: The biggest thing that is keeping dentists and the dental industry from being innovative is that dentists continue to maintain the culture that they grew up with in dental school, meaning it’s all behavioral, which is very difficult to change. Another factor is that generationally, dentists tend to be more conservative. This is a good thing because dentistry is evidence-based, meaning we need to see the clinical science as proof of validity. However, dentists often forget that in addition to utilizing the science behind dentistry, they need to rely on their clinical judgment based on experience. Clinical judgment is very important in making a decision for patient care. In fact, this is actually part of the American Dental Association definition — a combination of clinical evidence with clinical judgment. Overall, while relying on clinical evidence is a good practice, it can sometimes stifle innovation if not also used alongside clinical judgment.

The best way to overcome these challenges is for dentists to be open to new information. They must be open to reviewing articles, attending continuing education courses, absorbing the information objectively and seeing where this information fits within their practice. Ultimately, being open to new information is primarily for the benefit of the patient. In order to have a successful and long-lasting practice, there is no other choice than to continue innovating.

Q: How can dentists transform into entrepreneurs and innovators?
SL: In order for dentists to transform into entrepreneurs and innovators, they must learn to manage their practice as a business. While some may have trouble thinking of their practice as a business first, it is crucial for their success.

There needs to be a focus on overhead, production and most importantly bringing in new patients while retaining current ones. There are a variety of tools at our disposal to help teach and guide business decisions, such as courses, conferences and books. The idea is to continue to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. The older you get, the more important this is.

Like most businesses, a dental practice relies on its “customers” or patients for success. A recent study demonstrated that providers can’t rely on clinical care excellence anymore to keep their patients coming back. In fact, the study showed 43 percent of millennials are likely to switch practices in the next few years, and 54 percent have already switched. At times this is due to geographic changes, which today may seem expected, but in earlier years patients would be so loyal to a practice that they would drive an hour for an appointment (both ways). With today’s increased emphasis on convenience, patients are much less likely to make the trek. To invoke this same sense of devotion in a patient, it is vital to provide services that go beyond patients’ expectations to create patient retention.

For example, if you cater to a younger generation, offering apps and services that can increase the speed or access to your practice is key. For practices that treat older generations, they may consider adopting a car service to help bring patients to and from their appointments. Overall, patients want to know that you and your practice are anticipating their needs across the board and meeting these needs seamlessly.

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