What will 2022 bring? 7 dentists weigh in

Dentistry has never evolved as quickly as it has amid the pandemic. Looking forward, Becker's asked dentists what their main dental priority was heading into 2022, along with their main industry concern.

Here are their responses:

Editor's note: Responses have been edited for brevity.

Manny Chopra, DDS. Owner of Dr. M. Chopra Dental Practices (Cincinnati): Dental health and mental wellness.

Jason Hirsch, DMD. Owner of Dr. J Pediatric Dentistry (Royal Palm Beach/Wellington, Fla.): Continuing to innovate in pediatric dentistry will be the focus. My industry concern is that more children wind up in the Medicaid system as a result of the pandemic because the Medicaid system is totally busted, broken. The money is being sucked out by the arbitrageurs. If more children wind up in the Medicaid system, something is going to break.

Bradley Dykstra, DDS. Founder of MI Smiles Dental Group (Hudsonville, Mich.): My main priority is getting and retaining team members at all levels, while my main concern is the exponential growth of the very large groups.

Tim McConnell, DDS. CEO of Southeast Oral Surgery and Implant Center (Tennessee): I believe the main priority is leadership through this pandemic. We need to look at how successful corporations lead during challenging times. Being proactive with staff recruitment and retention is vital as we deliver care. We also need to look closely at the patient experience and be willing to integrate new efficiencies. Data and key performance indicators should be used to drive business decisions. Lastly, we need to look at developing key partners in our marketplace. I am concerned that my colleagues who are resistant to change will find 2022 challenging.

Robert Trager, DDS. Dentist at JFK International and LaGuardia airports (New York City): My main hope for 2022 is that a lot of patients will return to work full time so they'll be able to go back and get their oral health taken care of. A lot of people who have been laid off aren't visiting the dentist and are developing cracked tooth syndrome because of grinding. My main industry concern is that a lot of assistants and hygienists stayed home during the pandemic and haven't come back. In the coming year, it's going to be very difficult to get hygienists, assistants and office workers. Most are working for DSOs. All around the country, dentists who can't find good people to work for them are turning to family members. My wife has worked for me for years and she's great because the loyalty and work incentive is there. Everyone's going to the DSOs — especially young dentists because they're in so much debt from school. I'm worried these dentists will never have the chance to acquire their own practice because they won't know how to make the necessary business decisions. DSOs are acquiring practices all over — soon even dentists won't be able to make their own decisions and will just be a name looked at for their bottom line. I see dentists forming a union in the future — they're going to need protection.

Rick Singel, DDS. Owner of South Coast Dentistry (Cincinnati): My main dental priority is growing my practice, along with keeping my employees content and myself unstressed. My main industry concern is the way DSOs are taking over and wrecking the private practice of dentistry — like Walmart did to small businesses. DSOs, with their sole emphasis on revenue production, are not optimal for patient care. I would never, myself, seek care from a DSO practice.

Rajdeep Randhawa, DDS. Dentist at Innovative Dentistry (Rahway, N.J.): Due to the current COVID-19 situation and post-pandemic repercussions, a lot of patient behavior changes are going to occur during and after 2022. Dentist provider options are becoming limited due to staff shortages and burnout and increased stress levels. Staff rightfully want higher compensation and better benefits. Then there's the shakeup in the insurance industry focused on cost-cutting and claim processing with artificial intelligence to deny more claims. Neither the insurance industry, employers nor the consumers are understanding that the pandemic has substantially increased the cost and risk of doing dentistry. Recently, it was shocking to find out one of the major dental plans has already sent letters that it is going to reduce its fee schedule for 2022. My main industry concern for 2022 and beyond is that in this drive to the bottom [line], nobody knows where the dental industry is heading. If big hospital systems are shaking up, then the dental industry is heading for uncharted waters, as we are small fish compared to the whole healthcare ecosystem. We are all going to feel the tremors and aftershocks for a long time. My main priority going into 2022 is to capitalize on the introduction of new knowledge and technology I've gained with hours of continuing education. Introducing new and innovative concepts and procedures will keep me motivated to continue learning more and providing care to patients who trust me, the best dentistry has to offer. I don't participate in any dental plans and don't like when a third party interferes in the doctor-patient relationship. I like running a fee-for-service office where patients get all the attention and a five-star experience. This provides me with an amazing work-life balance and a sense of fulfillment and happiness.

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